Black History Month is a time for all of us to honor and recognize Black Americans’ impact on this country—and the world. But it’s also time to remember that progress does not represent the space between the past and the present; we must all put in the effort to create change and build solutions for modern problems to progress forward.
I’m William Johnson, a senior process engineer at Intel. An experienced Ph.D. chemical engineer, I have myriad skills in environmental awareness, research and development, and even nuclear technology. To get to where I am now, I credit the Black innovators who came before me and the resources and opportunities I had growing up in Detroit, Michigan.
Seeing someone like you: Inspiration from Black innovators
From George Washington Carver, Garret Morgan, and Lonnie Johnson to Alexa Canady, Mae Jemison, and Ronald McNair, seeing Black innovators in STEM meant that someone out there who looked like me was in a field that I wanted to be involved in.
Black innovators are an essential part of American history, and it’s important to see the possibilities and impact that Black innovators can have in our society. In the past, Black innovators had to worry about segregation or their work being sabotaged due to the color of their skin. And while there is still discrimination happening today, for the most part, we have more freedom to go and do what we want to do today compared to 60 years ago. It is important for me to know that several past roadblocks have been lifted for me, and it’s my duty to lift the next one for future generations of Black Americans.
Gaining access to opportunities and resources: K–12
Having access to career-oriented opportunities and resources starts with having the right tools in education, from the classroom to after-school activities. As I grew up, my mother noticed I was always building or tinkering with LEGOs and Lincoln Logs. Wanting to encourage my creativity and drive to innovate at a young age, my mother enrolled me in the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP). This Saturday program enabled students to engage with technology and learn about STEM on nearby college campuses. I learned how a variety of things were made, from glass windshields to car parts—even Twinkies!
My father also endorsed my early passion for STEM by taking me to college football games. While the intensity and fun atmosphere of a game-day environment piqued my interests as a kid, it also acted as a foot in the door that helped me realize the importance of college and higher education.
Gaining access to opportunities and resources: Higher education
Eventually, I pursued a master’s program in chemical engineering, but after some time, I started to think that I wasn’t as smart as my peers. However, once I realized that several of my classmates had access to more resources before they came to grad school, I learned that it wasn’t because they were smarter than I was. It was because they had more resources than I did. In order to achieve my academic goals, we exchanged skills and talents. This taught me that in networking, it’s not about what someone else can do for you; it’s about what you can offer someone else.
How to enable diversity
In the tech industry, the number of Black employees who are high-level executives and VPs is very low. It’s important to have Black employees, and I think it’s an excuse for companies to say that they can’t find Black talent. Companies need to think beyond just hiring diverse candidates from a pool of interviewees. They have to seek out talent at different colleges that include, in part, ones with a prominent number of Black students. Companies can’t say they aren’t seeing people of color in their hiring pool when they only recruit from schools where the Black population is low—or if companies don’t even seek out the small percentage of Black students in STEM fields in some schools.
Why we need diversity
Organizations should focus on why they need to diversify their hiring. It must be about creating more solutions from a variety of fresh perspectives. If you exclude people from areas like science, you are limiting yourself from creating more solutions. Talent comes in many forms, and it takes a healthy village to raise a healthy child. If you include people of color, you have more mindsets that could help solve pressing, modern challenges like the rising sea levels or the Flint water crisis.
Inclusion at Intel
Intel’s path to create a more inclusive and responsible workplace, industry and world is embedded in our purpose. Intel has already taken many steps needed to actively increase diversity within the company and influence change outside the company. Intel’s RISE 2030 goals have been a great example of Intel’s commitment to creating a positive impact on the world. Some examples of this are that Intel set a goal to double the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior leadership roles by 2030. In early 2021, Intel pledged USD 5 Million to develop a technology law and policy center at North Carolina Central University, a historically Black university. In 2020, Intel spent USD 1.2 billion with diverse suppliers with the aim to spend USD 800 million annually with minority-owned suppliers, including USD 250 million with US Black-owned suppliers. Intel also introduced the “inclusive language in engineering guide,” a project initiated in 2019 that planned to remove offensive terminology from coding language, like “master/slave” and “whitelist/blacklist.”
As an engineer working on some of the most complex and critical technologies in the world, I am enjoying every day and every opportunity to contribute to a diverse and inclusive company. This includes generating solutions that allow Intel to create technology that enriches the lives of every person on earth and meet business goals. Having the opportunity to innovate at Intel is something my ancestors would have been proud to see. I enjoy making them proud while upholding the best traditions and values of Black History Month, making the world a better place through technological innovation.
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