At Black Girls Code, students learn to make jobs in tech, not get one
- In 2011 Kimberly Bryant founded Black Girls Code, a nonprofit that introduces young women of color to the tech industry with the skills ranging across fields such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and software development, she said at The Atlantic Festival in Washington on Wednesday.
- When Black Girls Code started, the students were excited about job opportunities at big tech companies like Google and Facebook, but after going through the program, their concept of success changed, Bryant said. The students moved from wanting to be a developer to wanting to be entrepreneurial — to being the boss.
- By teaching leadership and self-efficacy, Bryant said Black Girls Code wants to help women own their work and their voice and see the tech industry not as a pathway to get a job, but as a pathway to create jobs. It's about teaching girls to own their power and exercise it, Bryant said.
When Bryant's daughter began considering computer science as a career path in middle school, Bryant was disappointed to find that the ecosystem didn't look much different than it had more than 20 years earlier when she enrolled at a school of engineering. Only a handful of students in summer programs were girls, and even fewer were girls of color, she said.
That realization was surprising and even "horrifying in some ways." Silicon Valley had gotten worse for women in terms of inclusivity, and the number of women getting computer science degrees had dropped from around 30% to 10%, she said.
Women are considerably outnumbered by men in the workplace, from entry-level tech positions to company boards. Despite high earning potential, many women rule out careers in tech while they are children or teenagers, bottlenecking potential candidates from the outset.
While fallout from big events, such as WannaCry and Nyetya, are encouraging women to pursue cybersecurity careers, gender parity is still many years off for most companies.
A company reaching pay equity remains a rare news moment, whereas pay discrepancies persist for most companies.
Silicon Valley doesn't necessarily have the best and the brightest, and with the best not always rising to the top, it is also not a meritocracy, Bryant said.
While some companies are being more transparent about diversity data and focusing on issues like intersectionality, the data demonstrates that companies are not hitting the mark, especially along racial and ethnic lines, Bryant said. In some areas, the industry has even become less diverse over the last seven years.
It's time to stop planning and start doing, she said. The world moves in disruptive cycles, and on the horizon is a cycle of change; by preparing girls to have the tools to disrupt, when the moment comes the students can move into this light.
An underutilized population, women can help ease the talent shortage plaguing technology. Some leaders lament that it's already "too late" to diversify technology workforces, such as cybersecurity. But if half the population is excluded from recruitment, it's not a staffing problem, according to Forrester's VP and Research Director Stephanie Balaouras.
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