Lone Warriors no more.. What it means to be a women of color in tech
Starting in elementary school, I have always been drawn to science. I would spend my days staring at the sky, watching planes fly above, and spend hours wondering how a ton of metal could glide like a bird. As space exploration captured the imagination of the world, I would stare at the moon, dreaming of exploring the greatest unknown. However, as a girl, specifically a girl of color, those dreams felt like, well, fantasies. In school, while my teachers encouraged boys to join robotics, I was pushed into Home-Economics. Even when, in university, I declared my computer science major, I found myself constantly surrounded by men, and I would often be the only person of color in the room. The experience, to be honest, was incredibly isolating. I struggled to find female BIPOC mentors who could relate to the experience of feeling different than everyone around you. I struggled to deal with constant imposter syndrome - was I even qualified to be there? When I became a mother to two beautiful, talented daughters, I knew I never wanted them to feel like I did, no matter their goals or field of study.
Unfortunately, even today, very few women, especially women of color, hold jobs in technology. Levels of participation for Black, Latina, and Asian women are less than 10%, and the number of women in these roles has actually been decreasing since the 1990s. The 2016 Bureau of Labor gives these statistics despite the fact that the number of jobs in technology is exponentially growing in our modern world. Women of color are missing out on these employment opportunities.
Retention for these women is concerning, as well. A large scale study found that 50% of women left their jobs in STEM-related fields, in comparison to 20% in non-STEM-related fields. A Center for Talent Innovation study found that about half use their technical training in other sectors and half-abandoned their training altogether. Other studies find that far more than 50% are leaving these fields. This begs the question: why are they leaving? The National Center for Women and Information Technology states, “a lack of access to key creative roles, and a sense of feeling stalled in one’s career are some of the most significant factors contributing to female attrition from the tech field.” Essentially, everything I myself experienced in college and in the workforce.
Representation seems to be a major factor not only in retention but also in recruitment. Without the representation of women of color in these roles, retention, interest, and confidence in the field is bound to be abysmal.
So the question remains - how do we fix this?
Advocacy groups such as Black Women Talk Tech support and prepare women of color for the tech workforce. Women of color are creating support systems of their own in order to get more people that looked like them in their field and advocate for the ones that are already there. Without role models that look like you, it can be difficult to see yourself growing. And without precedent, it can prove difficult to break into those roles.
At the end of the day, diversity is pivotal in tech. Without these voices, a plethora of talent and ideas are being lost. Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab found that the lack of investment in marginalized and underrepresented groups is a trillion-dollar loss for the tech industry. Equal access and participation in the tech industry would and could have extremely fruitful results. Essentially, diversity is not simply a social justice issue - it is an economic problem as a lack of diversity results in a deadweight loss in the tech industry.
That’s why as CEO of UpBrainery and a female BIPOC, pledge to make our workforce an inclusive place for everyone who has ever felt like they do not belong.