Nearly a decade into his IT career, Brian Mariner started feeling a sense of isolation that many Black IT pros experience at work. He had built up a \u201creasonable set of professional network opportunities\u201d but felt that he \u201cdidn\u2019t have a lot of confidants in the industry either from school or professionally,\u201d he says.\n\n\u201cI knew there was so much I didn\u2019t know about getting ahead in my industry, hiring and compensation practices, and what it was like culturally at other companies,\u201d says Mariner, an engineering manager who, at the time, had worked for nine years at a Bay Area tech company after graduating from Stanford. \u201cI lacked strong and lasting relationships with people who worked in my industry.\u201d\n\nWhen he heard about DevColor, a fledging career accelerator for Black technologists, Mariner got on board immediately, joining at its conception in 2015. He\u2019s since found that taking part in the organization\u2019s A* program and being a member of DevColor has helped him form a solid community of peers in the industry.\n\n\u201cBefore DevColor I attended infrequent tech meetup events, typically with few Black people present. After a meetup, nothing kept me coming back to continue the dialogue,\u201d he says. At DevColor, and in the A* program in particular, Mariner was finally able to be in a room \u201csurrounded by software industry peers\u201d and have the experience of \u201cnot being the \u2018other\u2019\u201d in the room.\n\nFinding community\n\nThe A* program from DevColor organizes more than 50 cohorts that consist of six to 10 mid- to senior-level leaders in the tech industry who meet monthly over the course of a year. At these meetings, cohorts gain perspectives and advice from others in the program to help advance their careers. Through the group\u2019s support, members can navigate difficult conversations at work, learn the necessary skills for high-level negotiations, and gain the confidence to \u201cexhibit higher levels of self-advocacy,\u201d says Rhonda Allen, CEO of DevColor (pictured above). \n\nA* members work together to help each other set goals and intentions, to \u201chelp each other clarify where they are relative to where they want to be, and to help each other get \u2018unstuck\u2019 to make progress,\u201d Allen says. The squads are put together so that everyone in the group is in a similar stage in their career and facing similar challenges. Squads don\u2019t have a designated leader and run on a \u201cflat structure\u201d with a focus on being peer-led, says Allen.\n\nApplicants can apply online \u2014 the program is currently oriented toward Black technologists such as engineers, engineering managers, and senior leaders in the coding space. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis and sessions kick off in winter and summer. Cohorts are selected and organized through a \u201cthoughtful and intentional\u201d process, with Allen noting that organizing cohorts is a \u201cmanual labor of love.\u201d\n\n\u201cWe want to disrupt the inertia of the industry even within our own organization. If we have a squad of six male-identifying members and one female-identifying member, we won\u2019t necessarily place her there. We want her to feel included, especially if she has expressed that she doesn\u2019t want to be the only woman on a squad. We want to make sure that we are really being attentive to communities within our community,\u201d says Allen.\n\nAneesha Raines, head of engineering at O(1) Labs, was part of a student organization during her time at the University of Michigan that focused on the \u201ccollective support and growth of Black computer scientists and engineers.\u201d When she got into her first job, she found herself missing the support she found in that group and felt Dev Color \u201cseemed to have that same spirit of collective support, growth and community\u201d that she was missing in her career, she says.\n\nUpon entering the A* program, Raines found that DevColor offered more than the typical networking or mentorship organization. She appreciated the way squads were formed, with an eye on matching experience, talent, and skills so everyone could get the most out of the experience. She also found the meetings were structured with a format that felt \u201cdesigned to build a support system that requires people to show up and engage in the process\u201d and that it helped her stay focused on her goals.\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s a time for us to support each other with our experience, which really helps to create that shared sense of community and belonging. This was something I really appreciated \u2014 being a Black woman in engineering leadership can often be a very isolating experience,\u201d she says.\n\nTurning the tide\n\nRaines\u2019s sentiment about engineering leadership being a \u201cvery isolating experience\u201d is something commonly expressed by Black technologists. Representation for Blacks in the industry is significantly lacking, with Blacks representing only 2% to 5% of tech executive roles, as compared to 83% of executives in the tech sector being white, according to data form the Diversity in High Tech report published by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission\n\nThe report also points out that at \u201cselect leading Silicon Valley tech firms,\u201d as identified by a San Jose Mercury News analysis, 57% of executive employees were white, and less than 1% were Black.\n\nWith a lack of representation at the leadership level, the A* program gives senior leaders a sense of community and support that they often lack in their own organizations. It helps them build a network of other Black technologists who can understand the unique experience of being a non-white leader or executive in tech. It also helps provide a \u201croadmap to the unwritten world of breaking through these ceilings,\u201d says Allen.\n\nHow you progress in your role is often straightforward early in your career, but as IT pros get closer to leadership roles or board seats, \u201cit\u2019s very opaque and even more so for folks who identify as Black and as coming from marginalized backgrounds,\u201d Allen says. Oftentimes, Black tech workers who have their eye on executive positions don\u2019t have the same type of access or resources that their white peers have. And with a lack of representation in the organization comes a lack of sponsorship, which is paramount for those on the executive path.