The pandemic has deepened inequality worldwide and harmed historically discriminated communities. These challenges require creative and committed persons and organizations like Carmen Sidbury, senior research and development director of NACME: an organization that fights against racism through education, and Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code, an initiative that aims at training 1 million girls in programming by 2040.
Both organizations aim to impact a structural problem: in the USA, Afro-American women represent only 3% of all the jobs in the technology industry.
According to recent research, in the United States, the responsibility for household care during the pandemic has rested mainly with Afro-American mothers. As a result, they feel more excluded from work and say that they have no allies within the job that support them more frequently. However, this is not a new inequality, and it exists in all industries, including technology.
The Situation of the Communities of Color regarding Technology
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, most STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workers in the United States are white (69%), followed by Asian (13%), Afro-American (9%), and Hispanic (7%).
But for women, inequality is even higher. If Afro-American women represent 3% of all the jobs in the technology industry, Latin women only represent 1%.
At the same time, people of color who work in technology face constant discrimination. Sixty-two percent (62%) of the Afro-American STEM workers state that they have suffered racial discrimination at work, for instance, by being treated as if they were not competent.
Organizations that Seek to Change the Paradigm
In this context, several initiatives aim to empower people of color who seek to enter the world of technology.
One of those initiatives is the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering or NACME, an organization that fights against racism through education. Their mission is to “enrich society with an American workforce that champions diversity in STEM by increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in engineering and computer science.”
The organization partners with like-minded entities to provide resources and opportunities for these underrepresented groups. NACME also partners with more than 50 colleges and universities throughout the country. Their scholarships have allowed students to access leadership positions at NASA, BlackBerry, Rolls-Royce, AT&T, and others.
“Different studies have shown that companies with diverse workforces are more profitable than those with homogeneous workforces,” says Carmen Sidbury. “However, despite such proven advantages, it is still unfortunately true that the current composition of the STEM workforce does not reflect the current or future demographic reality of the United States.”
Black Girls Code is an initiative founded in 2011 to empower girls of color, ages 7 to 17, to become leaders and innovators in STEM fields. By reaching out to the community through workshops and after-school programs, Black Girls Code introduces computer coding lessons to young girls from underrepresented communities in programming languages such as Scratch or Ruby on Rails. Its goal is to train 1 million girls by 2040.
“I wanted to start my own company focused on mobile health technology, and I started to do a lot of networking. I found that there were not many females in the startup culture and also not many people of color,” says Kimberly Bryant.
“Meanwhile, my daughter was entering middle school and was very interested in technology. I was trying to find some programs for her that would teach her how to build things like computer Websites, and I couldn’t find a suitable one,” tells Bryant. “Sometimes, she was one of only three girls in a class of 40 boys, and it just didn’t seem like she was as encouraged as some of the boys. I thought if she were in a more nurturing environment, in a community of girls, she would be more encouraged to excel and grow.”
A Need for a Structural Change
Beyond these individual initiatives, the experts highlight the importance of implementing long-term public policies to empower minorities in the technology sector.
A recent report by the United States National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recommends, among other things, that higher education institutions create programs that provide underrepresented minority students in STEM with financial solid, academic, and social support.
Other long-term actions recommended in the report include offering more robust programs that develop reading, mathematics skills, and creativity from preschool through third grade and improving the quality of mathematics and science education for underrepresented minorities.
“As the USA looks ahead, we should approach the underrepresentation in the STEM workforce more proactively,” says Sidbury. “One way is to turn to one of its most under-utilized resources: the more than 20 million young persons of color.”