How I Became a Voice for D&I in Tech

Kalina Bryant
Founder

Interview Highlights:

  • Stay true to yourself and your passions. Don’t compromise your values to get ahead.
  • Be honest with yourself and think about why you’re supporting Diversity & Inclusion. Are you doing it for the right reasons?
  • Being an ally is a long-term commitment, whether you’re an individual or a corporation.

Could you please introduce yourself and what you do?

My name is Kalina Bryant. During the day, I’m the Head of Customer Advocacy at Asana. Outside my day job, I’m the founder of the UnapologeTECH platform and podcast. 

Can you tell me more about UnapologeTECH?

UnapologeTECH is currently a podcast and a blog series, but we’re also outlining new trainings to make sure women of color and underrepresented groups are set up for success when they go into the industry. We also conduct trainings on how to navigate the industry, how to seek allies, and how to be set up for long-term success. 

With UnapologeTECH, I’m trying to make sure we have more representation and diversity, but also more opportunities for us to have a better world. I want to make sure that you can have a positive, happy, and fulfilling career. 

Underrepresented groups sometimes miss out on that fulfillment because we’re just so busy trying to get our foot in the door and to make sure that we’re thriving. We’re also missing out on certain connections that are generally not provided to us. I’m trying to bridge that gap and make sure that tech companies have the opportunity to make change in a positive way. I want to create opportunities for individuals that are both seeking to get into tech, and those that are currently in tech but feel like they haven’t made it yet. 

Lastly, I wouldn't be in my position without allies, so I focus on teaching people what a good ally is and how to become one for underrepresented groups. It’s a team effort to make sure everyone has an inclusive experience in the tech industry.  

What has your experience as an African American woman been like as you built your career?

As I embarked upon my career, I realized that I wanted to create wonderful experiences for people. Because if you create wonderful experiences for your customers, they will want to engage with you more. 

But as I navigated through this industry, I sometimes came across certain situations that I didn’t know if other individuals encountered, too. 

I didn’t feel “seen” as I was navigating my career. Being seen is very important, but being seen in the right light is important as well, and having the right people see you. For myself, I knew that I was not going to always be seen in my day career, so I started looking at things I could do to benefit the company and get noticed. 

That’s when I designed a women’s networking group for a company called Anaplan. The idea had originally come out of a desire to have more inclusivity for people of color. I built the community in my spare time and presented it to Anaplan’s CEO. I was still fulfilling my main duties, but that side project was actually starting to have more value for the company. 

That experience taught me to remain passionate, and to outline strategic ways to be visible with the right people. Those connections that I’ve made, through both the community work and the D&I work that I’ve done, has amplified my branding.

It does get quite lonely sometimes to be a black woman in tech. It can be stressful, because you want something done right away. And at times, you don’t understand what direction you should go to make those connections.

Let’s take golf, for example. I don’t play golf. I don’t like golf. But sometimes the CEO is a person that plays golf, and you don’t have connections because you don’t play golf with him. If you’re not in the right groups, how do you make these organic connections?

Should I try golf anyway? No! 

If I stay true to myself and true to my passions, and I can get in front of the right people that share my passions, I can start to develop real relationships and get true allies. Once I figured that out and broke the pattern, things started to improve. 

I also had to figure out how to amplify that within myself and cultivate my own voice. That’s been a big thing for me as a African American woman. I didn’t know how to cultivate my voice inside the tech industry that I was trying to fit into. 

When I sat down and actually cultivated my own voice, I asked, “Why are you even doing this job? Do you even like it?” Once I uncovered these red flags, that’s when my voice started to get amplified and that’s when I really started thriving. 

It’s not just black women. Any underrepresented group is going to struggle with figuring who they are in this industry and what their voice is. But once you discover what you believe in and are passionate about, you will know what you can bring to the table. You can then cultivate your story and where you want to go within your career.

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What advice can you give to people who are going through a similar situation?

Staying true to yourself is part of it, but also sitting down and reflecting on where I’ve been. I think about what’s satisfying me and what’s fulfilling me. 

