In an age where content is king and African-American consumers continue to prove that they are the drivers of culture, many tech companies remain tardy to the party when it comes to adequately hiring black and brown technologists for a variety of roles.
And while there have been a number of initiatives established in hopes to funnel more students and graduates of color as job candidates into companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, recent diversity reports still show that there is a lack of representation of women and people of color within the tech space.
Thankfully, there are black female founders across the tech industry who want to close that gap, and help tech companies improve their recruitment and hiring practices.
With their company 2020Shift, co-founders Ariel Lopez and Janel Martinez are looking to not only diversify the tech and media industries, but they want to change the way that companies approach talented (and qualified) people of color to hire them for jobs. In an interview with ESSENCE, the co-founders share their experience in running a tech start-up, why it is critical for tech companies now more than ever to be more intentional about creating opportunity for people of color in tech and how their new platform (launching this fall) will make the job application process more intentional for candidates.
So take us back to the genesis of 2020 Shift – what was the inspiration behind starting a tech company that specifically focuses on ensuring that black and brown technologists are employed at some of the world’s biggest tech companies? How did the two of you connect, and what has it been like to grow together as co-founders?
Ariel Lopez: The inspiration for 2020Shift came from wanting to raise awareness about the opportunities that exist in tech – regardless if you have technical experience or not. We also wanted to ensure that tech companies were reflecting the consumer base of their products in their workforce. Black and brown professionals are make billions of dollars for these organizations, and it is so important that they have a voice in creating these products and services.
Janel Martinez: Like many in our community, Ariel and I met on Twitter (shout-out to #BlackTwitter!) around 2013. At the time, we both were working in the tech industry- she in HR, and myself as a journalist. We then met in-person at a hackathon that Tumblr hosted during MLK weekend in 2014. She DM’d me a few months later to meet in person, and that’s when she shared her vision of creating a startup that would diversify tech. That was one of several meetings that gave birth to the idea of 2020Shift.
What have been some of the biggest wins for the company thus far? What have been some challenges you all have faced – particularly as black women – in navigating the tech industry these last three years?
AL: The biggest wins by far have been successfully matching people with jobs and building partnerships with companies like Google, Spotify, Mastercard, Nike, Snapchat and many others. It has also been amazing to get an inside view on what it takes to be successful in this industry – and we have been very purposeful about making that information as accessible as possible. On the flip side, this work hasn’t been without its own set of challenges. We’re currently fundraising and I can confirm that it is really that difficult – especially as a black women founders. And even though it can sometimes feel like all the odds are against you, we’re still determined to go for it anyway. I firmly believe that with timing and hard work, you can get everything you deserve – regardless of how difficult it was to get there.
Neither of you are strangers to the world of tech – but your backgrounds have allowed you to approach this industry in a very unique way. What has your personal and professional growth looked like over the last few years?
JM: Entrepreneurship definitely has a way of accelerating your growth across the board. Professionally, editorial has always been my world but through 2020Shift, I’ve been able to take my strong writing and editing skills and apply them to how we implement marketing initiatives. Personally, I joke that I’ve aged a solid five years. Entrepreneurship has forced me to look inward, get very clear with who I am, identify what my strengths and weaknesses are, and ultimately the impact I want to make on the world. I’m still learning, growing, and figuring out how to balance it all – but I have an immense amount of gratitude for this journey.
Let’s talk Knac! In February, 2020 Shift announced the development and upcoming release of a platform that specifically focuses on matching companies and employers with the ideal candidates. Can you reveal how the platform will work and where job seekers can learn more?
AL: Throughout the duration of our careers, we’ve discovered how messed up the job application process can be for most companies. Often it feels like dropping your resume in a black hole never to be seen again – let alone receiving feedback on whether or not you’re a good fit for a position. Our platform Knac will allow for professionals to showcase their skills to employers through assessments and challenges, so they can get hired solely based on their qualifications.
JM: With Knac, we wanted to create something that gave visibility to job seekers, helped them to learn relevant skills, and receive the feedback they need to grow in their careers. Additionally, it will help companies screen candidates more efficiently, and improve the candidate experience. We’ll be launching it this fall with amazing startups and brands that we’re super excited to be working with.
What would be your advice to young black women who may be interested in pursuing careers in technology, but may be apprehensive due to the lack of us present in the space?
JM: Do it. Technology can be an intimidating industry because it moves very fast, and it’s typically comprised mainly of folks that don’t look like us. There will be many spaces in life that you will find that aren’t designed for us – but it is your job to still show up, and know that you are capable and qualified to thrive in them. Use your unique perspective and identity to your advantage.
AL: There’s so much opportunity to make an impact and really make a difference in the space. As you pursue your purpose, you will attract the people and the resources you need to take you to the next level – so don’t worry about having it all together right now – just start! My personal goal is to help as many young black women to grow and be successful in this industry as possible.
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