Black History Month 2023: An Interview with the Founders of BERG

Black History Month is an annual, month-long celebration that honors the contributions and achievements of Black individuals in the U.S. and beyond. This is a time to commemorate the central role of the Black community throughout history and celebrate the richness of Black culture. It’s also a time to reflect on the power and importance of Black resistance — the theme of Black History Month this year.

As the Association for the Study of African American Life and History explains, “By resisting, Black people have achieved triumphs, successes, and progress as seen in the end of chattel slavery, dismantling of Jim and Jane Crow segregation in the South, increased political representation at all levels of government, desegregation of educational institutions, the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964, the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in DC and increased and diverse representation of Black experiences in media. Black resistance strategies have served as a model for every other social movement in the country, thus, the legacy and importance of these actions cannot be understated.”

In honor of Black History Month this year, we interviewed Charlie Watkins and Kyle Gise, founders and leaders of BERG (Black Employee Resource Group) at Crunchbase. Here’s what they said about the importance of building a safe space for Black employees, hiring diverse candidates and what Black History Month — and Black resistance — mean to them.

Tell us about your positions at Crunchbase and your roles at BERG.

Charlie: I’m a senior sales development representative here at Crunchbase and the president of BERG. I work with Kyle to put all the events together, send questionnaires and surveys to our members, and really try to build a strong foundation for our member community at Crunchbase. We started just two quarters ago, so it’s pretty new.

Kyle: I’m an enablement specialist at Crunchbase and the vice president of BERG. One thing to add to Charlie’s point: We had the idea of starting BERG last year around Black History Month, and then it became official a few months later.

Why did you decide to start BERG? What were you hoping to achieve when you set out?

Charlie: We wanted a safe space to connect with other Black employees here at Crunchbase. We also wanted to bring together Black employees from different departments — the data team, marketing team, people team and more — and help them meet colleagues they wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise.

Kyle: In addition, we wanted a platform for supporting and uplifting each other. The purpose was not only to be a professional resource, but also to let employees who are Black be their authentic selves. We recognized the need for an ERG that specifically and intentionally supported Black employees at Crunchbase. BERG is a two-way effort to do our part in helping Crunchbase succeed in its diversity and inclusion efforts, and in helping Black employees at Crunchbase succeed professionally.

Can you tell me more about BERG’s mission statement and core values? 

Kyle: Our mission is to be a professional resource for Black employees at Crunchbase, their allies and the overall organization. We aim to be the one-stop shop for all things Black at Crunchbase, from cultural events and informal gatherings to professional development, mentoring and recruitment efforts. Our core values include selfless service, community and leadership. We believe that if we take the focus off of benefiting ourselves individually and instead look to serve others, we can make the world a better place. 

What BERG accomplishments or initiatives are you most proud of?

Charlie: Recently we conducted a book drive in collaboration with the API ERG (Asian & Pacific Islander Employee Resource Group). We asked the Crunchbase team for books with Black and API representation, and we then donated these books to schools to promote diversity, representation and inclusion in children’s literature. We also had an event where we got brunch together, which gave us the chance to meet people in person and welcome one of our new members.

Book drive coordinated by Crunchbase ERGs
Book donations from the BERG and API ERG book drive at a school in California’s East Bay.

Kyle: An ongoing initiative is to increase the number of Black employees at Crunchbase. We looked at the amount of Black employees we have across all the different teams at Crunchbase, and made a plan to have at least one person of Black descent in every job department. We created a unique link in our applicant tracking system to track how many internal referrals are people of color. 

Crunchbase is a remote-first company. What has been your experience running a remote ERG? How do you connect with one another remotely?

Kyle: It has its challenges, but there are also good things. Our members live all across the U.S., and while it’s easy to get on a Zoom call, it’s also difficult because we’re all in different time zones. We’re continuing to try new ways to build engagement remotely.

Charlie: We did see success using Confetti, which is a virtual platform for team-building exercises that helps teams come together and collaborate. We did an event where we learned about Black cinema, and we had a great turnout.

BERG meetup in San Francisco
An in-person BERG brunch at Brenda’s Meat & Three, a restaurant in San Francisco.

Is there anything you’d like to share about your journey as a Black leader at Crunchbase?

Kyle: Prior to moving into sales enablement, I was a sales development representative at Crunchbase. I didn’t have any formal educational training around sales or business, but Crunchbase took a chance on me. Three or four years ago, I never would have pictured that I’d be in the position I’m in right now at a company of Crunchbase’s caliber. Crunchbase takes chances on people, and they help people develop and grow their careers. That’s an approach we’re trying to duplicate as leaders of BERG.

Charlie: I give so much credit to my manager Anthony. I was his first hire on the SDR team, and he made it a priority to build a diverse team. He told me, “I’m not looking for people with tech experience or sales experience. I want to build this team out and give people an opportunity.” Over time, these people have moved up the career ladder. It’s been incredible to see them grow and develop in their roles.

What do you think when you hear “Black History Month?” What does it mean to you?

Charlie: Black History Month is a time for celebration, a time to recognize how much progress we’ve made, and a reminder of how much more work we have to do. It’s one of my favorite months of the year. I’m excited to see what events BERG comes up with this month.

Kyle: I think we should be celebrating and thinking about the challenges our people face all year-round, but Black History Month spreads awareness to people who may not think about these issues as often. There’s still so much progress to be made, so it’s a good time for people to look into the many different aspects that come with it. 

How do you celebrate Black History Month?

Charlie: Last year I put together a list of Black-owned restaurants for the different cities around the U.S. where Crunchbase employees are located. This year I’m doing the same. Personally, I love gathering with friends at some of our favorite spots. It’s a nice reminder of the richness of our culture and is a great way to celebrate.

This year’s theme for Black History Month is Black resistance. What does Black resistance mean to you? 

Kyle: When I think about Black resistance, I think about the ’50s and ’60s, and all the different initiatives that were put into place to allow Blacks to go to the same schools and workplaces as others. But resistance also means knowing your worth and the value that you bring, and making sure you’re always living up to that and uplifting others as well. Even when you face challenges, stand tall and know what your value is.

What educational resources would you recommend for people who want to learn more? 

Kyle: I’ll point you to a Crunchbase resource that highlights the large funding gap between Black-founded companies and others. It shows that there’s a big disparity and conveys the unique challenges that Black founders face, and the discrepancy in their access to funding.

Charlie: I agree, and I also want to share that there’s a bookstore I love — Marcus Books in Oakland — with lots of great resources. This year, we’re also trying to go to AfroTech, which is an event for Black professionals in tech to connect and learn about each others’ roles and specific industries.

Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you’d like folks to know?

Charlie: My thought goes back to our earlier point that Crunchbase gives people like ourselves the opportunity to build our careers and achieve success. I really value working with such a diverse team with different experiences and backgrounds. That means a lot to me in my role.

Kyle: I also value being at a company where my voice matters. Often, you hear that in the recruiting process as a buzzword, but I feel like I’m actually doing that. I was able to shift from sales to enablement by proactively reaching out to new reps to share resources and advice. Once the enablement role opened up, I changed positions and took that on as my primary responsibility. That’s another great example of how leadership listens to our ideas and gives us opportunities for growth.

  • Originally published February 1, 2023