Amplifying our impact at the largest Black tech conference in the world

by The Smartsheet Team

July 14, 2023

At Smartsheet, we exist to empower anyone to drive meaningful change. We believe that prioritizing “we” before “me” enables us to drive change and create mutually beneficial engagements for our people, products, and partners. We constantly ask questions to creatively approach traditional opportunities, one of which we’re highlighting with our experience at the AfroTech conference. We’ll get insight into what it was like for Smartsheet employees at AfroTech, as well as their thoughts on repping Smartsheet at the event. 

Group of people smiling at Afro Tech conference

In case you haven’t heard, AfroTech is the largest Black tech conference in the world, bringing together technologists and recruiters to exchange ideas and build a strong Black tech community. Last year, in support of our Black@Smartsheet Employee Resource Group (ERG), Smartsheet sponsored the AfroTech conference and sent 15 employees and four Geniuses from The Hidden Genius Project to Austin, Texas to meet with other Black professionals in tech and build community among one another. 

Celebrating and centering our people, partners, and customers

AfroTech was an opportunity to demonstrate and live our values on a global stage, all while celebrating and centering our people, partners, and customers. We intentionally designed the event experience to directly support the Black community, and attendees noticed.

Here are a few ways we showed up:

Celebrating our customers: Big Printing T-shirt Company 

Did you know that the largest Black-owned and operated printing and embroidery company is powered by Smartsheet? Our friends at Big Printing T-shirt Company helped us stand out of the crowd at AfroTech with custom t-shirts and bomber jackets. 

Driving value to Sponsor X partner: The Hidden Genius Project 

We continued our relationship with The Hidden Genius Project on the ground at AfroTech by being the only sponsor to co-brand our presence with a nonprofit. With over 25,000 attendees across Austin, AfroTech provided the global stage necessary to evangelize the work The Hidden Genius Project is leading, promote upcoming volunteer opportunities, and funnel donation dollars to the organization, all while providing a valuable development opportunity for the Geniuses through community and mentorship with Black@Smartsheet ERG members. 

Some of the AfroTech favorite moments from Smartsheet senior technical program manager Chika Monu included spending time with the Geniuses. “I really looked forward to meeting The Hidden Genius Project team for weeks. When I finally met them at AfroTech, my time with them exceeded my expectations. We had a really good conversation. I learned a lot about the amazing work they are doing and have been doing. It left me feeling inspired and honored that Smartsheet partnered with them.”  

Rethinking engagement via corporate social responsibility 

Philanthropic donations were offered in lieu of physical swag so booth attendees could select and support a cause while reducing conference waste. Attendees loved the impact and approach to sustainability so much that we’re expanding the impact of this initiative to our annual customer conference, Smartsheet ENGAGE 2023

AfroTech fuels personal and professional growth for Smartsheet employees

The inspiration among the 15 Smartsheet attendees was palpable as they soaked in the impactful words and stories shared by luminaries and industry icons. What truly stood out was the presence of thousands of Black professionals there, showcasing their innovations and occupying influential leadership roles in the tech industry. Chika exclaims, “I’ve never witnessed and been in the presence of that many Black professionals in a single space.”

Alexis Barone, a senior project and portfolio management solutions manager at Smartsheet, reflected on her experience. “Seeing so many professionals of color in one location was immediately energizing,” she remarked. “I've often been the only woman or the only person of color, or both, on a team. So finding 'my tribe' was worth the investment long before I attended my first session.” 

The attendees couldn’t help but rave about the invaluable information shared by the speakers — knowledge that would have taken years to learn on their own. They marveled at how their colleagues gained insight and wisdom from the various sessions and networking opportunities and investments. 

The openness of the speakers left a lasting impact on Alexis, particularly when Arlan Hamilton, in her session, “Running The Game: Becoming a Venture Catalyst,” emphasized the importance of authenticity with the words, “Be yourself so people looking for you can find you." Inspired by this sentiment, Alexis felt compelled to revisit her personal blog and re-dedicate to the work on authenticity she started there. She confessed,  “This was not the last quote of this nature that I took away from the event.”

AfroTech cultivates belonging and solidarity

AfroTech fostered a profound sense of belonging and solidarity among its attendees, many of whom frequently experience underrepresentation in their fields. The conference's focus on education and the speakers’ willingness to generously share their expertise created a lasting impact. AfroTech empowered everyone who participated, leaving them ready to drive positive change. Alexis expresses, “AfroTech was very empowering, and those of us who attended were definitely fired up and ready to help amplify Black at Smartsheet voices.” Chika echoes this sentiment, stating: “It encouraged me to continue to work at being a change agent in my sphere of influence now and in whatever I do in the future.” 

The sight of thousands of talented Black professionals in the tech industry, showcasing their innovations and occupying influential leadership positions, was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The transformative experience left attendees buzzing with energy, armed with new insights, and motivated to amplify the voices of underrepresented communities.

Going beyond the buzzwords: Smartsheet turns talk into reality

Smartsheet attendees wholeheartedly recognize and appreciate the intentional action taken by Smartsheet to showcase its investment in its employees. This investment not only underscores the company’s unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion, but also acknowledges the value of providing opportunities for personal and professional growth for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.

After the close of the conference, Chika takes a moment to reflect on the significance of the decision by Smartsheet to send a delegation to AfroTech, aligning this initiative with the Smartsheet value of Pursuing Progress. At Smartsheet, that means empowering team members to identify where progress is needed, pursue it, and make what we do matter more. Beyond the tangible business outcomes, this value fosters diverse viewpoints, nurtures a sense of community, and democratizes opportunities. Chika affirms, “I feel our presence at AfroTech was walking out this mission, in every sense of the word.” 

All in all, AfroTech 2022 acted as a catalyst for personal and professional growth, offering invaluable networking opportunities, fostering a deep sense of belonging, and reigniting a profound sense of purpose among attendees. The presence of Smartsheet at the largest Black tech conference in the world reaffirmed the company's dedication to diversity and inclusion, while simultaneously exemplifying its mission to empower individuals to drive meaningful change. And we will be back at the world’s largest Black tech conference again in November 2023. We hope to see you there!

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