There are numerous problems and hurdles that Black women in tech must overcome to gain access to the best resources and jobs. The value Black employees bring to any company, no matter their success in achieving an education and relevant knowledge, is often undermined or not recognized.
The facts show that Black women are an underrepresented group in tech. NCWIT (National Centre for Women & Information Technology) has stated that of the 25% of all women working in tech, just 3% of them are Black women. A study conducted by BCS (British Computer Society) also supports this claim- Black women account for only 0.7% of all IT roles.
On top of that, venture capital funding is not quite as common as it should be for individuals in the Black community who want to reach the forefront of the tech industry. The prejudice and dismissal of Black women (not just in the US) still exist, often hindering them from chasing their dreams.
In this article, we will look at some of the problems that Black women face and their possible solutions, as well as some examples of Black women in tech that have achieved great success in computer science, coding, and other services.
Challenges Faced by Black Women in Tech
Breaking through the ‘norms’ and ‘expectations’ surrounding Black women in tech is one of the many challenges they face on their path to workplace and company success. When applying for a job, a Black woman software engineer may receive unconscious bias in hiring compared to her White counterparts. It is essential to shed light on the racial injustice in the IT industry and to bring support to members of the minority community.
Gender and racial stereotypes are one of the leading causes behind the lack of Black women in tech. Simply put, Black women face double the obstacles through racial bias.
In the past 21 years, there’s been a 2% increase of women software engineers in the tech industry. This percentage is even less so for Black women. In 2021, TrustRadius conducted a study titled ‘Women in Tech Report,’ which showed that a staggering 37% of women of color felt that their race presented an obstacle on the path to getting a promotion.
This unacceptable number creates even more disparity between women of color and their desired companies and dream jobs. One possible reason for this is networking.
A network outside or inside work can significantly benefit those who wish to begin a career in tech. The tech workforce community is well connected in most companies, which can be leveraged to obtain a higher position in the company itself.
Sadly, some studies have shown that Black women are the least likely to have friends or acquaintances who can push them toward open job positions.
Even in the 21st century, most companies are White male-dominated, which prevents minorities from forming a community where they’ll support each other for the benefit of each other’s careers.
As a final footnote regarding recruitment bias that involves race and gender, Silicon Valley’s tech workers consist of 83% men, with 93% of those being white men. It’s evident that the world needs to change and that the tech space has to open up to the Black community and other underrepresented groups – for the benefit of all.
Educational and Institutional Bias
Numerous reports suggest that gender and racial bias are present throughout all stages of education, from elementary school to college. Such a learning environment can deter young Black girls from considering a career in STEM or IT tech companies.
Data from various studies, including one from 2015, has shown that White teachers generally do not have faith in Black students and are less likely to believe them to be successful in the tech space. Most White teachers also believe Black students are less likely to receive a college or university degree than White students.
Those who stay interested in tech always have a more challenging path ahead of them than White students, ultimately noticed by younger Black children who do not see a future in the tech world.
And regarding gender, NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) has found that teachers were commonly biased in scoring tests that overestimated boys and underestimated girls.
Such an outlook on tech education and the conscious or unconscious stifling of young Black girls’ potential IT technology careers ultimately guided them away from STEM subjects and other companies in other industries.
When there is an apparent lack of future success and achievement in the tech space, it is understandable that children would want to avoid the path of most resistance. However, somewhat ironically, girls often outperformed boys in STEM subjects, even at an early age.
Lack of Inclusion in the Work Environment
Female employees are often overlooked and underappreciated in tech companies due to a common misconception that ‘women cannot code.’ This misconception isn’t the only reason; the rest are just as misguided.
Innovation breeds evolution, but it is impossible without including talented women in tech. And inclusion cannot happen without changing the standard policies of most tech companies.
The workplace environment also needs to change to make women feel like they belong in the industry and that their career choice positively impacts their lives.
McKinsey & Co conducted a study that showed women have higher chances of developing ‘Imposter Syndrome,’ the strong feeling that they don’t belong in the workplace and among their colleagues.
This feeling is even more prominent for Black women due to their race and gender combination. In most cases, a black woman will be the only woman in the room, office, or team. Standing out from the group, among other external and internal stressors, can heighten their imposter syndrome.
