Everyone loves a good industry party. More often than not, though, it’s not just about the comp bar and (hopefully) good DJ, but it’s really more the possibility of making the right connections, talking to the right people; and the hotter the party, the greater the possibility. So when I heard about a particular party Google was throwing in a particular city, my interest was peaked.
Little did I know how much I would learn by crashing a party, and you can do the same.
It all started when I decided that I’d like to go to this Google party, but it seemed that somehow my slick digital invitation must have gotten lost in the proverbial (e)mail. Not a problem. I decided I would call a particular publicist located in an office in a city which differed from the party locale, but, nonetheless, same company. I put in an email to, let’s call her Jane Austen, and she responded right back. She and I had a business relationship due to a couple of articles I’d written either concerning or including Google, thus, I felt I really should have been on the list anyway. She said that she would contact the PR department in the other office, and that it shouldn’t be any problem, but that she had no real control over decisions made in their other office. I thanked her and waited. And waited.
The party was in three days so I didn’t have much time to maneuver. When I didn’t hear anything from the either office, I emailed Jane again. This time, crickets.
It’s not like I’m some joker out-of-the-blue, I should be on this list! So using that as my mantra, I decided to go over to said hotel the night of the party and explain the situation.
Here’s where things started to get tricky.
Naturally, there was high energy and people all around the special side entrance of a particular, slick hotel where the event was being held. I noticed a QR tag of sorts that a small army of workers wearing Google event t-shirts at various locations on the floor were scanning from people’s phones. Guys with earpieces looking very Secret-Service like, guarded the main entrance. This wasn’t going to be easy.
So I asked an official looking person for a publicist so that I could explain my situation. While I waited I had the chance to observe a locale big-wig explain that he was sorry, but he brought his daughter, niece and niece’s boyfriend even though they didn’t have invitations. “No problem, come right in,” said a Google Gatekeeper. While that admittance happened on my left, to my right I heard much grumbling about the exclusion and partiality with which they felt they were being treated and turned away.
I had a 50–50 chance, it seemed. Until….
I actually saw the face of the publicist who seemed to have taken on the inflated importance of the brand due to his own lack of self-esteem. “What can I do for you?” he barked and almost finger-snapped me. I explained my situation, and he said, “Really? Well if you know Jane Austen, then call her now.” Call her? At 10pm at night? It’s not like she’s my homegirl, and I have her personal number. Why was I being given such a ridiculous task? I had my stories queued up on my phone so that he could see my by-line. I had my ID. And how the heck was I going to pick the name Jane Austen out of said city office randomly? But there was no gate being opened for this girl that night.
But somehow, I couldn’t give up. I am in the tech industry and at a level at which I should be at this party, perhaps even more so than someone’s random niece’s boyfriend. So I chilled and observed, watched who had QR tags, who got turned away, and more. There had to be a way inside. Wait — what about the rest of the hotel?
The party was on one of those standard trying-to-be-hip hotel roofs. What if I took the elevator from the regular entrance and just pushed “R”? Hopeful, I walked up the semi-circular stairs until I reached the main lobby, waited for an elevator and got in. But I’d soon find that technology was working against me because the “R” was programmed on lock-out that night.
Crestfallen, I quickly exited along with a couple of other people who seemed to have had the same idea. By this time, yet more Google t-shirted workers were milling about on this floor asking if we need any help. Besides getting into this party without a QR tag? No, but thanks for asking.
Then I overheard a slightly well-worn duo that looked exactly like Randolph and Mortimer Duke from the Eddie Murphy flick Trading Places talking about taking some stairs up to the roof.
I figured I had nothing to lose, so I tagged along and next thing I knew, we were just outside the roof door.
I could feel the pulse of the music, but the door was locked and even though they banged like hell, either no one on the other side could hear it or they, wisely, weren’t answering.
Indignant, the Duke imposters said that they should report the hotel for having a fire exit locked and that that was probably illegal — not that maybe trying to get into a private party from the fire stairwell was in a gray area itself.
That was it for me. I decided I’d have to go home, hat-in-hand, as they say, and pray that no colleagues ask me why they didn’t see me there. I tried.
So I opted to make a quick exit from the far side of the hotel and walk off a bit of my disgust before I fired up my Uber app.
Here’s where things took an interesting turn.
About 20 steps away, I found myself nearing what must have been the hotel service (servants) entrance. I had but two choices. One, keep walking. Two, zip up the coat that revealed my tech-chic outfit, flip over the embossed logo of my Saint Laurent clutch, fluff up one side of my slick straight hair, rub off my Tom Ford lipstick, and try and look the part of a worker. Maybe I could do it. Weren’t all those Google t-shirt workers were Black? Wait — I’m Black. How much is perceived by how we look the part? I was about to find out. I decided to channel “The Help,” quickly put on a demure expression, and decided to go for it, in nano-seconds. Just as I committed, a big, burly Black guy came out. I rushed and smiled sweetly at him and said, “perfect timing. I forgot something in there.” He smiled back and held the door open.