\n\nAston Motes, current board member of DevColor, was a part of the first A* cohort that took place in 2015. While previously working as the director of engineering at UnitedMasters, Motes says he \u201cexpected the program to primarily be a way to meet other Black software engineers,\u201d and to connect with \u201caccountability partners.\u201d But he found the A* program offered more than just networking. Since joining, Motes says that DevColor has grown to become a source of some of his \u201cstrongest personal and professional relationships\u201d and that he\u2019s found the network of current and former members \u201cextremely valuable.\u201d\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s very difficult to find a community with this caliber of people, all focused on technical excellence and with an eye towards achievement. As an independent organization, we can do a lot more for people\u2019s careers than ERGs within companies, and in my experience the affinity members have for each other leads to deep trust in a way that may be impossible to replicate in a more general program. To a large extent, I believe advances people of color make in the technology industry will primarily come not from top-down gatekeepers changing their ways, but instead from bottom-up progress via organizations like ours,\u201d says Motes. \n\nAiming for organizational accountability\n\nDevColor\u2019s State of Tech report found that 50% of Black tech workers don\u2019t feel comfortable speaking up about inequities at work because it is \u201ctoo risky for their career.\u201d DevColor steps in as a third party to bridge that communication gap by working with companies and leaders to fill them in on what their Black technologists may be feeling at work and how they can work to improve their culture to accommodate inclusivity. They help Black tech workers feel less alone and advocate for them without also potentially putting them in a vulnerable position at work.\n\n\u201cWe aim to be an accountability partner to companies and to leaders who are aiming to support Black technologists. For folks who say they want to support Black people in their community, we want that to be an accountable partnership and not just in words,\u201d Allen says. \u201cOne of the things that we were charged to do by our community of Black technologists is to hold our partners and the industry accountable, to speak up more boldly on their behalf and to say look, you are saying you\u2019re committed \u2014 here\u2019s some very tangible things that you can do to live that out.\u201d\n\nOften, companies already have the data they need and the \u201cnecessary feedback on hand,\u201d they just \u201caren\u2019t doing the right things with it,\u201d says Allen. Organizations need to have thoughtful and candid conversations about the DEI progress they\u2019re making, setbacks they\u2019ve experienced, and areas where they are failing at creating inclusive environments to retain BIPOC tech workers. With DevColor, organizations work to establish goals for the partnership and \u201clean in to get as much perspective as [possible] on the health and culture internally and encourage them to make progress on their internal goals,\u201d she adds.\n\nWhether your company\u2019s culture was built intentionally or not, it exists, Allen says, noting that DevColor works with companies to \u201chelp them disrupt the inertia of how they\u2019ve always operated.\u201d You can\u2019t expect to make meaningful change in the organizational culture if you keep doing the same things you have always done as a company.\n\nEven if you aren\u2019t doing anything at all, Allen points out that is still doing something. By doing nothing, companies simply allow the status quo to persist, whether that\u2019s promoting friends and family, not working to root out bias in the organization, or hiring from the same bubble they\u2019ve always hired from, Allen says.\n\nChanging the equation for Black IT careers\n\nAccording to data from Russel Reynold Associates and Valance, Black technologists (47%) are more likely than their non-Black (28%) peers to feel as if they need to change companies to grow their careers. They also change jobs more often; on average, Black technologists change companies every 3.5 years compared to 5.1 for non-Black tech workers. This can be due to a desire to grow their careers, but it is also attributed to toxic or hostile work environments that are unwelcoming to Black tech workers. Retaining BIPOC employees can be challenging if they don\u2019t feel comfortable in the company culture, or feel they have been overlooked for promotions, raises, or new projects.\n\n\u201cPrograms like A* are important for the industry because, to put it bluntly, despite efforts the industry is still failing it\u2019s Black engineers,\u201d O(1) Labs\u2019 Raines says. \u201cIn almost every single mentoring conversation, panel, or discussion I have with other Black women in tech, the No. 1 question that comes up is, \u2018Have you ever thought about quitting tech?\u2019 Followed by, \u2018What makes you want to stay?\u2019 That speaks volumes.\u201d\n\nDevColor has helped Raines \u201cnavigate [her] path\u201d and has given her access to others who share her experience in the industry and want to help her thrive in her career. She attributes the A* program and DevColor community as a major reason why she\u2019s remained in IT at all.\n\n\u201cI am continually inspired by those around me, other Black leaders in the field who are succeeding at doing their thing,\u201d she says.\n\nMariner also feels that the community he\u2019s built through DevColor is what keeps him in the industry. He says that it has given him confidence in his career and that he \u201clearned from [his] peers how to be a stronger contributor.\u201d He also notes that it\u2019s been a great resource for \u201cfinding and sharing opportunities for Black software developers.\u201d\n\n\u201cBeing in a group like DevColor is uplifting \u2014 seeing the examples of other people like me who succeeded in the industry gave me confidence that I could succeed. Knowing that I\u2019m not on my own when it comes to what I\u2019m facing in my industry,\u201d he says.