Black colleagues bring their “whole, authentic” selves to Oracle

June 22, 2022 | 9 minute read
Mitch Wagner
Senior Writer, Oracle
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Oracle’s Leigh Causey thought she had to look a certain way to succeed professionally. “I thought your hair had to be straight and you had to be prim and proper in order to get a good job,” she says.

Leigh Causey
Leigh Causey

That doesn’t describe Causey. “I’m loud. I’m proud. I’ve got pink hair. I love to talk a lot, and I’ve got tattoos.”

But in college, Causey did an internship at a tech company and saw people like herself, with tattoos and flamboyantly colored hair. “I saw somebody with whole neck tattoos running a conference call. I thought, ‘Those people get to work in corporate?’” she says. “I wanted to be in tech because I can bring my whole, authentic self.”

Causey’s experience emerged as a common theme as we interviewed seven Black colleagues about their experiences in tech and at Oracle. The tech industry doesn’t care what you look like; it cares about results. That gives Black people an opportunity to thrive.

We also found diversity within the Black community. We talked with people at many levels of seniority—one who’d been at Oracle 23 years, another who just started work two days before we spoke with him. Our interview subjects work in engineering, sales, and marketing. They are men and women, heterosexual and self-identifying as queer. Some have long careers spanning decades in technology; others are fresh out of college. Some came to Oracle to follow a passion for technology, and at least one came here just because it looked like a good job that paid better than what they did before. They were born in different parts of the United States, and one was born in Nigeria.

Despite these diverse backgrounds, everyone we talked to ended up at Oracle.

Here’s how.

Moving fast

Gerald Bellot, senior principal technical support engineer, remembers a conversation with his father when he was just seven years old. His father invited him to help work on the car, and he said no. “I can’t get my hands dirty. These are doctor’s hands!” the seven-year-old Bellot told his father. Bellot chuckles as he remembers the story.

Eventually, Bellot chose a career in tech because the industry moves faster than medicine, and he could gain expertise and get to work faster. Also, the financial opportunities in tech are great. “If you want to get that check, you’ve got to get into tech,” Bellot says. Indeed, the Fortune 500 is dominated by tech companies.

Today, Bellot maintains his interest in science and medicine, taking classes in subjects, including gravitational physics, neuroscience, microbiology, and quantum mechanics.

Ken Moore, a corporate account executive for Oracle NetSuite, previously sold mobile phones, working for BlackBerry and Samsung. Then he moved to software.

“Tech is fun,” Moore says. “Medicine, law—all that stuff is cool, and you can make a lot of money. But tech is an industry that’s continually advancing, growing, and always changing.” The rapid change makes tech a welcome place for personal and professional growth.

Moore was an athlete in school, and he believes that background helps him in competitive tech sales. “It was a career where I could take my competitive skills and really go to work,” he says. Sales can be a grind, and you won’t succeed if you don’t have a desire to beat the competition and get a thrill when a customer signs and you’ve delivered the business.

Many paths, one destination

Sales and Business Development Consultant Loveisha Ballard had some interest in tech when she was a girl. Her older brother was always taking apart computers. And she learned a little coding to customize her Myspace page.

For Ballard, coming to Oracle and starting work in tech was a pragmatic decision. The job was good money and seemed like good work compared with where she previously worked, managing a retail hair removal business.

Like many of her Black Oracle colleagues, Ballard attended a historically Black college and university (HBCU)—in her case, Howard University. Former Howard schoolmates already worked at Oracle and helped Ballard find a job with Oracle.

Temitayo Odesanmi, an Oracle application developer, grew up in Nigeria with a software developer for a father. “As early as five or six, I was already tinkering with computers and getting to break things,” he says.

Gerald Gellot
Gerald Bellot

From sit-ins to Silicon Valley

Causey grew up in Greensboro, NC, which has a rich history in the American civil rights movement. It was the site of a historic sit-in by Black college students at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960 that resulted in desegregation of that chain throughout the American South.

Causey went to disadvantaged schools. Textbooks were torn; students lived in subsidized housing. But the teachers inspired the students.

Students at Causey’s school didn’t get much career guidance. “All they told us was, ‘Be good in school, graduate, go to college, and get a job.’ They didn’t tell us what kinds of jobs were available,” she says.

Causey says her mother never graduated high school, and she had to figure out for herself how to apply to college, fill out financial aid forms, and do taxes. “I had to be very self-sufficient at a young age. My parents, unfortunately, didn’t have the education to learn about those things.”

Attending an HBCU opened up options for Causey. She went to college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University—the same HBCU the organizers of the 1960 Woolworth’s sit-in attended. Causey started out studying journalism, then fell in love with design. At a job fair, she passed a recruitment table for Cisco (an important Oracle customer) and asked if they were hiring nontechnical roles. While interning at Cisco, she learned more about tech and eventually came to Oracle, where she is now a sales and business development consultant for Oracle Marketing Cloud.

Her HBCU produced many Black engineers, and it was there that she learned about Black history in STEM. Ronald McNair, a Black astronaut and physicist killed in the Challenger accident in 1987, was an A&T alum, with buildings on campus named for him.

Closing the gap

Just because tech is an industry where Black professionals can thrive doesn’t make it easy, say the Black colleagues we interviewed.