I was in.
But “in”, where? The effort of slick modernity that was achingly present in the main structure was the antithesis of the servants area. Even though I only had seconds to survey, I can tell you that grey and bleak doesn’t begin to describe it. A few steps away I noticed a round desk structure with a guy sitting behind it passing for some kind of security.
If I were going to play the role, I had to go all the way. I started fishing for my ID to sign in and greeted him with a tired look and explanation that I had been working as part-of the set-up crew for hours for the Google party but forgot my sweater and just want to hurry up and go back and get it and leave because I was exhausted. He answered me back with the same lethargy, saying, “I feel ya.”
I started signing in, and thank goodness he didn’t ask for my ID. I put a combination of both my name and my sister’s because, well, at least, genetically, I wasn’t lying.
I started to move toward some pre-historic elevator that closed vertically, when the master of the round security desk waved me away and said the other elevator was better. I feigned forgetfulness of where that was located, and just then, two chic workers from the hotel’s restaurant came up the hall. “Hey, can you guys show her where the elevator is so she can get back up to the roof?” “Yeah, no problem,” they called out.
Now, here is where I didn’t need any questions.
I thought I detected a French accent so I asked them in French where they were from, and their guard was immediately let down. We began chatting back and forth in French about the difference between France and America, how long they had been here and more until we got down to the level of the elevator I needed. I thanked them and bid them “bon soiree” and headed down what had to be the longest, most quiet hallway to the elevator. I leapt into it, pushed “R” and re-applied my lipstick.
But who knew there would be yet another hurdle to overcome?
In my wildest dreams I would not have figured that that elevator would have opened into… the kitchen, not the public part of the party! When the door opened I stared into a sea of Black faces and Google T-shirts who looked over their shoulders directly at me. Apparently I had briefly interrupted some kind of mini-meeting.
I had to get out of there and then. Turning left or right seemed a monumental decision. I couldn’t possibly pause and survey which direction was better for my goal because that would have given me away. So I chose left, walked with purpose and moved down the hall of the kitchen only to be greeted by some team-leader type with a walkie. I spoke quickly and explained that I had been part of the set up crew and happened to leave my sweater behind the bar and that I was just coming back to get it. Hell, I didn’t even know if they had a set-up crew, but it seemed logical. I heard her saying something to someone on the other end of the walkie about a girl coming out. I don’t know what she said, completely, because I was moving too fast. Would security stop me?
Would I get yelled at?
Sure enough, after just a few steps, I was in the public part of the hotel roof. I quickly took off my coat, smoothed my hair down and breathed. I wanted to get lost in the crowd, just in case security might be on the look out. I had been to this roof club many times so I headed for the bar at the farthest point and ordered a much-needed, comp cocktail. Had a few sips, and tried to calm down.
The party was absolutely packed, and people were in a good mood. I quickly looked around and noticed that even though hip hop music was blasting, it seemed like the ratio of those of color at the party was completely inverted from that of the servants. I’d be easy to spot if a description was given to security, that’s for sure.
But after about 5 minutes, I decided to relax and start to move about the party. Long story short, I saw several people I knew who introduced me to others who have actually become valuable business connects. I ended up having fun.
I made it into the Google party in all its Google Glory.
When I recounted the events to a new friend a few days later, her first response was that I must have really wanted to get into that party.
I come, originally, from the entertainment industry. We are the masters of the exclusive party that is several times more fabulous once inside than this particular Google event — or any other tech event, for that matter.
Vanity Fair Oscar party, anyone?
It wasn’t that at all.
Actually, what had possessed me to go through all that hurdle-jumping for what was at-best, a mildly interesting party?
I think it was because I felt unfairly treated, overlooked and spoken to in a condescending manner that made me defy the former reality I was being presented. I am part of the tech circle. I look good on paper. (lol) I’ve written for prominent publications about this company, overseen digital campaigns for ventures of notable individuals such as Jay Z via a multi-national digital agency I started, I graduated from an Ivy League school, I know how to speak French and have lived abroad, hell, I even took enough classes in coding to know that it’s of no interest to me but that I enable me to interact with engineers. I’ve also written an Amazon “Best: New Media Study” on the convergence of popular culture and digital platforms, and I provide commentary on consumer sentiment on tech trends for MSNBC.
And yet… because my connections were not at the level of being able to get a niece’s boyfriend in, let alone myself, in the conventional manner, I was on the outside. That’s just life. I get it. But how much is actually missed on a professional level due to social networks and extent of reach? Yes, we all have to work to create our circles, but does it come easier or faster say if your friends are all guys and these guys happen to golf together and happen to work at major tech companies? To what extent does race, class and gender extend or inhibit the friendly, warm relationships that lead to invitations, business tips and offerings? My melanin worked for me in one set of circumstances, what part might it play under other circumstances?
