Nzube Ufodike, nominated Chair of new BCS Specialist Group, EMBRACE, speaks to Blair Melsom MBCS about why now is the right time for a group dedicated to supporting marginalised communities and diversifying membership.

Tell us about the proposed BCS specialist group, EMBRACE. What is it and why is now the right time to establish it?

‘The idea for EMBRACE is to establish a space where we can focus on racial diversity within BCS and making the industry more inclusive.

‘On the back of the killing in the US of George Floyd earlier on in the summer and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) civil justice movement, I, like many people wanted to do something to make a difference.

‘At the same time, conversations took place within BCS and with external members and volunteers. BCS President Rebecca George was also very keen on pushing through a more inclusive and more diverse agenda for BCS going forward.

‘As current vice chair of the London Central branch, I brought up the topic at our committee meeting. This was not unusual as we have historically run several events that tackled diversity and inclusion. At the committee meeting, our chair Dalim Basu, encouraged me to connect with the main BCS organisation to follow-up, and the rest is history, as they say.’

Who will run the EMBRACE SG?

‘I've nominated myself as chair for the first year and recruited an amazing committee of individuals - namely: Charlie Fadden as Vice Chair, Doreen Duckoo our Treasurer, Prasad Amirthasagaran as Secretary, Joel Baynes as Community Lead and Nicola Martin as our Inclusion Officer.

'We have a few others that have signed up to become supporters. We since made a submission and received preliminary approval on our application, pending a couple of administrative tasks. We are now working on those items and aim to achieve full approval in October 2020.'

What will be the aims of EMBRACE?

‘The overarching objectives and desired outcomes are centred around making BCS a lot more accessible and visible to diverse communities; figuring out what the barriers to entry might be for underrepresented IT professionals based on race and why they aren't participating within BCS; and, to support communities that are making waves when it comes to racial diversity in the IT sector.’

Objectives and desired outcomes

  1. Increasing accessibility to BCS by facilitating access for racially diverse individuals to IT / digital based education/training and accreditation providers.
  2. Raising awareness of BCS within diverse communities and improve access for racially diverse individuals to professional IT / digital based jobs.
  3. Investigate, then offer solutions to barriers to entry to the organisation e.g. facilitate funding for racially diverse individuals to enable access to IT / digital based education / training and accreditation.
  4. Amplify the work being done by other diversity-focussed organisations in the ecosystem.
  5. Challenge stereotypes and support / enable diverse IT communities.
  6. Address inclusive practices within the tech industry e.g. AI soap dispenser.
  7. To become reliable specialists for BCS activities and events around racial diversity.
  8. Increase the amount of allies and champions within the BCS membership for racial diversity.
  9. Educate the BCS membership on the importance of racial diversity in the sector.
  10. Members of the EMBRACE group to be active public voices for diversity and inclusion for BCS, for external PR engagements.

Who can join?

‘It's open to anyone and everyone who’s a BCS member and who would like to work on supporting IT professionals who are ethnically and culturally diverse and who experience racism in our society. It's a big issue, and we need allies.’

What is the relevance of the group’s name?

‘Initially, I was looking at “Black at BCS” because the main challenges within the IT sector, when it comes to those least represented in senior positions, least promoted and - there's not sufficient data on the salary gap - but I suspect it's just as bad - it’s black people. I was keen to make sure that we're tackling it head-on.’

‘That said, the name “Black at BCS” was a bit political. It seemed to only focus on black, which wasn't the case, it was just focusing on the constraint. When you focus on the lowest common denominator and you find a solution for that, then you automatically make a process a lot more inclusive for others - for everyone, really.

‘The example I bring up a lot is around the predictive text, T9. It was first invented to support individuals that had mobility issues, or limited access to the full keyboard. Based on increasing accessibility to individuals that didn't have mobility, we created a technology that now pretty much everybody uses and which, errors and all, has made it a lot easier for everyone to communicate. So, applying that analogy within EMBRACE was the key factor.

‘BAME as a name is already politically tarnished. It doesn't do the job. So, I looked at BAME very briefly and had to come up with something else that touched on race but felt a bit more inclusive and there is nothing warmer than an embrace!

‘So that's one of the reasons, to make it sound as welcoming as it should be and not as controversial, or as uncomfortable or awkward as it tends to become when raising issues of race.’

Will there be any events once the group is fully established?

‘Sure, we are already planning a couple of events. One is at the end of October, looking at FinTech services in an API world. You might wonder, “okay, so why is EMBRACE looking at FinTech?” Well, it isn't necessarily a group that will only talk about race, but rather normalise it.

'For instance, if you want to go to a FinTech event organised by EMBRACE, you're more likely to see a representative panel. The conversations will be multi-layered. It will be more real, authentic and diverse in every sense, and there'll be meat to it. We have a keynote and a moderator and one of the panellists confirmed, we're just waiting on a couple of other panellists.

‘Earlier on in October, we thought we'd do a simple introduction to EMBRACE. A short talk about our motivations and to highlight what we're trying to do - so keep an eye out for that.

‘The idea is to have at least one event a month going forward and it will be split across colleagues. Community members would each take responsibility for organising one or two events a year.’

What will you bring to the role as chair?

‘One thing I'm looking to do is potentially link BCS with The Africa Centre's network, if there's any appetite. I'm a trustee of The Africa Centre charity, which started in 1964 and has been supporting diversity in its own way since then. It is a culture-focused charity, celebrating and bringing together African culture, and those interested in African culture; it achieves this through art, music and the creative industries.

‘Back when the Africa Centre first started in Covent Garden, you'd be hard pushed to find a space where you could go and listen to African music, or sample African culture or food. At the same time, Britain wasn't as diverse or tolerant as it is today, so it was also a safe haven for people of African descent.

‘It was political as well. It helped as a meeting point for lots of the post-colonial African conversations. Several people that went on to become African presidents convened, met and passed through the Africa Centre.

‘We're in Southwark now, with a renewed vision. We've restructured the organisation and we're focused on revamping the new building to create a 21st century space for entrepreneurs, cultural experts and people interested in that narrative around Africa but in a very modern way.’

What else are you involved in?

‘Another affiliation I have is with Blackout UK, a black queer men's group formed by Dr Rob Berkeley, Mark Thompson and Dr Antoine Rogers, nearly five or six years ago.

‘When it comes to marginalised communities, like black gay men, we tend to be overrepresented in all the horrible statistics like suicides, homelessness and loneliness in old age. So, we have separate work streams that focus on different aspects - from health and wellness, to wealth creation / financial independence, to culture and the archiving of history.

‘What we find is that a lot of the history of marginalised communities tends to get erased. For example, most people have heard of Martin Luther King but most people don't know that at the heart of the Million Man March, was actually a black gay man: Bayard Rustin. The Obama administration gave his partner, Walter Neagle, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition Rustin’s work with the civil rights movement. Things like that get forgotten.’

Where can colleagues in the tech industry look to improve their awareness of racial issues?

‘As well as those included on the further reading resources, not everyone likes to read, so being realistic, there are several documentaries on Netflix which they've included on the back of BLM.

‘I'll also say: be open and try to listen, participate in conversations, go to talks, get on Google and so on. Simply living in an open way will give you access to information. Lastly, recognise your own bias.’

Register your interest

If you would like to register your interest in joining EMBRACE, please email embrace@bcs.uk.

About Nzube

Nzube has worked across entrepreneurship, finance and technology for the best part of 20 years. He studied computer science for his bachelor's and master's degrees and is also a trustee at The Africa Centre, where he co-chairs its income generation committee. He is the current vice chair of the BCS London Central branch.

Further reading