“I’ve always known I was Black, but I didn’t have the full understanding of what it really means to be Black in corporate America.”

For Digital Account Executive Douglas Neres, starting the first Blacks at Microsoft chapter in Latin America has brought him closer to his cultural identity and community.

I grew up east of São Paulo, Brazil, the oldest of four children. My parents divorced when I was quite young, and my mother raised us. At that time, my mother began to instill in us the importance of education, reminding us that she herself felt unprepared to survive and take care of us with the little education she had. So, after the separation, my mother went back to school – first finishing high school and then studying to become a nurse.

Before coming to Microsoft in 2015, I participated in an exchange program in Spain for seven months. During that time, a friend gave a lecture at Microsoft. He knew they were looking for diverse talent, so he passed my name along and soon, I went through some interviews, got approved and began working at Microsoft as an intern for two years, and then had the opportunity to work in Costa Rica.

While in Costa Rica, I started the second Blacks at Microsoft chapter in Latin America to foster community. But before that, I was against the name Blacks at Microsoft. I was afraid of people thinking that I had gotten to Microsoft by being Black and not for my capabilities. I always joke that being Black is just the sauce!

It took me a while to become more comfortable and to accept that Blacks at Microsoft is about using Microsoft as a platform to impact not only our business, but also society in many aspects. It stopped being about my fears and became something bigger — a platform to help make a difference in other people’s lives and serve our community. Our Blacks at Microsoft chapter was invited by the Costa Rican government to expand the initiative to other companies. So, we started a Black professional’s network in partnership with other tech companies.

It’s been a whole journey of racial awareness for me. I’ve always known I was Black, but I didn’t have the full understanding of what it really means to be Black in corporate America. Learning to embrace my most authentic self, knowing that I’m not just tolerated but I am appreciated, has led to some self-assessment. I’m a Black man, but I’m also a man. I realize I have more privilege than Black women and, in some respects, women in general. In my learning journey, I’ve been working to be more intentional about making space for women, in meetings for example. I’m also working to change my own behaviors by listening more actively. I know that women do not need us to save them, but I also know that too often in the workplace men can dominate the conversation.

I’m also working to empower the next generation of tech professionals. With the big gap in the market in terms of technical knowledge, I’m working to start a certification initiative to connect less privileged students with job opportunities in tech as well as other industries. Stay tuned — it’s a work in progress but believe it will be a very impactful initiative.

Find more stories like Douglas’s here: aka.ms/InclusionIsInnovation/BlackAfricanAmerican