Diversity is more impactful than you think. Here’s why.

Diversity is more impactful than you think. Here’s why.

By Anne-Marie Mulumba

One of my fondest memories growing up in a Congolese and Tanzanian household has to do with technology. For what seemed like hours a winter afternoon, my siblings and I watched my dad play an early 2000’s game similar to Minesweeper on the family PC. We sat there and attentively supported him as he solved puzzles and unlocked news levels.
I was fascinated by computers from an early age. Thinking back, I believe that I was more intrigued by the potential and power behind a computer than by the games I spent hours on, to the point of forgetting to eat. I was also deeply absorbed by visual design and aesthetics. For instance, if I wasn’t watching TV, playing on the computer or biking outside with friends, I definitely had a pencil in hand, observing and drawing faces, eyes and clothing. I consecrated entire weekends drafting blueprints of my dream modern house so I could design it in a simulation game. My African parents witnessed how I obsessively and creatively spent my free time. I guess that is why they let me pursue the type of education I did. I ended up studying social science and design to later work as a user experience (UX) researcher. Little did I know that I would be only one of a few black women in design and working in the field of UX. However, the moment I realized what I have been missing all along was at BFTUR conference back in October 2019. I had a blast then, and it reminded me of the real goal behind a diverse workplace. Asking for diversity is not just for diversity’s sake. Let me tell you about it.
There is nothing like the feeling of bonding with a “sister” as Eunice Bélidor called me as we briefly chatted in her office in Montreal. Eunice is a bold and energetic black woman. She is a curator and the director of FOFA Gallery in Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts. I met her in my last year of design, a program that accepts 65 students per year. I was the only black woman in my cohort. In addition to that, I work for an organization that is reaching 90 employees soon. Even if I have the immense privilege of being associated with some of the most talented, dedicated and intelligent people, again, I am one of two black women working there.
Believe me, the information technology sector aggressively promotes inclusion, especially in UX. However, it is still not as diverse as it hopes to be. An article by The Guardian states that in 2015, Facebook hired only seven black people, which represents 2% of the social network’s employee count. Besides these numbers, many factors contribute to black people not pursuing a career in design or in UX, including the fact that most black families don’t believe the arts or anything associated with it can sustain a viable career. I don’t blame them, but the world is changing. Therefore, I have spent most of my university and professional career as the “only one” or, as one of a very few. But don’t get me wrong, I am surrounded by amazingly creative human beings who love design in its many forms and want to change the world with it. The only issue is, I got so used to being “the only black girl” that I became desensitized to that fact. “Who cares? It doesn’t bother me at all,” so I thought, until I met and sat down with someone like Eunice. Until I felt the undeniably powerful energy in the room, exchanging with kindred spiritsbeautiful and talented black professionals in technology at BFTUR conference.
Here is what I’ve learned. You see, the goal is not just to promote and increase diversity in the workplace. It is not just for the sake of diversity, even if, according to social-economic theorist Richard Florida, diverse cities come with high concentrations of economic outcomes in the form of innovations and high-tech growth. It is a privilege to have a space to bond with a group of people you can relate to. It is a privilege to feel like you belong. Indescribable things happen when you are with people, even more when those strangers share similar life experiences, family dynamics, values and happen to come from the same side of the world as you.
That is why, even if you do not feel like you are missing out, you will notice a difference when you finally connect with other black people your age and in your field. You will appreciate your bright future as a black professional even more, and your energy and influence will not go unnoticed. 
  • Florida, Richard L. The Rise of the Creative Class. p.218, 2002. Print.
  • Neate, Rupert. “Facebook Only Hired Seven Black People in Latest Diversity Count.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 June 2015, www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jun/25/facebook-diversity-report-black-white-women-employees.

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