Courtesy of Michael Ori

Black Voices: Improving diversity in Utah's tech culture

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Posted - Jun. 23, 2020 at 7:02 p.m.



Editor's note: This story is part of KSL.com's "Black Voices" series where we share black Utahns' stories about what life is like for them in the Beehive State.

LEHI — When Cameron Williams first got a job in Utah, he didn’t know really what to expect. He’d heard about the state’s lack of diversity and some quick internet searches revealed negative article after negative article on what it was like to be Black in the state.

With that, he expected it to be a short stay.

“My plan was to come to Utah, be here for 18 months, and then move to Dallas because I didn’t want to be here at all,” Williams said.

Nine years later, Williams is still in Utah. He's the director of diversity and engagement at Domo (one of his many hats at the tech giant) and has started his own company EverWoke. In February, he was named one of Utah Businesses’ 40 under 40.

“I call it the Utah trap,” Williams said. “If you give Utah a real chance, you'll find the two things: One, you're in the modern-day gold rush because there's nothing but opportunity in Utah. And two, you're gonna fall in love with this place because you live inside of a postcard.”

Williams has seen firsthand the opportunities that Utah can provide. He came to the state after graduating with an economics degree from the University of Oklahoma to work for Goldman Sachs, then joined the tech world and rose through the ranks.

That's the Utah he wants to promote: the one full of endless possibilities. But there are times when the postcard isn’t as serene as it appears, and Williams’ initial doubts about the state have been confirmed.

Earlier this month, Domo put up a billboard on I-15 that read #BlackLivesMatter and took the lead to put a full-page ad in both the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune with the same hashtag. For the ad, Domo solicited Utah companies to also add their voice. Many such as the Utah Jazz, Zions Bank, University of Utah and the who’s who of Utah tech companies joined in with the message.

But not everyone reacted positively. People questioned why such big Utah brands would throw their weight behind the movement and took offense to the initiative.

Williams didn’t take that as a negative, though. He thought of it as an opportunity to educate.

“We've had to have this candid conversation because we're talking about the house that's currently burning; we're not talking about all the houses in the neighborhood,” Williams said. “That was the message that we were able to send and get out. And we converted a lot of people's mindsets to understand. That's what it really is about. It's not about the people who already agree. It's about the people who had a change of mindset, and those conversations allowed for us to do that.”

To Williams, those conversations are what leads to change and growth. He said he feels fortunate that Domo has empowered him to lead those talks.

In the past, the company has rented out a theater and hired professional actors to run through different scenarios to help employees see discrimination they might not have been aware of around them. Last week, Domo held a companywide meeting to hear the experiences of black employees.

“Just because you don't think of yourself as racist or unconsciously biased, you have to accept that they (biases) could be there and you have to accept the idea in order to learn,” Williams said.

Domo has also partnered with historically black colleges or universities in the Atlanta University Consortium to expose more Black undergrads to the tech industry through an internship exchange.

For Williams, that’s a personal project. Before arriving in Utah he didn’t have any idea of the opportunities awaiting him along the Wasatch Front. He taught himself to code while at Goldman Sachs, leveraging that into a new tech-oriented position at the company and eventually entering into the sprawling Utah tech world.

He wasn't a computer science major but got a job at a tech unicorn. He wants others to have that same opportunity.

“I'd love to shout from the rooftops to anywhere because people really don't realize how big of a deal Silicon Slopes is out here and what type of opportunity it provides,” he said.

But it’s one thing for people of color to be invited into the state and the industry; it’s quite another to be truly welcomed. He’s hoping the state can continue working on being more of the latter.

He remembers struggling to adjust to being the extreme minority in the state. He didn’t know where to get a haircut, where to buy certain foods, what churches he should go to. It was hard to find his culture.

That's why he’s worked with organizations like Living Color and the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce to help create support systems for people of color.

“Getting to know the right organizations and the right people,” Williams said. “Once you have that, Utah's a very sticky place; it is very hard to leave. I love that this is home for me.”

But that doesn't mean it can't be better.

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