AfroTech conference offers a window into the black tech community

For Viasat, this kind of opportunity helps drive our goal of creating a more diverse workforce


Lisa Welch at AfroTech

The power of diversity and inclusion is in creating a workplace culture that drives innovation. Differences in race, gender, age, background, ethnicity and more bring different perspectives that lead to new ideas, innovative problem solving, and systems that truly represent the people who use them.

These are just a few of the reasons why I was proud and honored to represent Viasat at AfroTech 2019.

In its fourth year, AfroTech is an annual, weekend-long tech conference that brings together black techies, engineers, entrepreneurs and startups to connect with each other and some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. This November, the sold-out conference was held in Oakland, Calif., with the 10,000+ attendees participating in discussions, workshops, and networking events on business, culture and technology. There were educational tracks for leadership, entrepreneurship, engineering and design, along with more than 60 speakers and 100 sponsors.

After taking part in all three tracks to get a 360 degree look at how technology, corporate perspectives and culture comes together, I was able to meet and talk to a variety of attendees, from early career to senior level professionals. All were excited to be there, to learn from each other and to better understand how to build, network, support and inspire. What I found is that AfroTech is much more than a conference. It’s a community, an exceptional experience for professional development and a source for great talent.

As an HR professional and as a woman of color, I found AfroTech to be a great way to further our goals at Viasat, especially with respect to attracting and retaining diverse talent. I came back inspired, motivated and excited to share my experience. Below are my top three takeaways:

  1. Belonging is an important part of the diversity/inclusion equation.

While an organization can see itself as diverse and inclusive, belonging is about culture. It’s about celebrating uniqueness and giving people a true seat at the table where their input is valued. This was a common theme throughout the event. People who belong feel comfortable sharing ideas and experiences and being their true authentic selves. This leads to engagement, motivation, commitment, greater problem solving and a host of other benefits to individual employees, their larger teams and the organization as a whole.

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is more than a couple of buzz words.

Earlier this year, I was in a team meeting where leaders were sharing their perspective on the article, Building the AI-Powered Organization. I found it interesting and began to wear a lens of considering how AI can be used in my daily life and at work. Fast forward to AfroTech, where sessions centered around the technology and how AI will continue to develop at a rapid pace.

That said, it’s more important than ever to ensure a diverse, inclusive environment where people from different types of backgrounds are part of the process of building algorithms for data driven decision making tools. This helps eliminate bias and ensures that the technology and systems being built reflect the wide pool of individuals who will be using them. The outcome is more inclusive products and services, which can translate into increased profitability. Shortly after the conference, I was in a team meeting where AI was once again a topic. It was led by a peer and there was healthy dialogue on ways we could use AI in our organizations to gain greater efficiencies and capabilities. Attending Afrotech gave me more confidence when contributing to the conversation.

  1. Exercise an entrepreneurial spirit inside corporate.

One of the things we do really well here at Viasat is foster an entrepreneurial spirit. We even have an Innovation Lab where anyone at Viasat can experiment with new technologies. Its key purpose is to spark creativity. And what comes with that? The ability to take risks. To be fearless and innovative. And to try new things, even if they don’t always work out like we planned. We have to build and teach simultaneously, as well as de-risk the relationship to take risks in the business. And that takes us back to the first point, making sure that everyone has a valued seat at the table.
While the tech industry continues to struggle with a lack of diversity in the workforce, events like Afrotech will continue to emerge as a way to increase visibility and belonginess for a group or community. My representing Viasat at AfroTech 2019 is just one example. One-month post conference and I’m excited to lean in on diversity & inclusion efforts to include our Employee Resource Groups, along with other organizational sponsorship efforts at Viasat. Cultivating the blend of different backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, ages and races to create an innovative, welcoming workplace for all.

Learn more about Viasat’s commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.