A company culture that uses various resources to promote inclusion for any black woman’s current role in the company will retain those workers for a long time. They will also become more dedicated to their career and more interested and passionate about what they do and where they are.
Forcing black women to ‘serve’ the job they are assigned without ensuring their feelings of belonging are met will ultimately cause dissatisfaction and distrust of the company in the future.
Cultural Differences and Microaggression
Diversity in an unwelcoming environment can devastate one’s self-esteem and feelings of safety. Women are the most vulnerable to microaggression that comes in one form or another. None of them are good.
The definition of microaggression is the ‘unintentional or intentional daily behavioral, verbal, or environmental ‘problems’ expressed through derogatory, hostile, and harmful ways toward members of a marginalized or stigmatized community.
A workplace and community report conducted by McKinsey & Co and LeanIn.org has shown that microaggressions are commonplace in the job environment and company network for 64% of women.
Women are twice as likely to be mistaken for employees in a more junior, ‘lesser’ position. The most common microaggression examples are the dismissal of women’s judgment on their areas of expertise or the request for additional evidence to confirm their claims. Black women are the group that is most subject to these microaggressions.
Additionally, a report created by Business Insider mentions that men are three times as likely to interrupt women than other men.
The ‘power’ of microaggressions isn’t in them happening; it’s in the consistent repeating of them that causes issues in the workplace. Women (especially Black women) are three times as likely to think about leaving their job than women who don’t experience microaggressions. Some women reluctantly stay and try to adapt to the hostile environment, which often makes them unable to be their authentic selves due to fear.
Some common examples of microaggression that is present in the IT industry and even in college are:
- ‘Where are your parents from?’
- ‘You speak good English.’
- ‘You don’t seem Black’
- Interruptions by men at the job place
- Imitating dialects and accents
- ‘Can you speak African?’
- ‘You should get to know [NAME]; she is also Black.’
- ‘You’re so young for such a job.’
These work environment events can significantly impact all aspects of a woman’s life and career in one way or another. As such, America must realize that a problem is deeply rooted in the tech world and other industries.
Diversity must happen regardless, but not at the cost of belittling Black people, indigenous people, and Latinx workers. Hiring managers must look at job-related metrics without questioning one’s ability to have a career in the computer technology sector.
The Solution for More Representation of Black Women in Tech
Becoming a software engineer as a woman is, as you have seen, complicated and unfair. If you decide to join a tech company, you’d have to go through many hoops and cross obstacles to make the first step in the industry.
However, a massive audience concentrated on social media is spreading their network. The prospects for Black women and the community all around the globe are increasing.
There’s still plenty of work to improve and expand this network and create an environment welcoming to people of color and women. Together, we can use the technology at our fingertips to make the way forward easier for underrepresented communities.
Encouraging and empowering the tech talent of Black women
One such solution is empowering existing tech talent and cultivating new ones. We’ve become witness to many a company focused on providing the necessary resources and help to aid black women developers to access the network of connections, build relationships and create a strong career for themselves.
Employee resource groups are common choices due to the abundance of insightful events and valuable resources. Still, an employee resource group cannot access the root cause of racial injustice.
So, what is the real solution to the problems in the tech world? Let’s take Coding Black Females, a non-profit organization, as an example.
Coding Black Females has partnered with BCS (British Computer Society) to provide 50 BCS memberships to many software engineers who wish to further their careers. On top of that, they teamed up with Niyo Enterprise to host a 6-month development and coding BootCamp for Black women aged 18+ who earn less than $25,000 or are unemployed.
From this data, we can learn that the primary way of changing the current tides is spreading diversity, highlighting the potential and knowledge, and providing a platform with which they can make crucial career connections.
Bringing light to the issues can also influence others to join the cause and eliminate the ‘pipeline problem’ for good. So, instead of paying for the misguided thoughts of others by being refused a dream career, it’s essential to highlight the fact that people of color are not lesser in any regard.
The stigma surrounding women in tech also needs to disappear because we’ve seen time and time again that they’re just as capable, if not more, than their male counterparts and colleagues.
So, next time you see a Black woman dominating in her industry, showing up authentically in every room, or choosing not to let imposter syndrome hold her back, remember it’s never an easy thing to do. Continue to spread awareness, offer support, and share resources because the trials and tribulations Black people (women especially) face occur daily. And remember – never give up on your dreams!