Each February, Black History Month in the United States sends a (much-needed) reminder that Black Americans didn’t just help build this country — our history is American history. For Cloudflare, an Internet infrastructure security company, amplifying Black voices is something it strives to do 365 days a year.
“Black History Month is a time to call attention to and highlight these stories and individuals that are often left out or forgotten. We have the opportunity to bring those stories into the light,” says Cloudflare Software Engineer Sieh Johnson.
Since joining Cloudflare almost two years ago, Johnson has carved out a successful career as a full stack Software Engineer and the Global Lead of Afroflare, the company’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) to empower Black employees and allies.
Her drive stems from her multicultural upbringing. “I come from a very diverse background; my mother is from Liberia in West Africa, and my dad is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I grew up straddling different cultures. I really love people and culture, and it became a path I wanted to go down,” she says.
After graduating college Johnson took a crash course in software and coding, after which a networking and career event, sponsored by Cloudflare, led her to join the company. Since then, she’s also worked to attract and recruit Black professionals, especially women, into the tech world.
While speaking with AfroTech, Johnson explained how she’s creating change at Cloudflare and how Black history is being made every day through technology.
How Afroflare Empowers and Uplifts at Cloudflare
With a commitment to driving diversity and inclusion throughout the company, Cloudflare has been proactive in providing a platform and other resources for voices of color. Johnson works hard to drive change as a Global Lead of Afroflare.
“Afroflare has been around roughly a year longer than I’ve been here. One of the founders [of the ERG] was leaving the company, so I took on the mantle. I knew I wanted to make sure we had a community here at Cloudflare,” Johnson explains.
For her, the main goal is creating a safe space and a welcoming atmosphere for other employees of color. “In my mind, it was a community that provided the kind of support we needed. We showed up and would be there for each other. I’ve met amazing people across the company. It allows you to foster a network, and I’ve met people that I think are going to be lifelong connections.”
Following a turbulent year of racial injustice, adjusting to remote work, an ongoing pandemic, and more, groups like Afroflare have become an invaluable resource for bringing like-minded individuals together and providing a sounding board.
Johnson says many events have impacted the community at large, both within and outside the doors of Cloudflare. “Following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, it was a very challenging time. A lot of our members really felt like we had a responsibility to show up, but you’re still working on trying to heal yourself.”
Having a resource like Afroflare made things a little easier for her to handle. “It was a very trying time. Not that it’s all over, but our members really stepped up during that time. It allowed members and allies to have those hard discussions that some of us couldn’t have, and explained why people were feeling the way they were feeling. That was amazing to see.”
It was the kind of support that empowered Johnson to share her feelings company-wide. “At the time, my global co-lead and I sat down and wrote an open letter, just to air it out how we felt about everything. We also got together and created a list of resources and actions for allies, in terms of how to be a good ally and actively anti-racist. These resources spread like wildfire because people were really affected by it,” she says.
In addition to a series of closed-door forums for members to speak freely, Afroflare offered healing sessions with Black mental health professionals.
Black History Matters at Cloudflare
Always willing to embrace innovative approaches to diversity and inclusion, this Black History Month, Cloudflare used its newly created Cloudflare TV platform — which streams original content from the Cloudflare team 24/7 — to highlight Black employees and the voices of other Black professionals under a theme: Why We Matter.
This is a powerful project that Johnson says focuses on “the stories, the voices, the contributions, the influence, and our culture, to highlight why we matter across the board. So we’re highlighting individuals across the African diaspora.” The series included discussions ranging from the importance of mental health and self care in the Black community with Cornell Verdeja-Woodson, Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Headspace, to activism around voter registration and police reform with Frances Jordan, Board Chair of the Austin Justice Coalition.
Through Cloudflare TV, Johnson focused on sharing the stories of other Black professionals and bringing in new ones as well. It’s a field she describes as ripe for Black talent but lacking in opportunities and details on how to actually break into it.
“Ten years ago, I didn’t know anyone in tech, especially not in my family, so I thought it wasn’t for me. I feel like if I’d had the opportunity early on to hear from somebody doing something similar, it would have shifted my thinking,” she explains. This sentiment is echoed in the Why We Matter segments by guests including Julian Waits, Chairman of the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals, and Shawn Rochester, author of The Black Tax: The Cost of Being Black in America.
Johnson adds that such opportunities could bring in a new generation of Black professionals to tech, which is why Afroflare works to highlight such voices. “I think the biggest pitfall in the Black community is that we simply don’t know what we don’t know. If we don’t have the people to tell us, teach us, or show that these things are readily available, we never see it. So I wanted the Why We Matter series to help us connect with each other, learn about each other and different parts of the industry, to open new doors.”
Always up for a new challenge, Johnson has built a career on doing the impossible with ease. Now she’s working to open those same doors for others at Cloudflare and empowering other Black voices in tech along the way.
“I was open to different opportunities, which I feel opened more doors for me. A lot of doors will shut in your face, but there are other doors. I know some people will tell you to bang on that same door as if it’s going to open, but sometimes it’s you that has to be open. Try something new, challenge yourself,” Johnson advises.
To learn more about Cloudflare and joining their team, visit here.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Cloudflare.