Are there Black people in the metaverse?
That’s one of the provocative questions speakers are posing Thursday at the inaugural How To Boston While Black Summit, a three-day (and in-person) conference at Westin Copley Place. The first day will dive into Boston’s growing tech scene and analyze where Black workers are — and where they can grow — within the industry, said Sheena Collier, the Boston While Black founder and CEO.
“This city is [one-fourth] Black, but people aren’t connected,” she added. “When putting together the summit, we thought, ‘How can we fix that?’”
The who’s who of Boston tech will be participating. Nicole Obi, president of Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, will weigh in on “earth-friendly entrepreneurship.” Mayor Wu’s chief of economic opportunity, Segun Idowu, will analyze the role of policy in attracting Black talent to Boston. And Damon Cox, one of the newest additions at the MassChallenge startup accelerator, is speaking on the social impact of fintech.
Among the summit’s goals is to drive a conversation about the perception of Boston in the tech landscape nationwide. (Its second and third days focus on Black culture.) Our average tech salary — roughly $150,000 — has risen rapidly in recent years. And Massachusetts companies garnered the third-most venture capital funding by state in 2021, behind California and New York, according to PitchBook data.
But “if you ask anyone outside of Boston what the Black tech community looks like in Boston, they wouldn’t know,” said Eric Seburyamo, the chief diversity officer at Veeva Systems, a cloud-computing company with a Boston office. (He lives in upstate New York.)
In a Thursday panel, Seburyamo will chat about everything from “code to code-switching,” an overview of what being Black in tech is like. How do you find Black talent? How do you keep it? Nurture it?
The discussion will be about “how we can leverage the existing community that’s in Boston already — the innovators, the entrepreneurs, the professionals — to help attract and retain more Black founders and investors,” said Seburyamo, who will be joined by Pariss Chandler of Black Tech Pipeline and executives from Cambridge’s EverQuote and Rocena, an investment firm that teaches Black and Latinx youth to build wealth.
And with return to offices in full swing, what’s in the cards for Black and brown employees who are unwilling — or unable — to deal with microaggressions in the workplace? “That’ll be part of the conversation too,” Seburyamo added. “We’re not strangers to — in a lot of cases — being one of the few in the room.”
Boston While Black, a membership and events network for Black professionals, launched in July 2020, on the heels of George Floyd’s murder, when a swath of companies made pledges to increase diversity and promote equity. (Many of those efforts, the Globe reported last summer, didn’t pan out.) The organization has since ballooned to 600 members and partnered with over 15 companies — HubSpot, Wayfair, and DraftKings among them.
In the end, “we want to bring Black people to Boston. We want to keep Black people in Boston. And we want to give them what they deserve,” Collier said.