I’ve spent seven weeks in the tech industry and one thing is abundantly clear: we need to talk about tech inclusion more. To the person reading this who feels uncomfortable having conversations about race, privilege, misogyny and patriarchy in the workplace, yes I said more. In just seven weeks, I’ve had a number of uncomfortable, blatantly ignorant and marginalizing interactions regarding my race and womanhood both concerning the industry and just also concerning my life. I should take this moment to admit something about myself to you. I am unapologetically black. I am proud of and thankful for the beautifully melanated hue of my skin. At times this truth has left me in uncomfortable positions both in school and in the workplace. As a leader of black organizations in both high school and college, I have received negative feedback about the way I live my blackness. In curating safe spaces for people of color, I’ve been targeted as being “too black” as being “angry” or as “talking about being black too much.” From a young age I’ve encountered the feeling of being “overly” and “expressively” black. With that accusation, I’ve been made into an archetype of the angry black woman for simply bringing attention to the marginalization of people of color.
The narrative has repeated for me in tech already. For one, I’m the only woman and only black person in my iOS course. I should note that my expressed interest in supporting tech inclusion has been highly supported by General Assembly (shoutouts to them truly). I’ve had the opportunity to partner with them and dream up some exciting opportunities about inclusion for women and for people of color. And because I’ve been seen engaging in these opportunities, I’ve also experienced a few conversations that make it abundantly clear that the need for diversity and inclusion efforts in the tech field is not well understood. I should take a moment to mention some statistics for the naysayers who don’t understand the problem. A few companies have recently revealed their deplorable statistics about diversity in the workforce. Google noted that out of 46,000 employees, just 1% of its technology workforce are black. At Yahoo, out of 12,300 employees, 1% of its tech workforce, are black. And at Facebook, again, 1%. No, this doesn’t imply i'll be employed simply because I’m black. (Let’s not get into that today.) But it does reveal a larger problem of exclusivity in the industry.
Being black in the tech feels a lot to me like being black at a PWC (predominantly white college). You often have to be the only voice or advocate for the consideration of black experiences, thoughts, or opinions in the creation of tech products. Moreover, just being myself has left me feeling like a caricature of a black woman. I often question myself and if I’m “overperforming my blackness” or if being myself in a white space will inevitably have me feeling that way. Should I stop talking that way? No, I’m going to be myself. Actually I’m gonna switch it up so they see the complexity of a black woman. Is this being unapologetic? Ugh I need a mentor. The thoughts themselves are tiring. I spend my days code switching, trying to be myself, but also trying to ensure that my blackness is not made into joke.
My experience at a PWC was made easier by the safe spaces like Black Students Union and the Association of Black Harvard Women. There are a few “safe spaces” I’ve found in the tech industry, and they’ve been wonderful, but they are mostly for women. I say “but” because my womanhood does not exist in a vacuum. I am both black and woman, and therefore face a whole different kind of marginalization than some of my female peers. Even more so is that on days when I wake up and see another black life has been taken for selling a CD, fixing a car, or having a seizure, being in a predominately white space is just hard, especially without curated conversations for relief and support. What I’ve noticed is that the industry is doing a great job of talking about tech inclusion for women, while the conversation about inclusion for people of color in tech is lagging. I’ve found that people know about Women Who Code and She++, but they haven’t heard of Code2040 or Black Girls Code. People claim to be tech inclusion advocates, but people of color are left out of that narrative. Once again, it seems as though advocacy for women comes first and the consciousness about racial disparities are secondary.
Because of these experiences I am determined to stand with the existing trailblazers, creating consciousness about the need for black voices, ideas, and talent in tech. I believe we need to start talking about race and tech inclusion NOW, at the same time as the rest of the conversations. Black tech matters because our ideas matter. Our input matters. Our products matter. Our voices matter. We matter in the industry and I want to elaborate on my top 3 reasons why the world needs to pay attention.
1) We Use Tech to Rebuild Our Communities. When I attended my first volunteer day with Black Girls Code, I noticed that they emphasized how our girls can use programming to build products that impact the communities they live in. I was like yassss! Teach the babies! Every day, black people are coming up with ideas to impact our own. Take Christopher Gray, the founder of Scholly, an app that helps students find scholarships. This mobile app helps more people get access to college education, which is notably significant for young black students who disproportionately lose out on opportunities to attend college due to the lack of financial aid/grants.
2) We Need Diverse Perspectives in Product Creation. Have you ever seen an app or a product and wondered, did they even think to ask a black person if this was offensive? I mean I’m astonished by some of the app features or products I see roaming around on the Internet. Being an iOS programmer means that I have, in some degree, influence over the use cases and personas being considered when building mobile apps. My perspective matters as we consider potential users and their experience with products that are already on the market. This follows the same logic as diversity in the workplace – its necessary for the creation of products for a diverse population. Simply put, diverse perspectives create better products.
3) We Need More Black Products. Tristan Walker is the perfect example of why Black Tech Matters. He created Bevel, a single blade razor system that makes it possible for men with coarse or curly hair to shave without developing razor bumps. This kind of product is genius because it’s a necessary innovation, and without creators like Tristan Walker, they aren’t even a thought. When I consider the need for black tech, I think of Blavity, Bantu, Bevel, Plum Perfect and all of the products and platforms that cater to my immediate needs and also affirm my blackness.
I’ve come to learn that being a career changer will make me a well-rounded programmer. Similarly, black talent and creative aptitude has its place in the tech field. I honor the beloved deceased Prince as I close with this: like books, and black lives, like black music and like black creativity, Black Tech Matters. And I will do everything I can to help the industry make that widely understood by everyone within it.
*I will be starting a Mentorship Network for Women of Color in Tech. If you are interested in mentoring or being mentored, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org