How to Build a Meaningful Network as a Minority in Tech

Written by Madeline Hester
Published on Apr. 07, 2020
How to Build a Meaningful Network as a Minority in Tech
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Sending a LinkedIn request is easy. Sending a Google Calendar invite is a little harder, but it’s what tech professionals should do if they’re serious about growing their network, Joyelle Baker, a sales manager at Stella Connect, said. 

The first step, however, is creating opportunities to meet other professionals, and networking groups are a great place to start. Baker belongs to at least five organizations designed to connect, support and empower the voices and experiences of people with marginalized identities. 

“As a black woman in tech, it’s crucial to have this kind of network,” Baker said. 

For Baker, growing her network isn’t merely an information exchange with other minorities in tech. It’s an opportunity to establish and nurture mutually beneficial, long-term relationships that can pay back in spades over the course of her career.

Employees looking to join groups surrounding gender, sexual orientation or race can turn to networking platforms and Meetups to start. But don’t let the connection exist only online. Bridget Best, COO of Sweeten, said it’s important to follow up and carve out time to connect in real life. 

 

Joyelle Baker
Sales Enablement Manager and Senior SDR

Baker uses LinkedIn to network with other sales professionals and D&I leaders, but she strives to turn her virtual contacts into real-life connections. She said this transformation can happen through coffee dates, either in-person or online.

 

What are some networking groups, events or organizations you’ve participated in that have helped you build a meaningful professional network? 

Some incredible groups and organizations that have helped me build a meaningful professional network in sales include Sistas in Sales, LaunchSource, Enterprise Sales Forum, Women in Sales and numerous other Meetup groups and events. 

More broadly in tech, I follow organizations like People of Color in Tech, and volunteer my time with organizations that center around the experiences of marginalized communities.

These groups and organizations are unique in the way they intentionally launch, connect, support, empower and highlight the voices, experiences and accomplishments of people with marginalized identities. As a black woman in tech, it’s crucial to have this kind of network.

  

What other strategies do you have for connecting with professionals who understand or share your experiences?

LinkedIn has been fundamental in helping me connect with professionals in my industry and beyond. I follow professionals across industries. There are some powerful D&I and equity leaders on the networking platform who I follow as well.

I also tap into my alma mater networks and organizations, and I try to attend at least two events each month to connect with professionals who share my experience or have similar experiences.

If there’s no follow-up, these relationships don’t grow.”   

 

How do you establish meaningful, long-term relationships with people once you've connected with them? 

One of the best ways to establish meaningful long-term relationships with people is by following up and nurturing relationships. It’s common for people to say, “Let’s stay in touch,” or, “Let’s connect on LinkedIn,” but if there’s no follow-up, these relationships don’t grow. I value people and it’s especially important to let people know you value them, their time and the experiences they bring. 

If I say, “Let’s get coffee,” I send dates and times. If someone reaches out, I do my best to show up. If I’m unable to attend an event, I let the organizers know and ask for insights after the event. I also practice gratitude and thank the people in my life who have helped me or supported me along my journey.

 

Bridget Best
COO • Sweeten

Best said she loves to play matchmaker to both her professional and personal contacts, but this requires asking people questions beyond the standard, “What do you do?” In order to form deeper, authentic connections, Best asks people about their career goals and challenges, and then tries to help facilitate relations between people looking for new hires or new relationships. 

 

What are some networking groups, events or organizations you’ve participated in that have helped you build a meaningful professional network? 

We participate in career-based events and groups. Our head of growth, Anetha, likes Hubspot Inbound because it is focused on growth and content marketing. She knows that everyone there wants to learn about cutting-edge trends and actively wants to grow their network. 

Ken, our vice president of engineering, is a member of Black Technology Professionals, where he provides guidance to members while networking for future opportunities; it’s a unique organization in that there’s a focus on engineers of color. 

I am a part of a group of NYC-based COOs that meet monthly and regularly share wisdom, ask questions and support each other in myriad ways. It’s a fairly informal but extremely committed network and over the years, the listserv has built up such a tremendous wealth of knowledge. A quick search in the Google group archives results in several well-researched and informed opinions on a range of topics.

 

What other strategies do you have for connecting with professionals who understand or share your experiences?

We all have different strategies for connecting with other professionals, including networking with second-degree connections, the open-source community, and investing in one-on-one conversations. When Anetha connects with others, she tends to offer help by asking what they’re working on. Oftentimes, they’re looking for great talent. 

When I meet people, I ask lots of questions about their job. Not just what they do at a superficial or titular level, but what they do every day: what their challenges are, what their goals are and how they got to where they are. I usually wind up with a wealth of knowledge and a new LinkedIn connection.

When I meet people, I ask lots of questions about their job.”

 

How do you establish meaningful, long-term relationships with people once you've connected with them? 

Contributions, whether small or large, help us establish meaningful, long-term relationships. Ken builds and fosters relationships with other engineers, VPs and CTOs by contributing to projects he finds useful. A typical example here is finding a bug in a project and offering to fix the issue via a pull request. That goes a long way in forming long-lasting relationships. For Ken, they’ve contributed to the success of many initiatives he’s led or been involved in. As a marketer, it’s impossible to be a subject-matter expert on everything, so Anetha finds ways to show people she’s genuinely interested in what they have to say. 

I do the same. If you are someone in my network, you might not hear from me for years, but if I see that you or your company have experienced an important milestone or you’ve announced some other notable achievement, I try to send a quick note. And if you ever get in touch with me with an ask, I try and respond right away, even if the answer is “no.” My favorite thing in the world is to play matchmaker, so if I know you are looking to hire someone or even looking for a romantic connection, I will be eager to make the connection if I have a good idea for you.

 

Camille Acey
Vice President, Customer Success • Nylas

Vice President of Customer Success at Nylas Camille Acey credits Support Driven, an online community dedicated to customer support, for her job placement and growing network. To cultivate her online relationships, Acey sets up face-to-face meetings with people she connects with. If a coffee date is too difficult to set up, a Zoom call is a great alternative.

 

What are some networking groups, events or organizations you’ve participated in that have helped you build a meaningful professional network? 

Support Driven has been my central community. I got my current job through that organization, and have hired several amazing people from there as well. In addition to conferences and regional monthly Meetups, the global community gathers in Slack. Through Support Driven, I’ve been able to get the mentorship that I’ve sometimes lacked in my roles. I have only worked with small customer care teams, so talking to people who manage teams of 100, 500 or even a 1,000 people helps me strengthen my skills and think bigger both for my organization and myself. 

 

What other strategies do you have for connecting with professionals who understand or share your experiences?

Support Driven and Modern Success Pros, an email group, is great for connecting with my peers doing customer support. LinkedIn is another great tool for growing my customer success community and getting guidance. 

Sharing honestly about your day-to-day challenges can help grow an authentic relationship.”

 

How do you establish meaningful, long-term relationships with people once you've connected with them? 

I think meeting in person helps a lot. Getting away from screens and emails, all the things that scream “work,” and just sharing honestly about your day-to-day challenges can help grow an authentic relationship. When I can’t meet someone in person, setting up a long Zoom call to really meander through a bunch of topics is a way for both of us to show how much we matter to each other. 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies.

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