Why Aren’t There More Black Individuals In Tech
In 2022 one of the ways Intuitive celebrated Black History Month was to highlight Black excellence, contributions, and influencers in the Tech industry, both past and present, through a social media campaign.
The tech world would not be what it is today without these individuals’ tenacity and their creativity. Black history is everyone’s history that our society has not celebrated as it should.
Black In Tech Highlights:
- Katherine Johnson – In 1953, she began working as a “human computer” and calculated the flight path for the first NASA mission to space (what the movie Hidden Figures is based on).
- Dr. Mark Dean – one of the most prolific inventors in the field of computers. Without him we might all still be working on black-and-white monitors.
- Trish Millines Dziko the Executive Director of the Technology Access Foundation, a nonprofit that creates access to transformative systems of learning for students and teachers of color to eliminate race-based disparities in our increasingly diverse society.
- Wil Reynolds from Seer Interactive. He is a stand-out in what it means to be a transformative leader in the tech and digital marketing space.
- Lisa Gelobter, a pioneer in internet technologies – the genesis of animation on the web, including Shockwave and the emergence of online video by way of Brightcove, Joost, and The FeedRoom.
- Kimberly Bryant founded Black Girls CODE in 2011, a program dedicated to introducing girls of color to the tech industry by teaching computer programming to school-age kids.
- Clarence “Skip” Ellis was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D in computer science.Ellis was a real pioneer in the field of operational transformation, the functionality in collaborative systems, which is found in computer applications you probably use every day, like Google Docs.
- James Edward Maceo West co-invented electret technology in 1962, which is used in everyday items such as telephones, hearing aids, camcorders, and multimedia computers
- Tristan Walker is the Co-founder of Code2040 & Founder of Walker & Co. an organization aimed at creating a pipeline of Black and Hispanic students and funneling them into the world’s biggest tech firms.
Why is increasing Black visibility in tech so important?
This year we wanted to address some of the issues that make emphasizing Black visibility in tech and highlighting their contributions so necessary. As well as highlight who is doing work to overcome those barriers.
Did you know:
- Black professionals make up only 7.4% of the tech workforce, and only 4% in executive positions.
- Black men currently earn 24 percent less than white men (with a bachelor’s degree or higher, after accounting for demographic and geographic, differences).
- African American women make up less than 3% of students earning degrees in computer science.
Barriers Preventing More Black Individuals From Getting Into Tech
The list is long and nuanced, but to boil it down to a main issue, we have a problem at the end of the Black tech talent funnel because we have a problem at the beginning.
There is a lack of STEM education and resources for Black and brown kids. Interest and curiosity must be sparked at a young age. But that can be really hard to do if schools serving majority Black and brown kids don’t receive access to the tools, technologies, and curriculum needed to show kids what’s out there, and what’s possible. “Black students are 45% more likely to attend a high-poverty school compared to their White counterparts at 8%”.
Not only do they need access and training. They also need to see how others who look like them have been successful in a variety of ways in STEM careers. That means having a Black science or tech teacher at some point and learning about historical Black engineers and computer scientists as a part of their curriculum.
This specific issue is why in 2021 we spent the year doing pro-bono work for I AM A Scientist.
“I Am A Scientist is a collection of educational resources designed to challenge public misconceptions and inspire the next generation of STEM leaders. We use storytelling and creative lesson plans to introduce the multifaceted people, purposes, and pathways in STEM. Because every student deserves a chance to see themselves in science.”
Organizations Addressing Systemic Barriers
Unfortunately, governmental organizations continue to drag their feet in making the real fundamental changes to policy and law needed to address the barriers keeping more Black and brown individuals from entering STEM fields. This is where nonprofits and other private organizations have tried to pick up the slack and we wanted to highlight a few.
National Society Of Black Engineers
Founded in 1975, NSBE works to support students as young as kindergarten, through high school and college interested in engineering and other technical fields through mentorship, camps, training, and more.
Black Girls Code
BGC trains “thousands of girls to lead, innovate, and create in science, tech, engineering and math.” Since 2011 BGC has expanded to 15 chapters throughout the US and South Africa and an online coding academy.
Hidden Genius Project
Five Black men in Oakland founded HGP in 2012 to address the “dramatic juxtaposition between the high unemployment of Black male youth and the plethora of career opportunities within the local technology sector.” They work to directly connect young Black males with the resources, tools, skills, and community needed to become successful in a variety of tech careers.
Black Girls Movement
BGM seeks to close the gap in our society by providing “Black girls equal access to STEM education and resources”. They provide offline and virtual curricula, scholarship opportunities, community engagement, and a mentorship program to help spark interest and then support girls through higher education.
Team 2023 Learnings
The current racial inequities that persist in America today are by design. They are not the result of bad luck or an individual’s bad choices. But it can be hard to see unless you choose to look. Its seemingly invisible nature is also intentional.
As a team this year our Black History Month education is around how racism and inequity persist in America today. How did we get here, how are we still only this far, and how do we increase the rate of meaningful change? We’re talking about what choices individuals can make on a daily basis to break the patterns and policies that continue.
We invite you to watch these Ted Talks yourself and challenge what you think you may already know about these issues today and identify changes you can make in your daily life to become more anti-racist.