This blog was written by Denzell Turner, Product Marketing Manager, as part of the Amplifying Black Voices blog series. Denzell details the impact representation has played in his journey to Tech.
The idea of representation never really crossed my mind growing up. I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan which is the Blackest city in America, and attended predominately Black schools. At this stage of life, I never really felt unheard, unseen, or misunderstood. It wasn’t until college when I realized how different the world was outside of Detroit. My college journey took me about 45 minutes west of my hometown to The University of Michigan in the much smaller city of Ann Arbor. Go Blue!!! Little did I know, I was in for a culture shock. Before being accepted into Michigan, I had multiple opportunities to visit the campus and get a feel for college life. However, these visits were with programs that catered towards Black prospective students so I was still in my cocoon of thinking my experience would be like high school with people who looked, dressed, walked, and talked like me. What I found was the complete opposite. So much so, that I could go weeks and count on one hand how many other Black students I saw on campus. But the feeling of underrepresentation didn’t hit home until my junior year when I was sitting in a communication studies class and we discussed the burden of representation theory. The theory states that for any marginalized group, there is pressure on an individual to represent the entire group. I left this class feeling enlightened about the topic but also distraught because I now understood why I was having a hard time fitting into spaces where I was the minority. Upon graduation, I took my first job in corporate America where the feeling of not belonging would be amplified.
Since I was a kid, I wanted to be in business. I thought it was so cool to have a briefcase (do people even use these anymore??), a computer, and a mobile phone to do “work”. So you could understand my excitement when I started my first “real” job out of undergrad working in automotive. But this would be another tricky space for me to navigate as I was not only young compared to my peers but also one of few Black people in the office. A sense of belonging didn’t come until I met the VP of Diversity and Inclusion who was a Black man from Detroit. He soon became a mentor to me and seeing how he carried himself in a leadership position having a similar upbringing inspired me because I did not have many examples of this growing up or in my career field.
Kindergarten Graduation circa 1996
I always had a love for communication and media arts, at one point I even wanted to be a radio or tv personality! However, through my undergraduate and corporate experience, I found a new purpose for this passion through marketing. I wanted to utilize marketing to amplify positive narratives about minorities to highlight underrepresented communities. With this purpose in mind, I sought a career change by pursuing a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). During my MBA program, I had the opportunity to represent the University of Miami (Go Canes!) in a case competition at Howard University. It was there when I had my first real interaction with Microsoft. I met and interviewed with a Black woman who was a marketing professional with the company for years. I must admit my interpretation of Microsoft employees at that time was white men with ivy league level educations; which did not exactly connect to my identity. However, I was relieved to meet a younger, Black woman who was a leader in the company and enthused about her work. From that interaction forward, I knew Microsoft was a target destination for me because not only could I find a career, but I could also find a place of belonging.
Me with my classmates/teammates at the Howard University Case Competition
After countless assignments, projects, applications, and interviews I completed my MBA degree and started my career at Microsoft. And even though I was fresh out of school, starting work in a pandemic, and a minority, I felt welcomed and included in this new space. For me, my recognition of the importance of representation and inclusion started considerably late in life. Therefore, I take every opportunity to work with the next generation of talent who come from underrepresented spaces because one interaction can go a long way. Joining Microsoft turned out to be a great fit because this is where I feel our interests are aligned in empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. In my short time here, I’ve been able to develop stories of how the company has been able to impact lives in communities similar to where I’m from. No organization has it completely figured out when it comes to minority representation and social impact, but I am glad to be at a company that is diligent at figuring it out.
After a long day of interviews, I finally got my picture at the Microsoft headquarters