What’s AfroTech and Why Did We Attend?
BET’s mission is “dedicated to engaging and supporting all Black employees through networking, professional development, mentoring, and leadership opportunities. We speak with a united voice to drive sustainable advancement for all Black people through advocacy, recruitment, and retention.” BET is a small (and mighty) group and earlier this year we were discussing different opportunities that could help us in our professional growth and development. With AfroTech being the largest Black tech conference rooted in inclusivity and innovation around the globe, it was a no-brainer for us to want to attend.
- Expand GumGum's network
- Create new relationships that may lead to future collaborations, partnerships, or even investment opportunities
- Keep up with industry trends & innovations
- Garner insights into the latest trends, tools, and techniques in the tech industry to stay ahead of the curve and adapt
- Discover new talent
- Showcase GumGum’s brand, culture, and job opportunities to a diverse and highly-skilled pool of candidates
- Gain inspiration & motivation
- Attending will inspire creativity, challenge the status quo, and explore new ideas and strategies
- Foster community & development
- Most importantly, foster community and connection among GumGum’s Black employees and contribute to their professional development and peer mentorship
BET’s Top Takeaways from the AfroTech Conference
It’s all about AI.
And not just generative AI, but overall AI automation across many (if not, most) industries. AI will undoubtedly continue to change the way we do business and it’s critical that we’re aware of bias as we’re training new AI models. AI is only as good as the information it’s trained with and it’s critical we’re being intentional about the data we’re inputting into future AI models to ensure we’re minimizing the amount of bias that could perpetuated. From automating the digital advertising process through AI, through generating creative via AI, to making recruiting more effective through AI, the opportunity for leveraging AI is endless. Proceed with caution, and intentionality.
We need to think beyond pipelines.
Yes, ensuring talent pipelines are equitable is dire for the inclusion of Black people across our industries, but it’s clear that Black talent is widely available across every sector. AfroTech saw over 25,000 attendees over the course of a few days. By focusing on only pipelines, we’re foregoing the ability to bring in talent that is experienced and multifaceted. @PAM_BOY on X (Twitter) once stated, “Beyoncé can find 24 Black trombone players, but your company can't find a single Black intern, associate, or board member?” and that’s the tea. There are no excuses for the lack of Black talent within companies and it’s past due for companies to step up in their recruitment and expand their talent discovery to bring in Black talent across levels, not just within entry-level roles.
Learnings to share with GumGum.
There are so many top learnings to share with GumGum and the industry from AfroTech, but here are BET’s top learnings to share:
- The experience was a reminder for GumGum to leverage career fairs not only as a recruitment platform but as a means to discover untapped, enthusiastic talent. By showcasing our brand, culture, and job opportunities, we have the chance to connect with a diverse and highly skilled pool of candidates, potentially bringing unique insights and experiences to the team.
- Integrating the latest tools and techniques like generative AI with intention and thoughtfulness, underscoring the critical need to mitigate bias from ideation, will ensure GumGum adapts responsibly to the evolving landscape of the digital advertising market.
- Black media has a standard and responsibility to give back to the community and serve as advocates to combat legacy media and bias. Ultimately, Black-owned media is trying to change the world for the audience they serve and have a social responsibility to be an engine of transformative change.
- Few commitments made during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd have been followed through and we can’t continue to let performative activism go without repercussions. Commitments to amplifying underestimated voices and multicultural audiences have to be genuine and structured to ensure optimal – and continued – impact.
Personal Reflections from BET Members
Marie Archer, Director, Account Management, EMEA: My week at AfroTech provided me with valuable insights, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence, which is set to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of almost every industry. The key takeaway from this experience is the significance of education and continuous knowledge-building to prepare for the rapidly evolving technological landscape. It's not just about adapting to the 'future'; it's about actively participating in its development. AI, machine learning, and automation are becoming increasingly integral, and being well-prepared in these areas is essential for my professional growth. While AI and automation offer incredible capabilities, they are still tools created and managed by humans. The human touch is crucial for the ethical and responsible development and deployment of these technologies.
This experience highlighted the importance of increasing our investment in company trips like AfroTech. Delving into such a diverse and vibrant environment enabled us to interact with a broad spectrum of perspectives and build connections with exceptionally skilled, like-minded individuals. This exposure was genuinely enriching and created a sense of unity within our team.
