Nov 1, 2023 - Things to Do

AfroTech networking conference returns to Austin

People participating in a session of the AfroTech conference.

Simone White and Morgan DeBaun, organizers of AfroTech, take the stage during the conference last year. Photo: Robin L Marshall/Getty Images for AFROTECH

A major conference aimed at promoting Black professionals in the tech sector kicks off Wednesday in Austin.

Why it matters: The AfroTech Conference is a key networking and mentoring event in an industry that has seen limited executive opportunities for people of color.

Details: Sessions at this year's conference, at the Austin Convention Center, include "Innovations, Patents and Black Excellence," "Ensuring Longevity for Men of Color" and "Centering Black Travelers through Technology."

  • Speakers include actress, producer and writer Issa Rae; producer, artist and entrepreneur Timbaland; and TIME chief marketing officer Sade Muhammad.

Flashback: When the conference launched in 2016, "We were hearing that there are no Black professionals to hire," Simone White, a senior vice president for AfroTech, tells Axios.

  • "So part of our mission is to debunk that idea, that there are no Black engineers and product managers," she says.

What they're saying: Now, conference themes have gone further.

  • "We have an issue with diverse leadership, about how to make it a core principle instead of an afterthought or something forced to do because someone has called them out on Twitter," White says of tech companies.
  • Retention is another theme. "How do you foster a community that holds onto workers? How do you really build teams that are truly diverse?"

The intrigue: The conference comes during a wider downturn in the sector.

Yes, but: Some signs suggest the tech sector has already reached its layoffs peak.

  • And more than a hundred organizations — from Microsoft to the FBI — are "all utilizing the AfroTech Conference to support DEI commitments," per a conference press release.

Catching our eye: The "Black Future Newsstand," which imagines a future with a thriving Black-owned media landscape that "reflects the wholeness of Black experiences," Diamond Hardiman, reparative journalism program manager at Media 2070, which examines how the media can serve as a lever for racial justice, tells Axios.

  • "We want Black folks to be able to own and control their stories, from ideation through distribution," Hardiman said.
  • You can visit the newsstand at the Center for Cultural Power's Mixed Media Mixer Art Show, at Speakeasy on 412 Congress Ave. from 4-8pm Thursday.

Plus: At a makers market starting Friday, more than two dozen local Black-owned businesses will sell their wares at Republic Square Park.

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