This story originally published on January 31, 2019

Let’s be clear: simply “hitting the numbers” on diversity does not equal authentic inclusion.

As a millennial Black woman who works in tech, I understand how it feels to be the “other”–both at work and in my day to day life. The old “excuse” that there aren’t enough candidates of color is no longer cutting it. For years, we’ve worked harder, smarter, and longer to secure a seat at the table.

We are here, ready and willing to take the industry by storm; if you’re smart, you’ll do what it takes to garner our expertise at your own companies. Aside from having rich life experiences, marginalized folks are often well-versed in how to navigate obstacles in a special way. We are innovative by nature and have a knack for problem-solving, both of out of necessity and by choice.

Full transparency here: I’m speaking from a place of slight privilege. I work for Mayvenn, one of the leading startups in the Bay Area. Mayvenn was founded with the intention of helping hairstylists grow their businesses and keep dollars in their communities. It leverages the power of technology, the allure of a lifestyle brand, and the hustle of the beauty industry. By selling Mayvenn’s products, beauty industry professionals are able to generate extra income, get access to education and marketing materials, and their own e-commerce websites, complete with tech support. Most importantly, there are never any out-of-pocket costs to the stylists.

This organization checks all of the desired boxes: rapid growth, big-name investors, and a brand presence that continues to expand. This company is different from your average Silicon Valley venture – it’s Black owned and a large number of employees here are people of color. Mayvenn’s Oakland-based team consists of about 46% women and almost half of them are Black.

As with most blessings, I didn’t realize how much this mattered to me. I was used to navigating meetings and shaking hands, code-switching when it made sense, and elevating the pitch of my “let me speak to your manager” voice when it mattered most. To come into an office where people not only looked and sounded like me, but were making the best moves? It was inexplicable.

It’s one thing to be seen in hallways or during an occasional break room chat, but to be truly heard—well, that’s still revolutionary. I’ve been a writer for years, but it wasn’t until I felt seen, listened to, and supported that I realized how much my voice mattered. The combination of our life’s experiences, innate grit, intellect, humor and work ethic, all matters. 

Recognizing the importance of employees of color means that you’re on the right side of history. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it does begin with a single decision before it begets action. The time is now, whether you’re in the side hustle stages of a business or just finishing a $23 million series B round.

For your employees of color, inclusivity may include simple things, like a coworker finally understanding the implications of “wash day.” Or it may be more serious, like a manager understanding why the mood is more somber on days where yet another unarmed person of color is shot and killed by police.

Whether big or small, quietly minor or wholly obvious, this type of inclusion matters and it stands to make your company that much stronger and more competitive. As I said, I may be a bit biased. I’m a Black woman who finally knows first hand what authentic, intentional inclusion in the tech industry feels like. I can promise you that hearing Frankie Beverly & Maze during an in-house photo shoot is a whole entire vibe. Plus, I may or may not have been inspired to start a mini-electric slide on the way back to my desk.