Thursday, June 13, 2024

Beyond ones and zeroes: Black women take the lead in tech

The technology industry, a driving force of innovation and economic growth, has long been plagued by a lack of diversity. Despite making significant strides in recent years, Black women remain woefully underrepresented in the tech workforce.

According to a study by Reboot Representation, Black women hold approximately 3% of computing jobs in the United States. This stark underrepresentation is not only a matter of equity and fairness; it also represents a missed opportunity for the tech industry to tap into a vast pool of untapped talent and potential.

The reasons for the lack of diversity in tech careers are complex and multifaceted, but they often stem from systemic barriers that have disadvantaged Black women for generations.

The Education Trust reported that, “Students from marginalized groups, especially women, still have less access to AP STEM courses in high school and lower STEM degree attainment rates than their white male colleagues,” making it even more challenging to pursue a career in STEM.  After navigating the obstacles faced in education, more challenges remain once landing a sought-after role in the tech field.

“As a corporate woman, I have had a diverse set of experiences,” said Tonya Webb-Wallace, CEO of Gideon VI – Indianapolis-based business and IT consulting firm. “I have had blatant and overt discrimination situations. I have been passed up for promotional opportunities and had to report to a white male who had no experience, and they paid for him to have a mentor.”

A headshot of Tonya Webb-Wallace. (Photo provided/Webb-Wallace, Gideon VI)

Another inspiring example is the manager of business and technical consulting at Centric Consulting, Kimberly Bugg, who was honored as one of 2019’s Most Pivotal Leader by Open Pivot.

“My journey is probably very similar to many, related to being the only woman of color in my discipline,” Bugg said. “[I’m] often experiencing situations in which my knowledge of or expertise is undermined or dismissed; lack of opportunities for challenging roles or roles with more responsibility, irrespective of key successes – or even placed in junior roles; lack of acknowledgment of successes; lack of leadership support with career planning.”

Black women often face stereotypes and biases in the workplace that discourage them from pursuing or advancing in STEM careers – leading to feelings of isolation. Approximately 42% of Black women felt that interacting socially with colleagues could lead to negative perceptions about their capabilities, concerned that their personal lives would be used against them, according to a study published by the Harvard Business Review that surveyed women in STEM fields.

Wallace said that the biggest obstacle she has faced as a woman of color in tech has also been one of her greatest rewards.

“My biggest challenge is my greatest opportunity,” Wallace said. “The challenge was to learn my progressive and challenging roles, learn to navigate corporate, learn to understand people, their behavior, and communication styles, and, even more … learn who I am.”

In the face of so many challenges, Black women are still making their mark in the tech industry and breaking down barriers. They lead the way in founding groundbreaking companies and advocating for change within the industry.

As the tech industry continues to evolve, both women envision a brighter future for Black women in STEM careers.

Bugg believes that a change in the makeup of the industry should begin at the ground level and work its way up.

“I believe this begins with increased representation at all levels, equitable access to opportunities and a supportive, inclusive environment that values diverse perspectives,” Bugg said.

Echoing Bugg’s statement, Wallace not only wants to see inclusion but also advancement at the highest levels for women of color.

“I want to see more women leaders hired and promoted as directors, senior directors and beyond,” Wallace said. “They need to see more of us leading to inspire and create more demand for the next generation of tech leaders.”

Contact multi-media staff writer Noral Parham III at 317-762-7846. Follow him on Twitter @3Noral. For more news from Noral and the Indiana Minority Business Magazine, click here.

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