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Black History Month is over − this is what Microsoft did and didn't do

Black History Month is a 28-day window designed to highlight the contributions black Americans made to the historical legacy, current progress, and future of America and the world. Its value rests on the reality that 400 hundred years of slavery, decades of racism and segregation and the enduring impact of both resulted in the ignoring, belittling and often omission of the contributions of black Americans from the historical narrative; particularly since black slaves were considered property, not citizens.

The history of black Americans is often taught within the context of the struggles endured. Consequently, their highlighted contributions to history are primarily those related to a fight for equality, thereby reducing the narrative of blacks in America to slavery and a battle for parity. This is vitally important but represents a neutered historical narrative. That's why last year I was impressed with Microsoft's "Connecting Black History to a Microsoft Future" program. It acknowledged, included and added to the "struggle" context by highlighting the values and experiences of blacks at Microsoft who are contributing to its future.

The program was forward-looking and a reflection of the centuries of innovations, leadership and more blacks, like those Microsoft spotlighted, have contributed to history that isn't part of the popular historical narrative. Sadly, after reaching out to Microsoft, I learned the program wasn't continued this year. Still, there are several efforts Microsoft participated in during Black History Month and beyond.

Blacks at Microsoft (BAM) and Nasdaq

BAM was established 30-years ago to promote Microsoft's employee and diversity initiative. BAM was recently represented on Behind the Bell by group chair Alfred Ojukwu, Vice Chairs Tekisha Thomas, and Amma Kwateng and member Michael Dunner to ring the bell on Wall Street for the second year in a row to honor Black History Month.

Kwateng explained BAM operates on three pillars:

  • Connecting with other groups like National Black MBA and Black Girls Code to help build mindshare within the black community about opportunities in tech.
  • Attracting diverse talent.
  • Developing employee skills.

BAM is supported from the top down and collaborates with non-black allies within and outside Microsoft. Ojukwu stressed the importance of building connections, networking ideas, building awareness of what it means to be a person of color and encouraging others to make a difference. Nasdaq was so impressed with BAM that it created its own employee network, GLOBE, Global Link of Black Employees.

Microsoft and The Wall Street Project

Microsoft's Toni Townes-Whitley, President, U.S. Regulated Industries, is an African American woman who started her training in economics, transitioned to consulting, and volunteered for three years with the Peace Corps in Africa, before joining the technology field. Four years ago she became the head of Microsoft's public sector practice. She introduces Microsoft technology to federal, local and state governments, education, financial services, and healthcare industries and helps them understand how technology can change their organizations not just their IT departments.

Whitley was invited to the 22nd Annual Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project Economic Summit in honor of Black History Month where she participated in a Fireside Chat (above video) with project President and Founder, Jesse Jackson. The Project was founded in 1996 "to promote inclusion, opportunity and economic growth for minorities in public and private industries.

Whitley and Jackson discussed: how tech serves African American communities, technology's outpacing of governance, facial recognitions shortcoming with recognizing people of color, sex trafficking, affordable housing, the under-representation of blacks (opens in new tab) in tech and much more.

Progress was made but there's a very, very long way to go

This year Microsoft's One Small Act (opens in new tab) campaign focused on how the impact of a cousin, teacher, father and artist inspired current African American Microsoft employees to help others achieve more.

Microsoft acknowledges it has a long way to go toward fair representation of blacks within the company. Its most recent report (opens in new tab) (November 2018) on diversity revealed growth from 3.8-percent of African Americans at Microsoft to 4-percent since 2017. Blacks in tech roles crawled from 2.5- to 2.8-percent. While their representation in leadership was nudged from 2.3- to 2.4-percent. The company is engaging in various efforts (opens in new tab) to address these disparities.

The Microsoft-led Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program helps high schools build sustainable computer science programs. Microsoft supports Code.org which made diversity in computer science a priority and is comprised of 48-percent minority students. It supports apprenticeship programs like Apprenti and the Learning Engineering Apprenticeship Program. Microsoft also awards an annual $5000 BAM scholarship and holds an annual BAM Conference in February.

Thankfully Microsoft recognizes the systemic inequities (opens in new tab) that remain part of our culture, education system, workforce and more due to centuries of slavery and decades of overt racism, Jim Crow Laws and segregation. The explicit and legal expression of which ended less than 60-years ago. Microsoft's recognizing of Black History Month and its investments in minority communities is perhaps an acknowledgment that it understands that the enduring impacts of slavery and institutionalized racism are a big ship that will take more than six decades since the Civil Rights Movement to turn around. Ideally, Microsoft's and other's efforts during Black History month will have produced greater understanding and empathy in an increasingly divided world. Whitley said it this way:

Black History Month, a 28-day window provides an opportunity for our nation, our company [Microsoft], and each of us to pause and take stock of the condition and progress of Black people…We can celebrate the achievements and contributions of so many and, at the same time, lament the increase in violence and hate crimes, inflammatory discourse in our political arena and sense of increasing polarization across our country.

