Editor’s Note: We are happy to share this conversation between Aisha Jackson, Vice Chancellor of Information Technology at UC Santa Cruz, and Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman, Digital Content Strategist at UC Santa Cruz. The piece opens with comments from Matthews-Hoffman.
By Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman. Information Technology is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and has the potential to drive economic growth and improve the lives of people worldwide. However, despite its exponential growth, Black people are still underrepresented in IT and other technology-related fields. While the UC system has made necessary strides in creating a diverse workforce, the work is still ongoing.
As a Black woman in the IT field myself, I’m keenly aware of the underrepresentation of people who look like me in the workforce, especially in leadership positions. This Black History Month, I wanted to take time to reflect on the importance of Black representation in this workforce. Black leaders in IT represent important role models for minoritized communities. While my employment with UC Santa Cruz is still relatively new (6 months), I’m proud to be working for an organization with a Black woman at the helm.
Vice Chancellor of Technology at UC Santa Cruz Aisha Jackson has more than 15 years of experience in higher-education information technology. As an Afro-Latina IT leader, Jackson is a part of several communities that are often underrepresented in the IT world. She is a thoughtful and intelligent leader who empowers her staff, and I was happy to have the chance to have a conversation with her about the importance of Black leadership and representation in the workplace and the many ways we can celebrate Black History Month.
I hope you will enjoy this interview as much as I did! If you have questions or just want to chat, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman: Why is it important to have Black leadership and representation in IT?
Aisha Jackson: Two reasons come to mind. The first is that having a diverse perspective is just good practice. There are several research studies that have illustrated that having diversity of thought that is drawn from a diversity of experiences helps to make for better organizations. That’s why having Black representation at the leadership level is so important: each of us, whether it’s based on our race, gender, or whatever the intersections that make up who we are, we each have a perspective that makes for a richer organization.
That’s why having Black representation at the leadership level is so important: each of us, whether it’s based on our race, gender, or whatever the intersections that make up who we are, we each have a perspective that makes for a richer organization.
The second reason that comes to mind, for me, is the importance of creating a path for other Black people. In particular, I don’t know another Black woman CIO (Chief Information Officer). I know other Black male CIOs, I know other women CIOs, but I don’t know any other Black women CIOs. I know they’re out there, but I don’t know them. And I just imagine how my perspective could have been shifted, my mentorship broadened, and how it could have been different had I had exposure to another Black woman leading an IT organization. And not just leading the organization, but even simply being present in the organization. I’m often the one and only Black woman in the IT room at a given time. So, when I think about our students and our junior employees who are trying to figure out their place, they are seeing someone like me, who is at the intersection of Black, woman, and Afro-Latina. I believe this can be inspirational for them as they’re trying to navigate this world of IT where they don’t often see themselves in the room.
When I think about our students and our junior employees who are trying to figure out their place, they are seeing someone like me, who is at the intersection of Black, woman, and Afro-Latina. This can be inspirational for them as they’re trying to navigate this world of IT….
Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman: What are some ways you feel Black representation plays a role in your work?
Aisha Jackson: When I started this position, one of the things that was important to me was to bring my whole self to work. It’s hard to wear the mask. It’s exhausting to compartmentalize the intersections we are living. So, I made a decision to not do that.
When the Half Moon Bay shooting happened and the Tyre Nichols police violence happened, I decided I needed to talk about it with my peers. I talked with the leadership team, people whom I trust, who are sensitive and aware, and people that I know care about my department, IT Services, and the organization. I did this to get support in what I felt was a quagmire. Something needed to be said. I felt that if I was any employee on my team and was dealing with the stress that comes with yet another Black man being killed, I would want my boss to know that I’m stressed out and my mind might not be at work. As a leader of this organization, I wanted to call that out. On the other hand, I also didn’t want to come off as self-serving. I talked a lot with the leadership team about my concern and how complicated this was because I’m leading this organization and want to be supportive, but I also have my own concerns and stress about the situation as well.
We took the angle of sharing my struggle to be vulnerable in the message that I sent out. I decided to say, “‘I’m struggling, and other Black and brown folk in this organization likely are too,’ so let’s give space and time to that.” Even though it’s hard, I’m glad that I’m here to help folks be sensitive to what some of their colleagues are going through.
Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman: How are you celebrating Black History Month this year?
Aisha Jackson: I’m celebrating Black History Month by reading everything I can get my hands on from authors of the African continent. I went to Ghana for New Year’s, and, to prep for that trip, I bought a book called “Homegoing” by a Ghanaian author named Yaa Gyasi. After I read it, I decided that this is going to be my thing this year, and I’d read all that I can from African authors. So, for Black History Month, I’m going to continue leaning into that.
Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman: What do you think are some ways those in IT and tech can celebrate Black History Month?
Aisha Jackson: I would encourage those in IT and tech to focus on learning more, particularly given the time that we’re in, and identify how they can take action against inhumane systems. I think reading Black authors and learning more about Black history and culture is also important. Learn more about African Americans and the African diaspora, and their place in American and world history. So much of what we learned in grade school isn’t the full picture, so I think it’s important to learn more today.
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