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%. Many of them have reached leadership positions and lead initiatives to promote the inclusion of Black Women —from girls to those who are already part of the workforce— and support their careers.
The corporate world has long accepted that a diverse workforce allows for identifying, attracting, and obtaining a client base similarly diverse. And this impacts benefits and income.
In that regard, Rosalind Hudnell, first and former Chief Diversity Officer at Intel, states that companies cannot succeed if they do not work with diverse teams, adding that if innovation in the technology industry is essential, diversity is next in importance. However, there is still a long way to go regarding increasing the presence 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 specific goal may take them twice the time than white people. And for women, the stigma is even higher.
Gwen Houston, former Chief Diversity Officer at Microsoft, highlights that a commitment by the top management of the companies is necessary to improve representation within the technology universe and to achieve equity and equal opportunities recruiting and learning how to retain talent need to be considered. Working for labor inclusion does not end when hiring a person but continues after they enter 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 a higher turnover rate among underrepresented groups. It analyzed the reasons for employees leave their jobs voluntarily. In brief: the company culture affects, to a great extent, the capacity to retain talent.
Given 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 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
To reverse the underrepresentation of Black Women in the technology world, companies must talk about this, even if this means having an awkward conversation led —most of the time— by white people in order to know what to do so that Black Women choose technology companies. It is essential to go out to look for the collective and know how to do that.
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 to position themselves more strongly within an increasingly diverse sector. On the one hand, many of them created initiatives to connect among themselves; on the other hand, they also managed to position themselves as company leaders.
The road they’ve traveled hasn’t been easy. They’ve had to face not-so-inclusive workspaces, with negative biases regarding their professional skills and racist attitudes ranging from explicit to subtle.
Below, there are some initiatives led by Black Women for the industry to be equal:
Black Women Talk Tech
When they met, Esosa Ighodaro, Lauren Washington, and Regina Gwynn were navigating the challenges of growing and scaling their businesses, often the only women of color in the room. In 2017 they joined forces 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 cofounder of Nexstar, a platform helping automate influencer marketing campaigns at scale for Fortune 1000 companies primarily focused on food, beauty, and travel.
Lauren Washington, is 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 technology. 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 leader 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 the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine workforce. For more than 30 years, Ericsson has played a crucial role in advancing science and developing 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 seeks to train 1 million girls by 2040.
How to take action
The advice by Gwen Houston, a diversity specialist, is to act in order 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, and get to know their stories. Create empathy at the workplace so that Black Women do not feel alone and invisibilize. When you know a person, it is easier to accompany them in their career.
- Create learning and development initiatives: Dialogues on differences.