History is history, and perhaps one day it will be taught with the level of inclusivity with which it occurred.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

21 Comments
  • "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • It's sad that people always quote MLK on this but leave out the context that he was mentioning that dream as the end goal of concerted efforts on the part of government, communities, and businesses to create conditions where this can be done. Organizational sociological literature even up till today still shows how Black and other non-white employees and candidates are judged more harshly even with the same qualifications as white candidates. No matter how much one argues that we live in a post-racial world it's a travesty that in 2019 Black people (and presumably other non-white people) are so underrepresented at Microsoft and other tech companies. We know for a fact that it's not simply because Black people are less competent that they aren't being hired/accepted in position so there's still a massive racism problem in the hiring process.
  • You have some good points, but I'm not a fan of hiring a person just for the sake of diversity. In my mind, the only way to help curtail this practice and innate bias is to withhold a person's name, gender, age, and other identifiable information until the face to face interview stage. That should ensure those being interviewed are there because of their resume and past work and not to fill an ethnicity/gender diversity quota.
  • Nobody hires based on just race, it's illegal to do that. Even in education where affirmative action was a thing, the problem was that many of the things colleges cared about were things that Black people were systematically barred from gaining/participating in but also ironically didn't predict performance in actual college coursework well. But scholars also have done research on using blind reviews and they encounter the problem of people still being disqualified cause they weren't able to accumulate the past work, certification etc. that would help in a blind review due to discrimination. The solution isn't colorblindness nor tokenism (what you call a diversity quota, which I should repeat is already illegal to do) but changing the way we evaluate workers and being more holistic in the review process.
  • Actually, a lot of companies get funding, and "benifits", for hiring "minorities"... Call it what you want. Lol
  • It might be considered "illegal," but there's one huge loophole that many companies use to discriminate based on ethnicity -- they call it "diversity" or "affirmative action" or, in the case of Microsoft, "Diversity Quota." I was passed over twice (that I know of) where I knew for a fact that it was of the color of my skin and NOT my qualifications - and was told so by HR. Their official explanation was "Diversity Quota," but the HR manager also said "white guy." In my group, I refused to even address ethnicity when we hired. HR complained that I didn't follow their idiotic rules, but when they looked at the actual results, we were more "diverse" than their requirement. Of course, they still didn't like it because I didn't discriminate based on skin color - only abilities. As for the "Blacks at Microsoft" group, let me paraphrase a "black" co-worker that apologized for getting a job over me only because he was "black" -- He considered the entire thing as "racist" as if there were a "Whites at Microsoft" group (which would NEVER be allowed) and refused to join.
  • There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs - partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs. -- Booker T. Washington
  • Black History month is such an American thing. It's an event like Shark week. To fight racism you can't educate your people once a year for 28 days, black history needs to be taught every day. And even then it is tough because racism is so deeply rooted in nearly all of the US.
  • Totally agree, the blacks in my country are not as nearly as bitter as the ones in the US. The funny thing is that in most other countries, the concept of "politically correct" doesn't exist. I have a black friend (they're not that common here, so 1 is a lot) we joke around with him and he takes it lightly, but at the same time I would take a bullet for him any day. Deep down I respect him as whole person. The problem in the US is that you guys never really got rid of your racism, you just didn't talk about it anymore. Even though this sounds stupid, but there are still a lot of people in the US that think blacks are not a whole person or that they are monkeys. You guys need to sit down and talk about the value of a human and set rules around that. Also, another thing is that blacks in your country propagate the racism in repeating how worthless they are and how they can't do stuff (my black friend pointed this out to me). You guys keep beating the same drum instead of joining forces and helping each other out. Going back to square 1 every single time and focusing your attention on negativity is not going to make a positive future. Another aspect to this is the US is a very hateful country, any immigrant is always hated. The Italians, Irish, Mexicans, Africans ,Arabic, etc... Look at what is going on between republicans and democrats. Hate. Your society is breaking down and the point that were already weak are breaking down first: Racism, Classism, Religion. You guys just need calm down and make reperations before it's too late.
  • Please fool, shut up. Did you really think what you said hold any ground? You sound just as dumb and racist as any other racist. "I joke around with him", but he doesn't get mad? Are you saying you call him ****** or something? What about "I respect him (as) a whole person"? In the same sentence you said hes not a whole person. You idiots can't stop 🛑 being this stupid. Didn't even read the rest, this was too much to bear going forward.
  • Microsoftjunkie, no need to make assumptions about the contents of the jokes. That is between the two of them. If the friend is offended they should speak up, and from what has been shared it sounds like the friend would. "Deep down I respect him as a whole person." That was the whole sentence and the end of a paragraph. "...we joke around with him and he takes it lightly...I would take a bullet for him any day." I have friends that jokingly dig at me, but I know them and that they're just messing around. Please quote the actual comment if you're going to state something that's right above your reply. I can understand the knee jerk reaction, but always read everything through or you'll always speak from a point of ignorance.
