“It Takes Courage To Do This Work”—Driving Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Tech

Qasim Bear


True diversity, equity and inclusion are defined by so much more than open-minded recruiting practices. For LaDavia Drane, these values are foundational to a company’s success, and she would know.

This is Drane’s life’s work with a career steeped in advancing opportunities and equitable treatment for underrepresented communities having held a number of high-profile roles on Capitol Hill, including a tenure serving as the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus for nearly a decade. She also served as Director of African American Outreach and Deputy Director of Congressional Affairs for Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Her deep policy work led her to Amazon in 2018 as its U.S. Public Policy Head of Diversity & Inclusion. Now, she’s serving as Amazon Web Service’s (AWS) Global Head of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity.

Drane is tasked with a myriad of responsibilities, but essentially, she says her job is responsible for helping shape how the company will approach its work in inclusion, diversity, and equity. The organization leads with inclusion because it’s the key to driving diversity and equity. She and her team are focused on shaping the mechanism and data driven approach to foster a strong sense of belonging for its global workforce of employees, increase representation, and create equitable experiences for underrepresented groups.

One of the initiatives that is aligned with AWS’s inclusion, diversity, and equity strategy is the All Builders Welcome (ABW) Grant program at AWS’s annual behemoth customer event re:Invent, which was attended by over 50,000 people from November 28-December 2, 2022. It provides an all-expense paid opportunity for early-career technologists across the globe to learn about the latest cloud innovations and network with AWS’s customers, partners and employees. AWS aims to fill opportunity gaps for underrepresented technologists and inspire the next generation of diverse leaders across the technology industry through this unique program.

“The grant program has gone from something that was much smaller in 2016 to an initiative enjoyed by participants from over 42 countries,” Drane told ESSENCE. “People around the world are able to come here and be a part of this, and we create an inclusive and supportive experience where we can help strengthen their sense of belonging in the industry.”

“It Takes Courage To Do This Work”—Driving Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Tech
Belinda Batdorf, co-founder of HubbleIQ, at AWS re:Invent’s All Builders Welcome lounge.

“I’ve never been to anything like this before,” said Deborah Peters, an All Builders Welcome Grant participant. Currently a Software Engineer Degree Apprentice at IBM in London, UK, she said she wanted to leverage the opportunity to secure contacts in the US to broaden her global network and increase the chances of landing a high- paying tech job upon completing her advanced degree program in 2025. “To experience a conference of this magnitude and everything is paid for, that’s really incredible.”

For Adesola Adesina, a fellow grant participant, the support she gets from early-stage founders and technologists like herself at All Builders Welcome meant everything. In 2020, Adesina co-founded Living Corporate, a multimedia podcast platform created to amplify marginalized voices in the workplace, and through that work, she realized the importance of community.

“Because I’m a self-taught software engineer, I didn’t have that network of people [that would serve as guides in my career],” she shared with ESSENCE. “I really love being a part of the ABW grant program because you’re building with people who are in the same career phase as you, but are still incredibly inspiring.”

This initiative is among many others at the intersection of inclusion, diversity and equity and community impact at AWS. One of them is the AWS Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Innovation Fund, a micro-grant program that awards funding to its employees who want to spark systemic change for marginalized groups by partnering with social impact organizations. According to AWS, this year’s Innovation Fund more than doubled, topping out at $750,000 and reaching 25,000 people.

“The ID&E Innovation Fund reflects the culture at AWS—our employees are leaders and builders who are always ready to roll up their sleeves and take action to leave things better than they found them,” Drane said in an Amazon blog post.

“It really takes courage to do this work,” she told ESSENCE, explaining that her role often requires her to have uncomfortable conversations about race, identity, and underrepresentation. “There’s a lot of Black women who do this work. It’s hard and complex but we keep doing it. That’s what’s special about us. For me, I’m an empathetic person and I want things to be better for other people. So to be able to do that work professionally knowing it’s a part of who I am as a person, it’s just a gift, and I’m going to hold on to it for as long as I can. And having this freedom in AWS, to create it, to build it, it’s just a gift.”

Click here for more information about AWS inclusion, diversity and equity.

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