Surely Google didn’t hire a service team and say, “we want only all Black people.” But funny how it worked out that way. Funny how our society is still set up in many arenas.
Funny that the ratios inside the party also reflected nearly the opposite of the servants. Why is that? Why do we as people tend to align with those who are similar? How many of us have real homegirls and homeboys from other races? (hint: look at Instagram photos of fun Sunday brunches, weddings, personal parties)
As a digi-cultural trend analyst, I am an expert deciphering a forecasting trends in culture and public sentiment through a tech lens. Perhaps I was now the subject of my own expertise.
As I pondered, I couldn’t help but notice a recent New York Time article on Google’s struggle to diversify its staff (to which another publication gleefully remarked, “It’s not working.”). How many opportunities and professional advancement is based on warm, social interaction? How many of you reading either heard about your current job and maybe had a good word put in from or by a friend? Are your friends primarily in your same economic class? Race? Gender? Should we be called to be more expansive in ourselves?
Is Google (and will many of the other tech titans) operating under some kind of false illusion that everything is equal and that it can diversify its staff through giving coding classes away like crack? What about all the positions that have nothing to do with coding? No disrespect to Jared Cohen, but I don’t think he knows how to code, and seems to have a pretty cute position at Google. What about the positions in marketing, publicity, business development, partner relations and more? None of which require heavy tech expertise. What happened with the diversity numbers in these cases? If we asked to see the numbers for how many start-ups of color were awarded money from Google Ventures or any other tech company’s venture arms, would we be equally troubled? (answer: yes) How much of venture is based on social closeness? (hint: look at the websites of some firms to see blatant, “we only work with those who are referred” type messages).
Atlantic editor Ta-Neishi Coates has noted something that many are aware of but few have the platform to say: there are two, if not more, Americas. And within these Americas, I’ll add to his theory, that we share information, tips, invitations, based on camaraderie and those with whom we are socially close first, others, after the best goodies are given out. Thus, the issue with this whole diversity in tech movement is far more complex than computer codes. It is reasonable to say that very much of what we all deal with on a daily basis starts out with social codes, and that these social codes are inextricably tied to class, race and gender. Not necessarily on purpose, but an undeniable factor. Google surely didn’t create these psycho-social situations, but if it’s going to be a part of society, then it might have to at least address the fact that such is the current reality — and not just via cultural studies done by people of the same gender and race all the time. This may be a large part of why it’s having such a challenge with understanding how to diversify its staff, by the way.
Further, the situation will be far from rectified by perhaps donating to the company’s fave HBCU in hopes that it broadens its image. And, yes, we’ve seen the reports about the upcoming “Black in America” tour Google will sponsor.
It’s sweet. Really, it is. But I hardly think a 19-year old named Seth will find that at the top of his to-do list on campus next semester. I could be wrong. I’m usually not.
In fact, I expect more from a company like Google. I don’t expect it to create situations like these tours that will result in yet more inside conversations or encourage a separateness-of-sorts. I expect it to actually lead in creating new, powerful ways that enable a great unification or communication that are right for today’s mind-set and today’s millennials which are more diverse than ever in the history of the United States. I expect Google to bring on innovative, hip creative, advisors and consultants to help in this area where it may be weaker.
Before Google creates the next airport of the future, before it perfects cars that drive themselves, before it solves social problems in the Ukraine; I expect Google to get this particular situation right. And the beauty of it is, the challenge is global (and Google loves a good, global challenge). The same, exact diversity issues are present around the world. Just substitute the words Black and Latino for Moroccan, Algerian, Congolese in France, ditto with Turkish in Germany and the list continues. How can we bring more people into the fold beyond just focusing on cold codes? How can Google, or any other tech company for that matter, make itself even seem more approachable if it wants more diverse applicants? How can it use its great power to enact social interaction on a 3-D level so that a human exchange is truly created and biases lessened not just for its company or the tech industry but for society at large? The future of our country depends on it.
These may very well be some of the biggest questions of our time.
I think I have some answers.
And it all started out with a party, a service entrance and some lipstick.
I’m on the move again. This time it’s about Google’s event space at one its offices. I know they work with third parties for hot concepts — and not so hot ones. I’ve seen the light-hearted invitations from brunettes and blonds within a Google Group to which I belong saying, “I’m having some (random) event at Google’s offices in X city. Come by if you can. We’ll have some special surprises too.” I’m too am inquiring about dates and yet….
So as we say in hip hop, “get at me” Sergey, Larry and/or Lazlo Block.
We have a profound opportunity to create not only more seats at the table but also widen human interaction in the process, if we are bold, creative and honest enough.
Check out more from ‘digi-cultural trend analyst,’ strategist, and producer Laura deLisa, here. Image by Becky Stern, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC by SA 2.0).