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Thick Skin, Tech and Black History Month

February 28, 2022

This post was written by Ketch Data Privacy & Compliance Specialist, Jocelyn Brunson, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

Ireally noticed it when I first entered the tech industry: there just weren’t many people in the room that looked like me. That wasn’t exactly a new experience. Growing up in North Carolina, my mom put us into year-round schools which were predominantly white. My parents did that on purpose — so we’d know how to navigate in those spaces. It was difficult dealing with that environment as a kid but in some ways, my parents plan worked. I built up thick skin real quick.

Earlier in my career, I thought of that thick skin as only a strength.

I figured it was thick skin that helped me cope when I was passed up for positions. Somebody I trained would come up and over me. It wasn’t subtle. I’d have the best month of my sales career but nobody was considering me for internal advancement. When I talked to other people in tech who looked like me, nobody was surprised. It matched their own experience. Thick skin, I thought. I’ll put up with it. And I did until I couldn’t.

I went to HR. Luckily enough, the HR rep was a black woman.

“As a black woman,” she told me, “you have to know your own worth. You have to insist on it because nobody is going to see it for you or insist on it for you.”

I learned that having thick skin and trying to let things roll off your back can be crippling. Unfortunately, speaking up and speaking out can be damaging too. The perception is that you have an attitude. You have to worry about respectfully checking people so nobody can come for your character.

Being a black woman is just a double negative sometimes, especially in sales. You’re already looked at sideways. You’re automatically counted out until you can prove to people that they should count you in. I’m also lucky in a really unfair way. People can’t tell my skin color by my voice. I think that’s unfortunately a big part of my sales success.

Anyway, I decided to leave bigger corporations for all of these reasons and try my luck in startups. And this is where I feel like I’ve thrived.

I’m at Ketch for a reason. I’m not going to have to deal with a lot of what I saw at other companies. It’s a diverse team with a really beautiful, rich culture. I feel like there’s potential to work into a management position and grow my career. I want people to see somebody like me in a leadership role and know that people who look like me can not only get in the door but climb the ladder.

In previous roles, I’ve worked in hiring. So I know that so many companies are trying to increase their diversity numbers but can’t figure out why they’re failing so badly. The truth is that it’s not enough to just hire black people. Every company I’ve thrived at, I’ve had somebody ahead of me who looked like me and advocated for me and showed me the way. That’s a big part of what I look for when deciding where I want to apply or accept a position. It’s not just, “is their team diverse?” It’s “is their leadership team diverse?”

It’s strange though to navigate during black history month. So many people act like all of these things were forever ago. Racism isn’t locked away in history books. It’s still alive and real and experienced every day. Black Lives Matter has done a good job to shine a light on it.

This world is far from perfect and although I really am optimistic of where we’re heading, I think this is a good month for everybody to reflect on how much work we still have to do.