I really found my voice when I set up UnapologeTECH. I was frustrated. I was doing a good job at all of my roles, but I felt silent a lot of the time. Deep down I wasn’t fulfilled within myself. I didn’t want to be just “a black woman inside this industry.”

Diversity and inclusion are extremely important, but I want us to do something about it. I think that it’s a duty for all of us, whether you’re the tech company CEO or you’re the employee. You have a duty to express yourself and outline how you think things can be done better, so you can actually see change. That’s so much more effective than venting, or bottling it in. I did that, and it was horrible for me long-term, because I would be so burnt out. 

So when I was able to sketch out what was bothering me, and then also design a platform or solution like UnapologeTECH, I felt a lot better. I wouldn’t have been able to get to this point if I was still silencing my own values and my own thoughts. It makes my heart warm when I amplify women of color and when I create allies and speak with underrepresented groups. And everyone that touches UnapologeTECH, they feel so inspired; they feel like they can take over the world. 

When they tell their stories after they’re done, they tell me, “Wow, I’ve never talked that way!” When they finally hear their voice, it gives them extra incentive to persevere, and the courage to help the next person. 

What can founders or leaders do to help promote diversity and inclusion?

Well, they can partner with UnapologeTECH (laughs). 

But in all honesty - and the reason why I bring up UnapologeTECH - is because I’m sketching out so many different things. I’m partnering with different universities on how we can actually help get underrepresented groups inside the tech industry. For individuals who are already there, I’m outlining tools on how you can actually cultivate your voice and how you can actually thrive.

It’s one thing to get individuals from underrepresented groups to join your company. But it’s another thing to make sure that they stay. You have to understand how people feel, because if people are fulfilled and if they feel great working for your company, they will stay long-term. That’s where the inclusivity comes in. You have to make sure that they’re in an inclusive environment. 

What are some significant ways where well meaning people or organizations get D&I wrong?

That’s a tricky question. For that I’d have to ask people to take a step back. When people advertise diversity and inclusion, I always want to know why they’re talking about it. Why do they even have that role?

I ask that question, and people sometimes can’t answer, or they just see other companies doing it. So they just assume, “oh, I have to do that.” Same thing with marketing and advertising. If you can’t answer the “why,” you’re just falling in line with every other company. 

But if you’re very thoughtful and passionate about diversity and inclusion, and the need for it, others will easily be able to see how authentic you are. You’re fleshing out key programs that provide that inclusivity. You’re embodying the people at the company and asking for their advice on how to make things more inclusive. 

Some companies don’t actually do that. They have a Head of Diversity and Inclusion or whatever, but they don’t actually ask people what they want. As founders, you should be honest and true to yourself as to why you’re really doing D&I. 

It’s not gonna happen overnight, but make long-term plans as to what you’re going to accomplish. It’s a marathon. It’s not going to be a project you complete in one quarter. 

What can individuals do to be an ally? And what does it mean to be one?

Many people do want to be allies, but they don’t know what it actually means or what to do. 

Regardless of what you are, white male, black woman, whatever, you have to identify where you can be of value. If you’re a C-level executive, that’s a privilege all by itself.  How can you open doors for individuals that don’t have that access? Look at your own strengths. What can I do that will be beneficial for the individual you’re helping?

You can’t call yourself an ally if you don’t research why we have all of these issues. You have to be willing to do the research and the work. If you vow that you want to help, it’s not just for one month. It’s the same thing with diversity inclusion initiatives. If you’re going to be an ally, you can’t just be an ally one day out of the month or one day out of the year. You have to actually help for the long haul.

About 
UnapologeTECH

The Purpose of UnapologeTECH is to provide a space for BIPOC women to share advice and best practices on how to navigate their way in the industry and ensure a successful career and work-life balance, along with providing training and resources to our allies in tech to learn, create, and connect. Its mission is to change the face of business with diversity and provide an inclusive and equitable environment for all.

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