  • Thank you for proving my first point, bitterness. My black friend makes fun of his own skin color most of the times, because here that is not a big issue. Is not considered racism here. We make fun of everyone and no one gets offended. In the end we are all brothers. I actually prefer there to be distinct races, it makes life more interesting, instead of everyone just being one boring color. Sorry, you feel targeted, but you just make it worse for yourself to react this way.
  • AnonymousAnon... I'm a black person living in the US, and I read what you had to say. I agree with a lot of your points, they are true, and are exactly my sentiment. If more people realized some of this stuff we might be better off.
  • I hope one day they will see you guys true potential it's very sad to see such oppression, but as we say here, you guys are wining through the music.
  • Viewing the US from Canada, it looks to me like there are too many systemic problems to actually fix. The fact that you need Black History Month speaks to that. At the same time I am unable to understand the general society there when it comes to blacks because the majority of the black people that live in my city are immigrants or children of immigrants; they have almost no history here yet compared to the hundreds of years of roots that black families have put down in the US. I also don't understand they ongoing racism towards blacks these days in the US. Sterotypically its worse in the South which makes no sense to me because the South is supposed to be religious, and if you're a big religious believer, than you should be treating everyone with kindness because that is what the bible tells you to do. Apart from the stereotype that black people are more likely to be in a gang or be part of some unscrupulous activity, there is no reason for companies to not have diverse work forces apart from the fact that maybe black people aren't interested in doing the work your company does. That sounds like a stereotype itself, but certain jobs are appealing to certain people more than others. I wouldn't expect an Italian bakery to be entirely staffed with black people, for instance. I am not claiming that we don't have racism in Canada; we do, but it's very minor and isolated. It's not the systemic problem it is in the US. We have Black History Month up here too, but it's not nearly as big an event as in the US. I'm also not sure how effective it is. I find a television show like Black-ish is something that is very effective. I have learned a lot of things about black culture and black history from that show. Where I work we have "Diversity and Inclusiveness Month", which I think is ridiculous. "Hey, let's make everyone feel included by pointing out how different they are". It makes no sense to me. Personally, I don't care what colour you are, what your sexuality is, or any of that. I care about whether you're a nice person and a good colleague. Beyond that I don't need to be told how you are different from me for a month. We are all people; the rest is unimportant. Enough rambling now...
  • I do find it odd that Black history is relegated to a month. Black history is history. By doing this it just divides even more. People should stop talking about skin color altogether. And refer to each other by the names you have. Only then will racism stop. https://youtu.be/GeixtYS-P3s
  • It should not be relegated to just one month, but it should be thoroughly integrated throughout the historic narrative. That's why I ended the price ith this last statement: History is history, and perhaps one day it will be taught with the level of inclusivity with which it occurred. History is history, and perhaps one day it will be taught with the level of inclusivity with which it occurred. Sadly, since the legacy of racism in our country is such that much of what black people contributed to history is not part of what is taught as history, 28 days in February is what is allocated as a time to focus on those "missing" components of the historic narrative of which we are ALL a part. Most people know only about those black individuals who are recognized as civil rights activists, because that's the primary focus on black's contributions to history in American schools. But blacks have done more to contribute to the history of America and the world than resist the will and bigotry of their oppressors. There are scientists, doctors, mathematicians, inventors of various sorts, biologists, socialogists, psychologists, archeologists and so much more. There are those who will say artists and athletes get their time to shine in the annals of history.. But the context for that is that white slave owners and those who perpetuated racism even after slavery ended never minded being entertained by blacks. (For instance How many black NBA team owners are there) It's being on par in other areas that traditionally and unequivocally manifest the reality that we are all indeed intellectual equals, that have received less focus in the historic narrative. Remember there were times a black could be killed or beaten for looking a white man in the eye because they were considered less than a man. I would love for there to be no need for a black history month. To do that will require a revamping of how and what we teach as history in our schools, and so much more. And yes, as you say, beyond color we are just humans. If we all just treated each other as such we wouldn't even be having this conversation. Now wouldn't that be great!?! 😀
