“I’m from an area of Chicago where Black communities don’t always have an opportunity to see a future, to imagine ourselves as chief technology officers,” says Richard Thomas, Oracle senior marketing cloud consultant. But Thomas has a vision: to give back to the community through our Alliance of Black Leaders for Excellence (ABLE), an Oracle employee resource group. ABLE works with organizations, such as Black Girls Code, to help Black youth see themselves in a future where coding, programming, and engineering are the keys to economic and professional advancement.
ABLE is an example of not just dreaming, but doing—a commitment to building a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Change requires sustained effort: Companies such as Oracle are working to evolve workplace culture—from the policymakers at the top to the employees on the front lines.
A corporate commitment to change
A more diverse and inclusive workforce starts with wider recruiting. To identify Black STEM talent, Oracle partners with the National Society of Black Engineers and recruits heavily at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (including being named a top supporter of HBCUs). Oracle also works with the United Negro College Fund and Black Data Processing Associates, donating more than $12 million to boost opportunities for Black students. These investments are designed to embed our commitment to increasing representation and availability of Black talent, creating a larger pool of recruitment prospects.
But investment in skills development is only one part of the change. The hiring process itself can be filled with bias—unconscious, but not benign. According to the Kapor Center, an Oakland-based organization that seeks to remove the barriers to tech careers for underrepresented people of color, too often in the corporate world candidates with “ethnic-sounding” names get fewer responses to their resumes. In interviews, candidates perceived to speak with accents tend to get lower ratings.
Oracle has invested in programs that help identify and mitigate subtler forms of bias. “Diversity and Inclusion training is important for changing perspectives,” says Traci Wade, Oracle senior director, diversity and inclusion. “Opening our eyes to unconscious bias comes through education and awareness that we all have biases. Also, learning the tools to mitigate our conscious and unconscious bias. It takes a willingness for people across the organization to be open-minded and intentional in evolving a culture of inclusion.”
Employees are the sparks
Employee resource groups play a huge role in promoting inclusivity at Oracle. Besides the aforementioned ABLE, we have 6 additional employee resource groups—representing Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ, Disabled, Veterans and Multi-Generations in our workplace—and Oracle Women’s Leadership (OWL). These groups are represented by hundreds of local and global chapters. “Many of them pop up organically,” says Maria Kaval, Oracle senior vice president, and a member of Oracle Women’s Leadership. “They have strong support from the top of the company, so people feel empowered to run with them.”
Kaval notes that the groups are a source of institutional knowledge—an unwritten archive of how to succeed in a corporate setting. Members learn from peers, gain business insight, and build alliances that can accelerate careers.
Katty Coulson, vice president of information technology, Oracle NetSuite, says the groups provide a forum for open, honest discussion. “These are important conversations, and anyone can learn by coming,” she says. “For example, you don’t have to be Hispanic to participate in the Oracle Latinos Alliance (OLA), the group I’m active in.”
ABLE has defined its own distinct mission: to break down barriers by reaching out to Black school-age kids. Besides teaching IT skills, ABLE shows these future workers that professional networks matter. Their connections to Black professionals, such as Thomas, have the potential to yield college recommendations and eventually job opportunities.
With 15 local chapters and counting, ABLE is helping Oracle advance changes in the workforce—and ultimately change the face of the company and the technology industry at large.