Minority-Focused Professional Development Groups

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the value of Minority-Focused Professional Development Groups. They exist in three realms primarily: 1) at school, 2) at work, 3) at large. Examples include the National Society of Black Engineers (student-run), and Blacks at Microsoft! (professional, company-specific), both of which I am a proud and active member of. I think that such organizations are important for a variety of reasons and quite beneficial to their memberships.

I’d like to ponder here the strengths and weaknesses of such organizations. The 2 initial ones that come to mind are:

1. They create senses of comraderie and community in their respective fields/industries of focus. This is especially important because they usually exist in fields/industries that are mostly white or non-minority-dominated.
2. Since people don’t trust people that are different, they can connect people with those whom they feel that they can trust to help/support them.

Do you think that these types of groups are a good thing? Do you participate in these kinds of groups or their sponsored activities? Why or why not?

One Love. One II.




About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

4 responses to “Minority-Focused Professional Development Groups”

  1. claudia lüthi says :

    I think that the mere existence of such fragmentations (“National Society of Black Engenieers” and such – what the hell is that!) shows the trap without exit in which the postmodern american society has fallen. It’s about time to see that these differentiations are just stories in the heads of those who believe to be victims.

  2. Garlin II says :

    Thank you claudia.

    Though I agree that in a perfect world, such divisions and/or differences did not matter (the non-existence of difference is the non-existence of diversity, which I think would be a bad thing), the reality is that they do. As a result, groups like those mentioned above to help people navigate their fields successfully. I do not see this as a trap without exit. I instead see it as an opportunity to build bridges between groups using these organizations as the vessels. Maybe non-minorites view these groups as stupid, but the positives that they provide their members definitely outweigh the burden of a possible perception of a lack of necessity.

    I also disagree that to acknowledge difference is to label one’s self a victim. Being Black does not make me a victim, and neither does being a Black engineer. It actually is empowering and it makes me unique. As opposed to being a story in m head, I see it as part of my identity that motivates me to achieve greatness like so many have before me.

    More info on the National Society of Black Engineers is available at http://www.nsbe.org.

  3. Anonymous says :

    Isolation doesn’t promote trust.

  4. Garlin II says :

    Thank you anon.

    I think most people have the misconception about these sorts of groups are isolationist because we often think that if a group that shares some commonality decides to meet together that they are by definition meeting to discuss negative things about other groups/individuals who do not share that commonality. The non-professional example is a group I ran at the University of Michigan called HEADS, which was a Black male support network. We had weekly, all-male meetings. I can’t for the life of me understand why so many of our Black female peers (older Black, White, and other men and women with whom I discussed the group both understood and supported it) were so convinced that the purpose of our support network was to get together and bad-mouth them.

    Something that is is setup to support the recruitment and development of Hispanic Engineers (http://www.shpe.org) is not anti-anyone, nor is it even isolationist to have that as a goal.

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