Diversity, inclusion, and belonging are all values we highlight and honor at Zscaler, but it’s no secret that there is still progress to be made. The annual AfroTech Conference – the largest Black tech conference of the year – is helping to break down barriers and amplify the business value of a more representative workforce. AfroTech brings together tech professionals from all different backgrounds to network, experience powerful keynotes and demonstrations, explore the future of technology, and encourage the next generation of Black tech geniuses to innovate.
This year, I had the opportunity to attend my first AfroTech Conference – hosted in Austin, Texas – with four of my Zscaler colleagues. I went in expecting a typical conference, but what I got out of it was so much more.
Speakers from prominent Fortune 500 companies talked about how they were incorporating diversity – and specifically, blackness – in their product messaging, while others used their platform to share and educate us on emerging technologies (crypto, Web3, NFTs, blockchain, etc.) to help ensure that those attending are familiar with the latest trends.
As this was also Zscaler’s first time having a presence at AfroTech, I asked for feedback from my colleagues on what it meant to them. Bryan Wooden, Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), has been to five AfroTech conferences prior to Zscaler and remembers when it hosted only 5,000 attendees seven years ago, compared to 26,000 this year.
“It was beautiful to see how much it has grown. After two years fully virtual due to COVID, people were excited to be back in person,” he said. “Everything was bigger and better - the quality of guest speakers, more topics and sessions around technology and entrepreneurship, way more new connections to make, and the ability to network with other Black folks in the tech space.”
Will Medley, Sales Development Representative, Americas agreed that AfroTech was an inspiring event. “I was excited to see Black excellence in the tech space, and not only did AfroTech meet my expectations, it exceeded them greatly. For me, it was bigger than a conference – it was an experience.”
One of the best outcomes of attending AfroTech was the ability to connect with Black and diverse talent. Precious Rucker, Sr. Recruiter for G&A Specialty, People & Culture, said, “As a recruiter, I was looking to network and identify pipeline candidates for future roles at Zscaler,” she said. “I’ve seen the caliber of prospects this conference attracts, so I already knew the best of the best would be there. There were folks looking for both technical and non-technical roles, so this was a great opportunity to engage talent.”
“The impact of Zscaler attending AfroTech – the largest collection of technologists and entrepreneurs across the African Diaspora in America – is the ability to "show up" in this space and market ourselves directly to the Black tech community in person,” Wooden said. “To tell our story – who we are, what we do, and why you should consider working for us or with us – is a great opportunity for Zscaler to communicate to the Black tech community that ‘you belong here,’ and ‘we want you here.’”
"We know that minorities have been historically underrepresented in the tech space,” Medley said. “But while at AfroTech, I was surrounded by the best and brightest coming from backgrounds that enrich companies. Next year, I look forward to participating again, recruiting more diverse talent to Zscaler, and fellowshipping with all those who attend.”
In closing, what made AfroTech so impactful for me was feeling the power of community and strength in numbers. For just a few days, we were not the “only” Black person in the room. We were surrounded by people who look like US in technology. It felt like a real-life Wakanda homecoming moment – we know we’re out there and we are all connected virtually, but physically coming together and seeing the numbers in one place was akin to seeing the movie The Black Panther for the first time – I felt seen, I felt proud, and I felt like I belong.
Visit the AfroTech Conference page to learn more.