How Do You Navigate the Tech Industry as a Black Woman? This Founder Has Answers

What are lessons that Black women founders, specifically, can draw from the successes of an industry veteran?

Three-time founder Angela Benton, currently CEO of data brokerage Streamlytics, shared her thoughts on navigating the tech industry as a Black woman in a recent Inc. webinar. Benton spoke with the Honeypot founder and CEO Beatrice Dixon, and responded to questions from the audience. Here are some takeaways from their conversation.

Break out of the “Black business box”

Being included in only a special category is a common problem faced by minority and women founders. Benton says she doesn’t stand for it. “I do not allow people to put me in boxes, and when people do put me in boxes, I correct them,” Benton said.

For example, Benton highlighted a recent experience she had at Streamlytics, in which she was working to close a deal that she’d been working on for nearly a year. “We are just about to close the deal with them, but after all this time and effort, they want to categorize us in their Black founders kind of area,” Benton said. In response, Benton said she opened with an expression of a desire to work together, but transitioned to being frank about her concerns: ” ‘I want to have this conversation with you guys, [I’m] super excited, but I don’t want to be a part of that, because when I’m a part of that, you’re negating all of the game-changing technology that we’ve developed.’ “

Find partners who see your potential

Recalling her experience running the accelerator for minority founders NewME, Benton said that a key goal was working around those who failed to understand the companies she was promoting.

“As a community, we’re brilliant,” Benton asserted. But when it comes to “respect,” she said, “we don’t necessarily get the same” as more privileged groups, noting how little venture capital funding is invested in Black founders.

Benton worked to find partners who specifically hoped to address long-standing discrimination. She cited investor Mitch Kapor, whom Benton described as “an absolute legend.” She recalled, “Mitch was an ally before the word ally was being used; we had this idea, he opened up–this legend opened up–his complete Rolodex of investors in Silicon Valley, and that’s how we got our start. That’s why people came to demo days.

“When you talk about ecosystem building, it’s the founders, it’s the funders, and it’s the allies,” Benton declared.

Get past your fears

Asked to leave founders with one piece of advice, Benton pointed to her battle with cancer at age 34 as providing a lesson in not caring what others might think. She decided to focus more heavily on the things that truly matter. “The choices that I make have to be more intentional for myself, for my family, for my community,” she said.

With that in mind, she said, “I became less scared.” Her advice: “Say the things that you want to say. If you feel like things are not set up in your favor, then say those things.”

What’s more, Benton said, her business success had enabled her to speak even more frankly about race and gender inequality without becoming a target.

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