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Where are the Black women in tech?

Luvvie and Dr. Goddess at the Blogging While Brown Conference

Today, a twitter friend and brilliant mind, Kimberly Foster who authors the blog For Harriet shared a link to a very insightful piece and interview she did with a successful black woman in tech, Tiffani Bell, a young, Black woman who recently launched her own startup–Pencil You In.  In the piece, Bell shares her insights as to why black women aren’t in tech. Check out an excerpt

In your opinion, why aren’t there more Black women techies?

Exposure. Technology is a white male-dominated field. I know far more white male programmers than I do of any other ethnicity or gender. That’s not changing any time soon (for the field). But, I think that’s the root of some of the issues when it comes to black women techies and the lack thereof. I didn’t meet other black women programmers until I arrived at Howard and even then, I didn’t have a black female computer science professor until my senior year. Interestingly, she was the first black female to get her PhD in Computer Science from NC State. The first black female I met in industry who (at one point) was a programmer was my boss at HP. If you notice, I didn’t meet any of them until I got to college. If you don’t see somebody in a certain career field until you’re already an adult, it can almost feel as if that career option is closed to you unless you were already interested.

I think for most things we’re interested in for career purposes (with exceptions, of course), you develop an interest in it fairly early in life or at least by the time you go to college. For some people, those choices are prompted by what they see around them. This is very general, but it’s been found that many entrepreneurs have parents (or another close relative) who were also entrepreneurs. [1]

Culture + acceptance. First, there are still pockets in the black community where any kind of “nerdy” activity is frowned upon. Hell, reading for some people is a laughable offense. I never encountered ridicule from an academic standpoint, but I caught it as far as computers went. We need to end making intellectual endeavors socially punishable offenses. As a teenager, for example, I dealt with parents and others that didn’t understand what I was doing as far as spending most of my time on the computer. And because they didn’t understand, I was considered lazy and was ridiculed about stuff I could be doing around the house instead of programming.

Even now, with a salary from my day job that exceeds that of most in my family and an app (Pencil You In) that’s generating revenue, I still dodge cheap shots for my career choice. That’s not to brag, but just to illustrate that no matter what benefits may come, if people are set against something, that’s how they’ll be.

With all of that said, I sometimes wonder how many black girls are out there who spend most of their time in front of the computer (productively) just how I did and how they catch hell and how some of them may actually be deterred. I know there are some. When you’re at a point in life where you may not be so sure of yourself (a lot of teenagers), even the most fundamentally meaningless and worse, baseless opinions could influence what you’re doing for the rest of your life. If there’s a parent or a friend or someone else whose opinion holds weight who speaks against what that teen is doing (even if it’s positive), they could drop, cold-turkey, a good thing.

This stuff is needlessly frowned upon and misunderstood. Even though Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are many times filthier rich than your favorite basketball player and ex-housewife, there are people out there who aspire to just that level of wealth and influence because that’s all they see (and maybe they think athlete wealth is easier to attain).

Personality + societal expectations. This one is extremely controversial to talk about and I’ve only had one or two friends that acknowledged personality and societal expectations and the role they’ve played in Gates and Zuckerberg’s success. One of my good male friends was actually the one to point it out. I don’t really know the sociological definition of male privilege or if this even fits, but a man who digs in and asserts himself through his business dealings is much more likely to be accepted for this than a woman. Everybody knows there’s a sexual basis for that, even. This could be one reason why people swear Oprah is a lesbian and Gayle isn’t just her best friend. To them, it’s an impossibility that’s she is so business-minded, driven, and actually successful, but isn’t guzzling testosterone in the morning. Society hasn’t really expected or accepted this and thus, women only recently have been considered viable business titans.

READ THE ENTIRE PIECE AT FOR HARRIET

I’ll share my response and perspective on a separate post soon. Great article!

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