The tech executive who inspired the ‘insecure’ on supporting black women at work

In 2010, while I was freelancing from a brownstone in Harlem, I wrote an article titled “Where’s Black Liz Lemon?” Which touched on the lack of complex black female characters in the media. A few days after posting the excerpt, I received a note from a woman named Issa, who thanked me and said that the article was the inspiration she needed to start a project she was putting off. A few months later, he sent me a link the misadventures of a strange black girl, The YouTube series that will be the launchpad for HBO unsafe,

What Issa Rae brought to our living room unsafe The story was the defining story of a decade centered around black women. diverse audience of the show Spent five seasons inviting Issa and Molly—perfectly beautiful, imperfect, progressive black women—into their lives. It was a story about what they felt, how they grew, and how they fell in love—descriptions that were rare to see on television just a few years ago.

Since that decade, I’ve built a career in corporate, working at some of the most recognizable companies in the world, and I live a few blocks away from the brownstone where I wrote the piece that sparked unsafe, Watching the finale, I was extremely proud of Issa Rae and I am grateful for these stories and the impact they have had on millions of viewers. Still, reflecting on where we are, I wonder if we’re more comfortable with fully realized black women on screen than in the workplace.

[Photo: HBO]

Whereas unsafe Focused on black women, it is important to note that most media depicting black women do not portray them as multidimensional characters at all. Last year, Only one in five black women who appeared in network or streaming programs also had speaking roles, And as rare as it is to hear the voices of black women on our screens, for most people it’s still a more frequent occurrence in our daily lives than actually dealing with one. In fact, most people would never work closely with a black female leader unless they were in the room with her. 1.7% of us who play senior roles.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve climbed the ranks at several Fortune 500 companies, from finance to technology. Of the companies that publicly disclosed their employee representation numbers, none had more than 3% of black women in their workforce. When you reach the leadership level, this number drops even further. At that point, it’s usually one decimal that never adequately conveys how lonely he can feel. For example, in my role at Google, I was the first black woman to lead our team, the only black woman on our department leadership team, and usually the only black woman in the room. When I would point this out to my non-black peers, many people would respond as if it was a compliment. When I say this to other black women leaders, they will respond knowing the cost of it all.

This year, as we head into the next chapter of the major reshuffle, companies will release updated employee numbers and face layoff trends.especially of black women– by their rank. Some of them will address data as an iconic problem, but smart organizations will recognize it for what it is: a proximity problem.

When companies see black women only as symbols or data points and not in their humanity, it is hard to provide the kind of environment that will support them to fully showcase themselves as leaders. When companies don’t understand the roles that black women play as non-traditional caretakers, they are less likely to add to the need for inclusive leave policies that help them and others. When companies ignore the ways that the pay gap affects black women throughout their careers, they don’t embrace the institutional remedies needed to address pay inequalities for them and others.

Organizations that will lead the way forward will be those that allow the workplace to be more equitable for all, to make the workplace more equitable for black women. And if there’s one thing unsafe The decade has made clear, is that when black women are supported to create and lead, they create worlds and spaces we cannot imagine living without.


leslie piterson Is a communications and public affairs executive with experience in media, finance and technology. She is Head of Communications for Business Development, Strategy and Ventures at Microsoft.