June 30, 2021

Amazon creates Black business accelerator but who in Big Tech is stepping up?

Which Big Tech companies are actually trying to make a difference if any?

Amazon announced their commitment of  $150 million to support Black businesses. The number is praiseworthy, and will likely help hundreds of Black businesses. 

But to put some context on that number, Amazon makes more in an afternoon (am I being an ingrate? I don’t know). 

We’ve seen a rise in diversity checks coming from Big Tech. A few million here and there, mixed with splashy headlines. Black is unquestionably fashionable. 

But which among these companies are making substantive changes? 

We have a top five or a power ranking for every sports team, politician and anything else in the culture, but where is our ranking in Big Tech? 

“These companies are data-driven, but if people are not hitting their diversity metrics, where’s the downside?” Bari Williams said. “You have metrics, but no consequences.”

Bari Williams, a lawyer from Human Interest, understands the perspective better than most. The tech diversity conversation is stuck in a rut. We have a way of measuring Big Tech’s performance, but there is no punishment. 

Big tech companies make their diversity goals one year and miss them the next but there is no clear incentive, or better yet consequence, for their actions.

When I look for inspiration on the issue, I look outside of tech towards the world of fashion; particularly to the ever controversial Kanye West. 

For years Nike, Adidas, LVMH and the other giants of the shoe industry have faced similar pressure to that of the tech industry for their lack of Black leadership while capitalizing on Black culture. 

But no amount of pressure had led to substantial change until West’s Yeezy brand broke into the mainstream. In the space of three years, Kanye turned a single shoe release into a billion dollar company. 

Kanye’s brand forced the industry to rethink their grip on fashion and shoe culture. It was such a seismic event that Kanye’s competitors came for his creative team. They needed a way to siphon off some of his success. 

Matthew Williams, Virgil Abloh and Don C, all former Kanye collaborators, took executive positions or collaborations with Nike and LVMH. 

Today, we see LVMH partnering with the likes of Rihanna through Savage X Fenty, and Virgil Abloh sits as the creative director of Louis Vuitton, their most prized brand. 

No amount of media pressure or pleas for corporate humanity changed these brands. It was fear that they were being outmaneuvered and were out of touch with the culture.

Black tech executives should view Big Tech similarly. All the diversity measures and accelerators will do little to move the needle if Big Tech approaches this from a sense of charity rather than out of fear they are being left behind.

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