  • " the legacy of racism in our country [...] black NBA team owners" Jason, can you point to anyone of any complexion denied ownership of an NBA team because of the melanin content of his skin? The racial hatred that you reference was created, nurtured, and institutionalized by (primarily) Democrats in order to justify their defense of slavery. Early Colonists did not define themselves by "race"; they identified as British or Christian. Slavery in the Colonies began as indentured servitude, an institution in which many people of European descent participated as the servants. Anthony Johnson, the first Colonist to enslave an African (John Casor) for life in a civil suit, was an African immigrant who been himself an indentured servant. By the time of the Civil War, America had chosen a Republican president whom everyone knew opposed slavery, so the Democrats went to war in order to save it. The vice-president of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens called the Founders' (and the nation's) general belief that "all men are created equal" a "species of insanity" and "fanaticism." Hundreds of thousands of Americans died in the War that brought about slavery's final abolition. After the War, a Republican congress passed the Constitutional amendments necessary to guarantee the formerly enslaved their long overdue equality under the law. Guess who opposed them then? The Democrats. The Democrats are responsible for Manifest Destiny, the Indian Removal Act, and the Mexican-American War (Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and James K. Polk); the Civil War, the assassination of President Lincoln, and Segregation; the resegregation of the federal government (Woodrow Wilson); the internment of Americans and the New Deal, which began the obliteration of the American family (Franklin Delano Roosevelt); the ongoing war against the unborn (more than 60 million children slaughtered since it was legalized, and too many African-American); and ongoing racial division, antagonism, and dependence. Even the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was supported by a greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats; Al Gore's father opposed it, and Lyndon Baines Johnson observed infamously that if he were to sign it, then he'd "have those n-- voting Democratic for the next 200 years." There is a long continuum of Liberty from our nation's founding to today. The Founding Fathers professed their belief that "all men are created equal," and they really meant all men. (If you doubt that, then a quick reading of Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration would alleviate that doubt immediately; Jefferson stated plainly that the "sacred rights of life and liberty" belonged also to the enslaved.) From them to Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Ronald Reagan, America has always defended the rights of all against those who would deny them, whether Democrat, National Socialist, Communist, or jihadist. If we're going to see the day when we stop talking about "this color and that color," then we've got to stop talking about "this color and that color," defend the rights of all, and tell the truth.
  • Hi Decapitate. African slaves were not indentured servants, INDENTURED SERVANTS: people paying for passage to America by working for an employer for a fixed term of years. They were human beings TAKEN from thier land, chained as cargo in ships and forced for LIFE, along with their children and following generations into slavery. They were accounted as property just like a mule, cow, hog or any other animal or physical object on an inventory list. They were paraded naked, groped and sold publically on auction blocks. They were raped, sodomized, lynched, castrated and more if they were perceived to disrespectful to their "master". Men were sexully abused in front of their wives and children to "break" them. Families were broken as family members were sold as commonly as one would sell cattle. This is just a snapshot of the atrocities of the slavery of blacks in America. No, they were not indentured servants. Also, I'm not sure why you made such an effort to stress how the Democrats are responsible for slavery and racism the US. I personally don't identify as democrat nor republican. I'm just a human being with a belief system and worldview that does not align with either of the polarized ideologies of the dominant parties. Looking at the world through either of those two lenses puts people in very tiny "boxes" and invariably creates opposition as people strive to remain faithful to their party of choice and oppose others simply by virtue of "they're not one of us." That's silly, devisive and fundamentally illogical. If each individual is honest they must admit, as I do, that there are some things that each of the primary parties Democrats and Republicans, and some of the smaller parties stand for that align with my (our) world view, values and moral compass, and some things that don't. And there are some things I believe that none of the parties advocate. So no, I don't fit nicely into a "party box", (and if most people are honest at their core neither do they) nor is my perspective nor positions I take party driven. And most folks values don't align 100 percent with a party but they choose one and even when something from the "opposing party" is presented, that may align with their individual values, party allegiance trumps values, ones moral compass, love and logic. That's why there is such a polarity in our nation. Virtually everything is reduced to Democrat and Republican. Please note, in my piece and in my comments on this thread I never made a reference to political parties. Because I don't see racism as a problem as a party problem at its core. It's a sin problem, a hate problem, a problem at the core of man, and it has no party alligience. Many founding fathers, presidents political leaders that founded this nation did so with the support of the slaves they themselves had. The hypocrisy of the words they wrote contradicted how they lived. The problem at its core is not political. And if we're ever going to get beyond it, it will take looking at it for what it is, a non-partisan issue, that is at heart a failing in humanity that affects each of us. It's perpetuated by those who actively push it overtly like hate groups, and subtly like politicians and public servants, and others with an agenda. It's supported by the ignorance of those who says it's no longer an issue, and by those who though at the receiving end of bigotry and racism don't take responsibly for their own actions though the upward climb will invariably be rougher for them due to systemic racism. Everyone needs to acknowledge all the issues, lay it all out, admit bigotry where it exists even in our own hearts, purge it out and see each other with the inherent value and dignity we were all created with; Love one another and live in unity.
  • Very stupid words...
  • I'll refrain from posting my views about this entire ordeal.