By Hadiyah Mujhid (Co-Founder, Black Founders)
So if it isn’t obvious, I want to clarify that the title of this post is just a catch-title. But I also want to clarify that the organization Black Founders is not just for black people. In fact, the organization is created for all. This statement does not take away from the mission of “increasing the number of successful black entrepreneurs in technology”. But an attempt to uncover the broader purpose of organizations that are founded in diversity and equality.
I attended a couple of startup networking events this week. Typical protocol at these events is to introduce who you are and your projects/company. Many times I share the organization Black Founders to the people that I meet at these events, (who are often non black).
If I am talking to a white person, a popular response (in an effort to be supportive) is an offer for an introduction to the other black person (in tech or startups) that they know. Although, this response is well-intentioned, it demonstrates the lack of understanding of the problem. I normally reply with a direct invite for the person to become involved with the Black Founders organization and to attend an event.
Why? Why is it important for non blacks to be involved with the organization and attend events? For the same reason why anyone attends a startup networking event. To expand your network, meet people that you normally wouldn’t meet, possibly learn something, and free beer. This is the reason why I’ve enjoyed attending startup events hosted by various cultural associations.
And can proudly say that I’ve met great entrepreneurs who have become friends from various countries and backgrounds.
Why create another organization? Why not encourage blacks to attend other startup events? We do. Unfortunately, for various reasons, some blacks are not exposed to some startup events. Many blacks in tech entrepreneurship are not even aware of Black Founders until we’ve outreached to them.
The Black Founders has served as a hub that actively outreaches to the black community and encourages participation in the broader startup community. In addition, to facilitating connections, we provide visibility for successful black entrepreneurs. Visibility of successful black entrepreneurs provides encouragement for the aspiring.
Lastly, my favorite question: “Aren’t you encouraging segregation? Blacks would be upset if there was a White Founders organization.” A little truth is that there are White Founder groups. Not by official name, but by description of majority of the participants. I’m assuming that white males don’t pre-think networking events with thoughts of stupid race-based questions/comments they will have to answer.
Most of my experiences at networking events are pretty good, but it’s usually the one off-colored question/comment that can stain a night. (ie: being described as a “black” engineer as opposed just engineer, frequent questions about my hair — questions are fine, but i’ve met people who are obsessed about talking about it the entire night)
As a mentor told me this week, one of our goals is to create a commonness of black entrepreneurs, that we can get beyond the race conversation. And this is why Black Founders is for White People too.
This post was originally posted at Engineers Don’t Blog.
About the guest blogger: Hadiyah Mujhid is an entrepreneur and software engineer currently working on early stage startups in San Francisco. She co-runs Black Founders, an organization that promotes diversity in the startup ecosystem. Hadiyah blogs at Engineers Don’t Blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hadiyahdotme.