Living(IT) While Black: Feedback Report

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Dear IT Leaders,

We need your help.

A call to Duke University and Health System IT Leaders requesting anti-racist action

Systemic racism is present in all of the systems in this country, including technology.

Duke University has already recognized racism in its systems.

Specific changes and support for healing is needed for our black and people of color IT colleagues. Therefore, starting in May 2020, DiversifyIT held weekly informal conversations and invited staff of all races and IT teams across Duke to express themselves related to the trauma, shock and emotional toil surrounding the deaths and attacks on black people around the country. These talks became an outlet for many who were not free to discuss their personal experiences at Duke within their own teams.

This document serves as a summary and guide for our Duke IT community to respond with anti-racist action. See the action plan that you received along with this document for your next steps.

 Thank you,

La’Shawnda Kendall, DiversifyIT Co-Chair 2020-2021
Laura Webb, DiversifyIT Co-Chair 2019-2020

We know you’re listening….

This started all because we knew you, IT Leaders, were listening. Continue the work that you are already doing by improving policies to support anti-racism and protect IT staff against systemic racism. This effort, in addition to efforts by OIE and Duke University will support the commitments listed by President Price earlier this summer.

Reference: “Message from President Price about Racism and Inequality”

So DiversifyIT responded…..

clipart of microphoneOpen Mic | “Living (IT) While Black” Series

DiversifyIT is hosting a series of virtual “Open Mic” conversations for Duke IT staff and IT leadership. At these events participants are invited to share authentically and with transparency from their lived experience.

Met 4 times in July 2020 for 1.5 hours each

Total participation: 128 unique attendees


The themes we heard during the Open Mic Series were: 

  1. Black people feel invisible in spaces where they are often the only black person or one of two in a meeting or team.
  2. Black people have to spend more time thinking of and behaving in a way that protects white feelings in order to survive in the IT environment at Duke.
  3. Black people are often passed up for promotion and are aware that they are paid less than their white peers.
  4. Black people and people of color are often forced to endure humiliating outbursts, and degrading discussion with very little to no support from leadership.
  5. White people are not aware of history and the current social climate that employs microaggressions, racist behavior and implicit bias.
  6. Black people are perceived as a threat at work while white people are witnessed being excused without disciplinary action for physical threats.
  7. Black people have an overwhelming pressure to perform work. White people do not feel this pressure.
  8. White people are silent and supported in their silence when wrong doing occurs.


Staff Feedback: 

  • 41% of Open Mic survey respondents are “very familiar with these and have had similar experiences”.
  • 85% of Open Mic survey respondents are “very likely” to attend another session.


After the Open Mic sessions, attendees committed to the following actions:

  • “Continue to educate myself on implicit bias and systematic racism.”
  • “Trying to broaden the range of news sources I read; trying to listen to black colleagues more; be more open to how different people can interpret the same event differently.”
  • “Exercise greater personal attention to and awareness of the impact of microaggressions and (what are probably) unintended slights to our colleagues of color.  Urge co-workers to attend future session. Establish mandatory training programs for staff under my supervision.”
  • “Be less reticent about discussing important topics such as those brought up in the sessions. Keep learning, and try to be more empathetic.”
  • “As a white person, I have often looked to people of color to indicate whether they experience behavior as racist before responding to it. This is rooted in a fear of making the person feel singled out or forced to confront something they would rather ignore.  Stories from this series highlighted several times when someone felt supported when a white person called out racism, and I will focus on sensitive ways to do the same moving forward.”


After the Open Mic sessions we asked: What else do you or your leaders need to continue the work of racial equity in Duke IT?


    • “Coordinate more closely and fully across the centralized/decentralized structure at Duke. We can’t have “better” racial equality in only some areas. It needs to be a commitment Duke-wide.”
    • “Leadership needs to be more aware of biases and more aware of what’s going in the world actually. I know a lot of white people have the same mindset and they think it’s not that bad or it’s a lot of made up or internal reflections. But I think Leadership needs to be made aware and to be a little more sensitive to situations and sometimes think about what they are saying before saying it not realizing how it may come off. Not all leadership but there is a few.”
    • “Keep it at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Hire more people of color at the top. If they are going to talk Diversity, they need to MAKE diversity. I’m white and I’m tired of seeing old, white men at the top, in the pictures in the Allen and other buildings and their names on buildings. Mix it up!  Put your money where your mouth is. There have been worthy contributions made to Duke from people of color, it’s time they got some recognition with buildings, names, statues, etc.”