Andrew George, Senior DevOps Engineer: I have worked with hundreds of engineers across three companies. Two of them have been Black. This history has made me question whether or not we Black engineers exist. AfroTech taught me otherwise. There's a lot more of me, and many of them are a whole hell of a lot smarter. They're men and women, junior and senior, numerous. It begs a new question: if I found them all at AfroTech, why aren't they here at GumGum?
Mayowa Olgubode, Account Manager: I found the opportunity to be able to connect with my colleagues from the US to be the highlight of my AfroTech experience. This trip really brought us together and allowed us to connect on a much deeper level than we have been able to just via Zoom. It would be great if we could have more opportunities like this in the future to allow us to maintain and nourish this sense of community and togetherness that we built during this trip.
Lorraine Appiah-Danwuah, People Operations Advisor: My main aim in going to Afro Tech was to gain better insight into the world of the Tech Industry and its current and future impact within the workforce. I was especially interested in gaining insight into how AI will impact the working world in the future and its potential use in People practices and procedures.
With regards to the future of work, I learnt about the increased need for flexibility in the workplace, Greening/Greentech, pivoting and upskilling to strategically prepare for the future of work.
I also learnt how I can take my own personal career to the next level by being strategic and international about my career goals including gaining the required skills now in order to position myself for the future of work.
TJ Albert, VP of Business Assurance & Integration: AfroTech provided invaluable strategic insights into emerging technologies, and it reaffirmed that there are companies out there that have maintained a genuine commitment to fostering diverse talent and creating an environment where black talent can thrive and contribute meaningfully. The networking opportunities I experienced in the sessions and leadership lunches allowed for meaningful connections with key players and potential collaborators. I was energized by the possibility of building programs and partnerships through internships, mentorship programs and collaboration with other Adtech providers/industry leaders.
On a personal level, to be the majority even if just for a few days was beyond rewarding. It was inspiring, refreshing, and empowering. It was also unsurprising to learn that many of us have shared challenges that seem rooted in feeling unseen and not being afforded the opportunity to grow our careers at the pace of our white counterparts. To connect and bond with my co-workers in this way was very meaningful and you could feel the excitement and pure joy amongst us all!
Paul Johnson, Sales Director: I garnered insight into how multiple industries utilize AI to drive their business and their respective industries forward, highlighting the critical need for human input and vetting in order to manage against erroneous bias that left unchecked will disproportionately negatively affect non-majority populations across the world. I got to learn more about emerging technologies, how they are sourced, and funded, and the ongoing challenges minority-owned tech companies face.
From the Expo Hall, it’s clear companies are willing to explore partnerships to recruit, retain, grow and promote Black talent at all levels (C-Suite to Interns).
Maintaining and growing GumGum’s presence at AfroTech would help further our authentic connection with Black Tech professionals, enlarge our pool of qualified candidates, create positive industry buzz for GumGum, provide additional opportunities for partnership with like-minded companies, and afford Black GumGum employees the opportunity to expand their industry knowledge and grow their personal and professional networks.
David Parker, Senior Technical Writer: While attending AfroTech, I had the chance to connect with college classmates who now are leadership or members within Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at their companies. These unexpected encounters not only strengthened personal connections but also presented opportunities for GumGum to broaden its network within the tech industry.
Exploring AfroTech unveiled insights into cutting-edge trends within the tech industry. Amidst the wealth of information, I couldn't help but reflect on the importance of leveraging these advancements to address biases in GumGum's models, particularly those used for hiring or categorizing individuals. This experience prompted a realization that staying attuned to industry trends isn't just about keeping ahead but also identifying opportunities to enhance the fairness and inclusivity of our technologies.
Networking at AfroTech shed light on a fascinating aspect – the diverse career journeys of the professionals within the tech community. Many, whether already employed or in search of opportunities, shared a common thread: transitioning into tech from varied, non-technical backgrounds. This revelation underscored the richness of perspectives present in the industry.
AfroTech, beyond being a source of inspiration, became a catalyst for taking charge of my professional narrative and contributing to a culture of creativity, inclusivity and excellence within the company.