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An Entrepreneur With Seattle Roots Tracks The Black Experience In Tech

When Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, sparking protests that added momentum to the Black Lives Matter movement begun two years earlier after the killing of Trayvon Martin, "there weren't a lot of visible tech leaders talking about what was going on at the time," Dorsey recalls.

The response in the aftermath of Floyd's killing has been dramatically different.

Over the course of two days, Dorsey and her team assembled the database, drawing from public statements, social media messages and direct outreach from corporate spokespeople. They tracked when each statement was made and added data -- when they could get it -- on Black representation at each company, including in leadership positions, as well as commitments of donations or policy changes. Her main purpose was to inform her own reporting, but she quickly realized the broader value of the dataset. Others did, too.

"To me, that's extremely valuable as a professional," says Kimberly Hill, a business development manager in Amazon's Delivery Service Partner program. She was able to compare the words and actions of her employer -- Amazon's responses included $10 million in donations, as well as founder and CEO Jeff Bezos' correspondence rejecting a racist customer who objected to the company's position -- and of companies that have tried to recruit her.

Dorsey says several well-funded academic institutions, businesses and private research firms asked to use the database, offering newsletter mentions, credits or a link to The Plug in exchange. In early July, she put the database behind The Plug's paywall, noting the challenge of balancing its public service value with the business value and effort required to produce it. She said it was "highly problematic" that some businesses and organizations sought to take her labor and monetize it without compensation.

Hill says she was inspired by The Plug's recent article and data visualization on Black women founders and CEOs who have built businesses and had successful exits.

One of those women, Jewel Burks, co-founder of Partpic, a visual search tool for replacement parts acquired by Amazon in 2016, thanked Dorsey and her collaborator on the report, Lenice Flowers. Burks said she wasn't permitted to discuss the exit at the time it happened.

"I fought hard to tell our story because I knew how important it would be for folks (especially Black women) to know it was possible," Burks, now a partner at Collab Capital, an investment fund focused on building Black generational wealth, and head of Google for Startups in the U.S., said on Twitter. "This visualization means a lot. TY"

In 2017, Hill interviewed Dorsey as part of a speaker series at Amazon convened by the company's Black Employee Network affinity group. It was a "full circle moment for me," Dorsey says, recounting the event on social media earlier this year, "being invited back home to Seattle by Black women in tech who saw value in my work and my story."

She reflected on her own experience, training for a technology career in the Central District. "I think about how that neighborhood has changed, how it became unaffordable and pushed the majority of Seattle's Black population out," she said. "It really is hard to come back home and to see that wow, some of the greatest minds in the greatest tech companies did not prioritize the onboarding of their own communities to ensure their survival."

Dziko has been repeating that message for more than a quarter century. In that time, TAF has grown and will serve nearly 2,200 students this year through seven tech-focused academies co-managed with area school districts. Dorsey is one of about 19,600 students to have benefited from TAF programs over its history.

The need is even greater now, she says, as companies renew their focus on recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce.

"I think there's this tremendous opportunity here," Dorsey says. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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