The year after Anthony D. Mays joined Google as a software engineer in 2013, the company publicly released its diversity numbers for the first time. He knew the numbers were likely low, but he didn’t realize just how low.
When he found out only 1% of technology roles included Black people, Mays made it his personal mission to help grow that number while working at Google. Now, after several years of seeing slow-moving progress within Google and the tech industry at large, Mays is branching out on his own, starting a consulting firm that aims to help both companies and employees reach more representation.
A key voice for DEI at Google
When Mays joined Google in 2013, he received a personal welcome call from the company’s human resources chief at the time, Lazlo Bock. “That was pretty special,” Mays told CNBC in an interview.
The following year, the company became the first of many to release their diversity numbers, which showed a dismal 2% of full-time Google employees were Black and only 1% of technical roles were filled by Black employees. Shocked by the statistics, Mays felt a personal obligation to help those numbers grow.
To do that, began sharing his story of coming from an abusive home in Compton, California.
“Having come from the world of Compton to the world of Google and Silicon Valley for several years, it allows me the unique opportunity to build bridges in the way that others may not be able to.”
He first shared his story in a company email that ended up going viral. Then, in 2018, he shared his experiences in a Buzzfeed video called “My Unlikely Path To Becoming The 1% At Google,” which has racked up 5.3 million views. He also wrote an article, with Google’s public relations team, he said, for Huffington Post called “Google Would Never Hire a Person Like Me,” explaining how his environment and self-doubt almost kept him from applying for a job at Google.
“I was getting emails from people in and outside of the company that I’d never met,” Mays said, adding that he was humbled by the response.
Many told Mays he inspired them and made them feel seen and heard, he said. Google recruiters told him his coaching work helped get diverse applicants in the door and succeed during interviews, he said.
But becoming a key voice for DEI also came with setbacks: He had to juggle DEI work with being a full-time software engineer and says he sacrificed promotions due to the time spent on those initiatives.
Mays said he also experienced imposter syndrome.
“People were telling me I’m doing well, but I’m also keenly aware that in some people’s minds, I’m the diversity hire,” he said of is feelings early on. “So, early on, there was this sneaking suspicion that I have that I’m being treated differently because I’m a Black man working in tech. “
Part of the motivation for continuing his work, he explained, was “survivors’ guilt,” Mays said.
“I had a number of friends who were shot and killed when they were 18 and 19 years old,” he said. “When you see that kind of tragedy and be so close to it, you start asking what made me so different that I deserved to escape and they didn’t?”
But most of the motivation, he said, came from his faith and hope for equity among underrepresented workers. He said he feels a responsibility and passion for giving people a chance at more opportunities.
Mays, whose authentic communication and candor draw people, says he tries to be honest when asked what it’s like to be a Black man at Google.
“I talk about how I had a good experience, but there are no guarantees, and I want us to be honest about that,” he said. “There are people who’ve had horrible experiences, and I want to remind people that as much as I’ve enjoyed being at Google, things might go differently for you.”
He also acknowledges the challenges he sees companies face when trying to implement new programs dedicated to diversity and inclusion. At Google, he said, he saw impactful diversity and inclusion programs that were either put on hold or changed in different direction.
“I don’t know many companies who are working harder than Google to effect change; however, one of the problems I’ve seen is the sustained commitment in any given direction,” Mays said. “What tends to happen is you have a program that works well for a year or two and then inexplicably goes into another direction or there’s a shuffle or a reorg and it can be hard to see things through for the sustained long term.”
‘The real moonshot’
As the years went on, Mays found his personal brand deviating from Google’s, he said.
“Google’s an advertising company that organizes information of the world, and my focus during my time there was helping with that as a software engineer — that’s what I was hired to do,” he said. “But, I began to find my interest more in organizing information for the underrepresented in tech who struggled to find resources and information on how to navigate tech as an industry.”
In late 2021, Mays says he saw a window of opportunity to do DEI work full-time after watching the labor market tighten, record resignations and tech job-seekers looking for better financial security and work-life flexibility amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Seeing the need and the response to my own story over these past few years, it became well ‘ok, now I want to do this more than just on my off-time,” Mays said. “I came to the realization that now really is the time and as the pandemic begins to loosen its hold.”
Mays’ last day was in mid-February, and in less than a week, he used his savings to launch Morgan Latimer Consulting, which is named after African American inventors Garrett A. Morgan and Lewis H. Latimer.
Mays has two main goals: to help underrepresented people get jobs in tech if they want them and to help companies understand how to get and keep those workers.
Working with companies, Mays has had to explain the business importance of DEI, which studies have for years shown improves business outcomes and product development.
“There are people who see this as just a PR problem — that these aren’t real issues,” Mays says.
Silicon Valley has been slow to progress in keeping employees of color, placing most of the focus on recruiting.
“They can attract people all day long, but they’re still not supporting them enough to stay, as you can see in the numbers and in people’s experiences,” Mays said.
Mays says part of his conversations involves getting real with companies about how minority talent views them. In particular, there’s a sizable lack of trust.
“Most companies either don’t know or don’t understand why there is a lack of trust, they usually just see the side effects like lack of participation,” he said. “We have this expectation that if we throw money at this, we’ll have progress, but it’s more complicated than that.”
He says firms sometimes overlook existing mechanisms that could help the problem, such as organization, support systems, and mentorship.
“It’s important for me to help these companies understand why those things are happening and to provide some guidance on how to resolve them,” he says. “The FAANG companies in particular oftentimes often feel like they want to reinvent the wheel but oftentimes, they shouldn’t.”
Mays gave an example of Inroads, a nonprofit organization that creates pathways to careers for underrepresented students. It helped him secure his job in tech, but still doesn’t get support or recognition.
He also plans to help companies think about how their performance reviews are inclusive, he said. Expectations and action items need to be clear for workers, he added.
“It’s not enough for a company leader to have an initiative with DEI focus,” said Jason King, senior associate director of corporate relations at the University of California, Irvine. “It takes solid structure and game plan because once you take foot off gas, it’s up to you to implement it and that’s just one thing Mays is great at.”
Helping others through the door
For those just getting in the door, Mays says he’s dedicating part of Morgan Latimer Consulting to entryways like interviews, which candidates have found difficult.
Before being hired by Google, Mays failed his first Google interview in 2011 despite getting pointers from a company recruiter, he said. Historically black college students training on Google’s own campus program told CNBC about challenges and failures during their own processes. Failing interviews left them feeling discouraged and unlikely to try again.
Portia Kibble-Smith, a diversity and inclusion lead at technical interviewing platform start-up Karat, said Mays’ services fit in well because of his ability to relate to students and share tips — a break from tech companies’ often standard practice of refusing to share interview feedback.
“One of our biggest challenges we found is that most engineers have less information about the hiring process and interviews, specifically, and that’s exacerbated if they’re coming from outside the industry” Kibble-Smith said. “It’s even harder to get information from peers if you don’t have a network.”
Mays offers three different packages. The “basic” package, listed at $199, helps candidates “Find out whether you’re ready with a realistic coding interview,” while the “Pro” package, listed at $549, tracks progress and growth while helping with algorithms and data structures. Last, a $899 package offers all of those benefits plus “advanced topics and behavioral interviews.”
The two higher-priced ones can be broken up in monthly payments, and most come with one-on-one time with Mays.
Mays says he hopes to give “high-quality” learning courses to people at an affordable price and regularly shares free tips and advice across his social networks including Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.
“There are so many predatory services just repackaging information freely available and charging a fee,” Mays said. “I get that this is a capitalistic society, but I have a heart to put together information in the hands of folks who often don’t have the access or the funds to pay for those.”