 Keep talking

    • “Keep the conversation going.”
    • “Just keep up the conversation.”
    • “I wish I had a simple answer for this, it’s clearly a very complicated problem. We need to do a lot, and I’m not sure we know exactly what that is or means. Continuing to talk openly about it is important, keeping the problem in the forefront. It’s also important that we address racial equity as a systemic problem, one that we are all a part of whether we are personally enlightened or not. To me this was the most eye opening aspect, that it’s not about me, that me “not being a racist” doesn’t solve this problem. We have to change the culture, acceptance, behaviors, algorithms, systems, to really achieve racial equity. I hope to work with other leaders to discuss and address at this level.”
    • “Transparency – talk about what has been attempted to address racial equity EVEN if it wasn’t successful. If you only hear about the successes (and they take a while), it will give the impression that nothing is being done.”
    • “Keep the conversation going.”
    • “Keep the conversations going. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part.”
    • “Keeping up the conversation and visibility of efforts like this, and continue the public support from administration and leaders. It is very easy to let the “hard” stuff fade back into the background like it usually does.”

 Ability to provide input

    • “Focus groups on inclusion and diversity are formed to help make sure that people are provided support.”
    • “To continue providing dedicated spaces for our voices to be heard and shared. Not just in this moment, but perpetually – as a recognized, integral part of Duke culture.”
    • “Safe spaces for frank discussions”
    • “We need to find ways to provide mentorship/support for our black colleagues; need to find ways to allow communication of these difficult/uncomfortable situations to managers/etc. in a way that protects privacy but allows for those impacted to have a voice.”
    • “I drifted away from this group for a long time because it seemed to become a place where people came to complain about their problems without much regard for others’ problems. In my opinion, this series was so effective because it was centered on acknowledging and supporting our colleagues and sharing human moments. I would like to see DiversifyIT continue promoting a culture of curiosity and validating and supporting each other rather than questioning each other or comparing hardships. I would especially appreciate continued attention to intersectionality of privilege in service of building a work culture where we all feel seen and supported, and where our stories are heard and valued.”


    • “I guess just acknowledgement that these are difficult, complex, layered, and nuanced issues, and we all need to continue to work at awareness, respect, and equity.”
    • “Time, encouragement, agreement this is really an issue and needs to be addressed from mgmt too.”
    • “not sure….”
    • “I believe the organizational culture would benefit from an overall increase in empathy and an acknowledgment of ongoing deep-seated issues in the areas identified during the Living While Black event, specifically in senior leadership and retention of diverse populations.”


    • “Leadership can provide required  seminars or training for all employees on diversity which emphasizes their commitment to awareness. They can provide resources or programs that will recruit more diverse populations: particularly black males. Perhaps a mentorship program.”
    • “The trainings Pam mentioned would be eye-opening for some.”
    • “The bias and anti-racist training sessions are going to be very helpful. Continuing to attract diversity in our hires, and looking at what helps keep diverse hires from leaving would be useful.”
    • “Mandatory annual implicit bias training for everyone.”
    • “Implicit/Explicit Bias, more diversity in meetings, hiring more diverse”
    • “Mandate annual diversity training for everyone.”



    • “- Duke IT needs more people of color in leadership positions.  – The Duke IT Leads training program should include fewer white men and intentionally create a pipeline of persons from underrepresented communities (i.e., persons with physical limitations/disabilities, LGBTQIA, Latinx, Black people (especially black women). REPRESENTATION MATTERS!”
    • “Treasure and invest in the leadership talent that we have and nurture them into the future leaders in Duke IT. The amount of bad leadership at Duke at the management level is appalling. But it’s also not surprising given how little nurturing, mentoring, and appreciation there is for people with the ambition to lead. Future leaders can become change makers, yet far too often at Duke the idea seems to be just keep doing what we’ve always been doing. It is far less expensive to treasure, nurture, and invest into the leadership talent we already have than it is to keep hiring managers from the outside who necessarily are unknowns with respect to the culture they bring to the organization. Unfortunately, too often Duke does the latter.”