Build a Better Pipeline

Austin Gray ’19 takes initiative to increase the presence and confidence of black employees in the Silicon Valley.

Here was the deal. Walking into his job interviews, Austin Gray ’19 knew each company’s diversity numbers. He wasn’t in a position of power, but he knew what was important to him. If a company was going to be a good fit, it needed a plan to improve diversity recruitment. And he wanted to help shape that plan. The surprise? They listened.

His dad always described it as having a smile in your voice, Austin Gray ’19 says. It didn’t make sense at first, but he gets it now. Let people know through every interaction with you—even your voice —that you won’t be outworked. Gray has done that. A double major in finance and English, Gray quickly established himself as a leader on campus at Santa Clara.

In 2016, during his first year, Gray co-founded the Leavey Black Business Association, motivated by the lack of African Americans in Silicon Valley’s workforce.

Gray noted how big companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook sometimes look for new hires on the other side of the country. “We looked at ourselves and said, ‘Why aren’t they coming from their backyard?”

So Gray set out to increase the presence and confidence of black employees in Silicon Valley. “We understood OK, we need to build the pipeline for black students to go from Santa Clara into some of these large companies.”

And the new association became just that: a pipeline to opportunity. The organization gave its members the unique opportunity to hear the experiences
of professionals, receive advice about being a minority in the Valley, and earn internships and even full-time placements. More important, it gave them confidence.

In founding the association, Gray created something different from any other group on campus—a comfortable professional environment for black business students. “Being black in the workplace is going to be different than not being black in the workplace,” Gray says. “So we have those types of conversations. This is a place where people can honestly ask, what should I do with my hair? How do I deal if people say stuff to me about it? If I’m the only black person in a workplace and something inappropriate happens, how do I deal with that?”

And Gray has walked the talk. Before receiving his diploma, he had already found a professional home at Deloitte as a business analyst in its consulting practice. In addition to his daily work duties, he plans to continue standardizing communication and recruitment of underrepresented minorities, building on the experiences he had with the Leavey Black Business Association.

Austin Gray made change on campus—and the valley. / Image courtesy Austin Gray
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