According to Odesanmi, Black workers everywhere need to do more than is required, particularly when starting out. That reality helped Odesanmi formulate his competitive work ethic. “I always try to be ahead. I always try to get the advantage,” he says. “If I was given five topics to research, I would research eight.”

People looking to get into tech should just start somewhere—anywhere, says Timothy Barker, a site reliability engineer and director for SaaS Operations in the Oracle Communications Global Business Unit. Technology is important to every industry, and a tech grounding can improve any career.

Learning never ends, Barker says. “It’s a lifelong responsibility to continue to learn and grow, from your first job to every job afterward.”

Black workers are underrepresented in the tech workforce. The disparity begins well before the hiring process. African Americans and other ethnic minorities are more likely to lack access to core foundational courses and tutoring going through school—math, science, and other STEM programs, says Barker.

“If I was given five topics to research, I would research eight. I always try to be ahead. I always try to get the advantage.”
—Temitayo Odesanmi, Application Developer, Oracle

Research agrees with Barker. Black students are 45% more likely to attend high-poverty schools, with a 90-point difference in eighth-grade math and science scores for students attending high-poverty schools compared with peers at low-poverty schools, according to a November 2021 report in Science Education.

This skills gap reduces Black admissions to four-year universities—exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw Black enrollment drop 8% further.

Community colleges are options and so is the military. That’s where Barker got his start—installing and maintaining telecommunications systems in the Air Force. “These are challenges—but they can be overcome,” Barker says.

But education is only part of the solution. Representation matters. Black workers need to see people who look like them in positions of influence in tech companies.

Before he came to Oracle, Odesanmi says, he was possibly the only Black person at his previous employer. That seemed normal.

Ballard says she sometimes felt held back, reluctant to pursue positions because of her background, that hiring managers would see her name—Loveisha—and reject it outright, thinking this is not someone that fits into their normal group of applications. She is careful to “code switch” in professional conversations, refraining from talking about Black culture, music, social media, and TV that her colleagues with different cultures and backgrounds might not be familiar with.

Having Black Americans prominent in an organization makes it more likely that younger Black people will want to work there, Moore says. “They see people that look like them,” he says. “If you pull up the board of directors and see no one that looks like you, it may be very discouraging.”

Ken Moore
Ken Moore

Odesanmi was excited to see Black representation at Oracle and get involved with the Oracle Alliance of Black Leaders for Excellence (ABLE). Seeing Black people at the top, at the manager or director level, gives him incentive to advance. “My last manager was Black, so it was encouraging to me on a daily basis to keep going and keep pushing.”

Faith Humbles, ABLE president and marketing consultant for Strategic Clients Programs, says that closing the skills and representation gap helps Black employees bring their excellence to the workplace and truly unlock the organizational power of diversity. "What makes you different is a superpower because it is what you bring to the table,” she says. “ Your voice has power, no matter what your background is, no matter where you come from.”

Optimistic visions

Oracle’s strong support for diversity, sustainability, and corporate citizenship is what drew Humbles to the company. “I wanted to work at a company that was doing impactful work, because I am the type of person that will throw myself into the job that I do.”

Humbles found the Diversity and Inclusion section of Oracle’s website told an attractive story of the company’s commitment to workplace equity. At the time that Humbles joined the company, Mark Hurd and Safra Catz were co-CEOs. She liked seeing a woman at the top and plenty of other female leadership. Those signals convinced Humbles that Oracle was a place where she could succeed.

Indeed, many of her peers have an optimistic vision of how technology can improve the world in coming decades—and help Black communities as well. They see technology as leveling the field.

A person from an underserved community can use their phone to search the internet for information, getting education on even obscure and difficult topics. “If I can get access to information, it doesn’t matter if I’m Harvard, or Yale, or a local community college,” Bellot says. People can excel based on their curiosity, creativity, and work ethic.

Technology can democratize access to capital and opportunity, says Moore. Black-owned banks can prosper, and tools such as GoFundMe can provide financial resources to Black-owned business. Previously, a Black person could support Black-owned businesses within their own community; now they can do it anywhere.

Moore cites the example of a friend, Rico James, who used GoFundMe to finance a documentary about a Black artist known as TMNK.

And increasing diversity in tech delivers better outcomes for everyone. Having different experiences and educational background on teams makes for richer products, Odesanmi says.

Barker agrees, adding that greater diversity in the workforce helps businesses develop more competitive products, reach new customers, and expand into new markets.

The “hip-hop effect”

Bellot refers to Black involvement as the “hip-hop effect.” Just as Black involvement transformed music, athletics, and the arts, it can transform business and technology as well.

It’s happened before. Patterson-Greenfield was the largest Black-owned manufacturer in the US, a successful producer of horse-drawn carriages. In 1915, company CEO Frederick Douglas Patterson saw a shift toward horseless carriages and produced a luxury automobile designed to compete with Ford and Cadillac, featuring such innovations as a full-floating rear axle, cantilever springs, and an electric starter.

Bellot cites Patterson-Greenfield as model for how Black excellence can bring new ideas to the economy. “If it could happen a hundred years ago, it can happen today,” he says.

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Mitch Wagner

Senior Writer, Oracle

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