Black in Berlin: Group seeks more diversity in tech industry

Jona Kallgren

BERLIN (AP) — The beginning of 2019 is when Kave Bulambo really started to wonder: Where are all the Black software engineers in Berlin?

Bulambo, who grew up in South Africa and moved to Germany’s capital in 2013, hires people to work at Berlin technology companies and start-ups. In time, she realised she had hired only one Black engineer.

She put out an announcement, inviting Black tech professionals to get in touch. To Bulambo’s surprise, more than 600 responded in the first month. A loose-knit group, Black in Tech Berlin, was born to provide career support and networking opportunities for skilled workers underrepresented in the city’s technology industry.

“We’re here. Black professionals are there in tech. And it is such a great feeling to know that,” Bulambo said, sitting in a conference room at a co-working building near Berlin’s central Potsdamer Platz square. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe, Black in Tech Berlin met once a month. These days, the group holds virtual meetings online.

Berlin is considered one of Europe’s main hot spots for technology companies and start-ups. But just like in other tech hubs, the founders, executives and employees of Berlin’s technology companies are overwhelmingly white.

“And that is not only when it comes to workers and employees. It starts really from the top, when you think of investors, when you think about board members,” Bulambo said.

According to a 2019 report by London-based venture capital firm Atomico, 84 per cent of 1,200 technology company founders polled in Europe self-identified as white and 0.9 per cent identified themselves as Black. The members of Black in Tech Berlin are a mix of people who were born in Germany and people who moved there from countries like Ghana, Kenya and the United States (US).

The technology sector in Berlin already employs over 70,000 people, and Bulambo said she hopes that Black in Tech Berlin can be a step toward making it more inclusive. Black in Tech Berlin plans to launch a website to match employers with people seeking jobs. Bulambo said the contacts she made through the group enabled her to hire “many more” Black programmers since last year.

Kave Bulambo, founder of Black in Tech Berlin speaks with other members of the tech group via video call in the conference room of the public co-working space where she often works in Berlin, Germany. PHOTO: AP