They barely account for 3% in an industry that needs more diversity. Many of them have reached leadership positions and lead initiatives to promote inclusion of Black women —from girls to those who are already part of the workforce— and support their careers.
According to data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology on women and girls insertion in the technology industry in the United States, women of color represent only 11% of the workforce in information technology and mathematics; and Black women barely 3%.
The corporate world has long accepted that a diverse workforce allows identifying, attracting and obtaining a client base similarly diverse. And this impacts on benefits and income. To that regard, Rosalind Hudnell, director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Intel, states that companies cannot succeed if they do not work with diverse teams, and she mentions that if innovation in the technology industry is essential, diversity is next in importance. However, there is still a long way to go regarding the inclusion of Black women in the industry.
Historically, career advancement has always been more difficult for Black professionals. According to the study Being Black In Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration carried out by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago together with the Center for Talent Innovation, achieving a certain goal may take them twice the time than towhite people. And for women, the stigma is even higher.
Regarding how to improve representation within the technology universe, Gwen Houston, former chief diversity officer at Microsoft, highlights that a commitment by the top management of the companies is necessary and that, in order to achieve equity and equal opportunities, not only the way of recruiting should be considered, but also how to retain talent. Working for labor inclusion does not end at the time of hiring a person, but it continues after they enter into the company. Houston highlights that the first step leaders should take to mitigate inequalities is to look inside: analyze their corporate cultures and re-create them if necessary.
A 2017 report by the Kapor Center, a Californian organization that works to make technology more diverse and inclusive, studied the field and discovered that there was a higher rate of turnover among underrepresented groups, and it analyzed the reasons for employees to voluntarily leave their jobs. In brief: the company culture affects to a great extent the capacity to retain talent.
In view of this reality, in 2019, Jacinta Mathis and Netta Jenkins founded Dipper, a digital safe space where people of color may share their experiences. Mathis says that they usually note that applicants to a job, at any level of a company, want to know what the demography of the company is and how that could affect them. “Many people wonder: ‘Are there any other people like me?’ They want to know how their co-workers identify themselves culturally, how they can connect with other people at that level,” she says.
Internal company culture
In order to start reversing the underrepresentation of Black women in the technology market, companies must open up to talk about this, even if this means having an awkward conversation led —most of the time— by white people. This will be the only way for them to know what to do so that Black women choose technology companies. It is important to go out to look for the collective and know how to do that.
Houston says it is not about lowering the standards to give priority to the goal of hiring Black women, which is usually an argument —a fallacious one— to object to this kind of affirmative action.
Black women have been at the forefront of the search for solutions to the underrepresentation in the technology world, both by driving change within the companies and by making changes by themselves, taking advantage of the variety of STEM occupations in order to position themselves more strongly within an increasingly diverse sector. On the one hand, many of them created initiatives to connect among themselves and, on the other hand, they also managed to position themselves as company leaders.
The road they’ve traveled hasn’t been easy for them They had to face not so inclusive work spaces, with negative biases regarding their professional skills and racist attitudes which ranged from explicit to subtle.
Below, there are some initiatives led by Black women for the industry to be more equal:
Black Women Talk Tech
When they met, Esosa Ighodaro, Lauren Washington and Regina Gwynn were navigating the challenges of growing and scaling their own businesses, on top of the fact that they were often the only women of color in the room. In 2017 they banded together to create Black Women Talk Tech, a platform for Black women founders of businesses to support one another and help grow each others’ companies.
Esosa Ighodaro is the co-founder of Nexstar, a platform that helps automate influencer marketing campaigns at scale for Fortune 1000 companies primarily focused in food, beauty, and travel.
Lauren Washington is the cofounder of Fundr, a platform that helps automate seed investing between angel investors and startups.
Regina Gwynn is the co-founder and CEO of TresseNoire, a virtual beauty coach app that gives free expert advice about hair care, products, and services for women of color.
The Reboot Representation tech coalition works to double the number of women from underrepresented groups that receive computing degrees by 2025. Its CEO is Dwana Franklin-Davis.
Black Women in Tech
Flavilla Fongang is one of the five most influential women in the technology world. Author of 99 strategies to get customers, international speaker, brand strategy advisor and creator of the Tech Brains Talk podcast, she also founded TLA Black Women in Tech, a non-profit global organization based in London, dedicated to creating opportunities for Black women in tech companies by building the necessary bridges on both sides.
The aerospace engineer Aprille Ericsson is the new business lead of the Instrument Systems and Technology Division at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Her tasks include, among others, helping small companies work in cooperation with universities to solve some of the most urgent research and development challenges faced by the government of the United States. She is also a member of the Board of Higher Education and workforce of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. For more than 30 years, Ericsson has performed a crucial role in the advancement of science and the development of new technologies in the aerospace field.
Black Girls CODE
In 2011, Kimberly Bryant founded the non-profit organization Black Girls CODE, which promotes programs and coding classes for girls and which seeks to train 1 million girls by 2040.
How to take action
The advice by Gwen Houston, a specialist in diversity, to achieve more racial and gender equity.
- Show commitment from the top of management.
- Provide training within the company.
- Invest in equity.
- Foster honest conversations on one’s own corporate culture.
- See people as individuals, get to know their stories. Create empathy at the workplace so that Black women do not feel alone and/or invisibilized. When you know a person, it is easier to accompany them in their careers.
- Create learning and development initiatives: Dialogues on differences.