written by
Michele Heyward

The State Of Black Women In Tech

WocInSTEM 3 min read
“There are more than 700,000 available tech roles in the US and only around 56,000 computer science graduates. The problem isn’t with the pipeline or lack of black women in STEM. Black and Latinx people earn nearly 20% of computer science bachelor’s degrees. However, they make up only around 5% of the technical workforce at top tech companies. Only 2 to 5.3% of tech executives are Black. The problem is with the high-wage work unwilling to hire and retain black and other women of color.”

Black women still make up less than 1% of the UK and US tech companies. They continue to face insurmountable barriers, less support from the managers and C-suite executives and experience more discrimination than any other demographic.

So, what does it mean to be a black woman in tech?

A Black Woman’s Road To Tech

Just getting into the field is often a problem for young black women. Many underrepresented people are not exposed to the field, and gaining visibility is vital for entering the tech world. It is hard to enter and navigate tech companies without connections and support systems. Black women face the most significant barrier of all. Long before they are hired, they lack a community that can help them break into the field and guide where needed.

More and more black leaders are now paving a pathway for the future of young and recent graduates in STEM. While professional engineering and computer science organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the National Society of Blacks in Computing (NSBC) have been powerful in creating community, Black women have created their own communities on social media like Twitter and Black Women in Tech. However, there is still a long way to go.

There is still a need for early-stage mentorship to help black women navigate the tech space and negotiate their way to the jobs and salaries they deserve. While black leaders and mentors are actively pursuing this change for those who succeed, there is still a need for white leaders (who constitute the majority) to follow suit.

What Is It Like To Be A Black Woman Working In Tech?

Once black women enter the workforce, there is a barrage of stereotypes and discrimination that follows. Equality for white women isn’t equality for all women, and that is noticed in the case of black women finding their way in the workplace. First, they have to work twice as hard and twice as good just to be noticed.

Not only is there an underrepresentation, but they are also cognitively invisible, which means that most often, their work and efforts go unnoticed. Moving forward, they have to continue proving their worth to their white managers by working on risky glass cliff assignments that most other employees are afraid of partaking in. Too often they are handed over dead-end jobs, but they still gladly accept them and contribute twice as much just to be seen, heard, and noticed.

On top of everything, there is also an onslaught of stereotypes that black women encounter every day. From fighting the angry black women stigma when they speak out loud for their rights to proving that they deserve the position they were hired for, they have to extinguish multiple fires every day.

Sponsoring Isn’t The Answer!

Sponsorship isn’t enough for the companies that want to hire black women and retain them. There is a need to work on the company culture, a complete overhaul of the recruiting methods & job descriptions, and create a space where everyone feels noticed. Especially with the COVID crisis still at its high, if companies want to hire black women, they must accommodate personal and family values to create an environment of safety and belonging. There has to be a culture of mentoring, both up and down, and perks & incentives to attract more and more black women to apply for available positions in the company. Having inclusive policies that include childcare plans, maternity leaves, and a better support system for single mothers is the need of time.

“Tech is still an unwelcoming place for Black women. They still feel like they don’t belong or are an outcast in the industry. The problem isn’t with them, but with the corporate culture of America. If STEM companies want to call themselves diverse and inclusive, creating a sustainable culture of inclusion is the first step to attract and retain more women of color.”