How Black Girls Code is driving change in the tech industry
23:43

How Black Girls Code is driving change in the tech industry

Tech Industry
It's no secret that women are underrepresented in the tech industry from the classroom to the boardroom. But for women of color systemic inequities have further restricted education in terms of STEM and also tech jobs. So now what I'm joined by Kimberly Bryant CEO and founder of Black Girls CODE, an organization with a mission to help educate one million girls in computer science by 2014. Kimberly, thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you for having me. Kimberly, from your study experiences studying engineering through to moving into the workforce and then starting Black Girls CODE. Can you give me an idea of just how underrepresented women of color are in the industry? Sure. So when I achieved my degree, which was Back at the end of the 80s it was actually a time when there was a peak number of women, that were receiving degrees in computer science. So that time around I would say 34, 32% of the bachelor's degrees awarded in computer science were given to women of color, And since that time that number has really declined significantly, and I think the startling part of that for me is that when I was going to college I Really did not have many other women or in certainly not many black women that were in those college classes with me. Now that number is probably about 12 to 14% better Bachelor's degrees in computer science that are going to women and for African American women, that number is probably about 3%, 2to 3%. So it's declined quite significantly since, 20 plus years since I've graduated from college myself, which is one of the things that I find It's so important about the work that Black Girls CODE is doing to really build and re establish that pipeline, at least to where it was. When I graduated myself That is a significant decline and. Obviously, it's a big reason why Black Girls Code exists. Now, but can you tell me a little bit about the organization, the work that you do and the education that you provide for young women? Sure. So Blackrose Co. was founded back in 2011. 11. Our focus is really based on trying to make sure that we create a solid, talented pipeline for the tech industry specifically focused on AI Young women of color. So we really start as early as six or seven years old. We work with girls until they're 18. And they're off to college. And also we're working with them as alumni, to really give them the skill sets to be a part of the tech industry. So we're teaching everything from. App development,referics,web design,game development,artificial intelligence. We try to touch as many different emerging fields in the Tech industry. Yes we possibly can,so that they have an opportunity to find work Where they fit or where their, their primary interest is, and we really try to give them the skills to be able to tap into that field or that specialty within the tech industry as much as they really are interested in doing. How are young girls getting involved. Is it part of community outreach on your behalf? Do they have to show some sort of aptitude or interest before sort of enrolling in the program. Well, that's a great question. We really have it over the last 10 years now found that girls find us in a multitude of ways. Interestingly enough, parents are still some of the primary feeders to our program as well as teachers. So We do a lot of marketing on various social media sites with various means of utilizing our web list and our mailing list, etc. to really get the word out around what we're doing. And we often find that parents have a student at home. They have a child that Has shown an interest in computer science. They don't have to necessarily have an aptitude already, but just an interest in learning. And that's when they reach out. For example, this morning I was actually in conversation with a parent that was trying to find out about a summer program that we have that virtually started today and finding out how he could get his two daughters in even though Registration is closed. [LAUGH] But that's generally how it happens is that a parent will see what we're doing and that will connect to what they're seeing in terms of an interest from their child at home and they will look for ways to get them involved. We have started to do some partnerships with other organisations that work with youth but not necessarily our teaching coding. So we've done some things with Girls Inc. We've done some things with Boys and Girls Clubs in different parts of the country. And we also really work closely with schools. So oftentimes it's the teachers that Recognize they have a student in class that could benefit from a program like Black Girls code and they look for ways to get their students involved and make sure they understand there's an opportunity like this. He mentioned the virtual program. I mean, obviously, is that a result of the pandemic? I just want to get an idea of like how this situation has affected how you teach the program, and Level of access for young women of color as well during this time. Yes 2020, has been a quite interesting year for us. We came out at 2019, which was a bit of a rebuilding year internally for VGC. We're adding team members and it was a really challenging year for us for many reasons and so We really worked very diligently at the end of 2019, the beginning of this year to prepare and really set really solid plans on what we wanted to do in 2020. And we saw all of that quickly trickled down the drain in early March, when we saw the shelter in place. We saw the pandemic really impactful. Both our cities offices in Oakland as well as the office in New York, and also in two different cities where we have chapters in the US and we had to make a really difficult decision that we could not do those workshops that we have Plan, we these workshops that we do will primarily happen on the weekends, we can have anywhere from 75 to 100 students plus another 30 or 40 volunteers. In those spaces at one time and we recognize that we cannot, you know, we cannot safely do those events during this pandemic and as in the early days of. The pandemic we really start made a decision then to push everything off take every workshop that we have planned off of our calendar, and then hope for the best that it would get better later in the year. We were cautiously optimistic and maybe a little bit Naively optimistic at the time that we would be able to go back and do these in person workshops in May or maybe even June, but we couldn't get even people to talk to us about event spaces and we really are Finally came to the conclusion in April that if we wanted to continue to engage our community, we had to go virtual and that's exactly what we did. So we quickly pivoted into virtual offerings. We redid our curriculum so that we could teach some of the things we would normally teach in a seven. Now our workshop on a Saturday. In an one hour introductory session during the week virtually. Then we decided to take our summer programs virtual. So, now we've probably done about 15 different summer classes since middle of June or so. This is the last week of our summer programs. We've reached about 350 400 students all across the US whereas we would have only been in a few specific cities normally, but everything has been done virtually. So. That has been a significant impact on how we deliver our work and how we do what we do. But it's also opened up opportunities for us to expand. Spanned our reach much further than we would've done had we not been forced to go into this virtual learning environment. I think we've reached to date about six thousands students that with all the different virtual events, and work shops, enrichment activities we've done And we probably reached about that many in the course of a full year, last year, so our reach has increased exponentially, just because we have really been forced to pivot into using this virtual learning model to support our work. That's really interesting that it's opened up more possibilities just by going entirely virtual. With that in mind with black holes could having been around for almost ten years now can you tell me a few sort of success stories or some inspirational appearances by the young women that have gone through your program and where they are now? Of course, so I was actually really thinking about this recently in that Now's the time when most students are about to go back to school back to college. And as we go into this this 10 year, almost 10 year anniversary, some of the students that participated in Black Girls CODE when I was still teaching those classes back in 2012 They just graduated and they're going to enter their freshman year. One of my students Kimora Oliver who started back with backward Blackwell's code, I would say in either 2012 or 2013. just graduated. She is going into majoring in nursing but minor in computer science, very unique combination and we'll be starting her freshman year at Howard University and I'm really excited about it. This next batch of students that are really starting to graduate and go off to college, because those are literally the first cohort of students that actively started when I was still the one at the front of the classroom. My daughter, who is here now with Me at home. She's actually in the midst of doing a virtual internship with Microsoft. And she is going into her junior year she's the reason that I really started black girls school and just to see her interest continue to Really grow within the industry and her still be active and actually be working as a summer intern at a company like Microsoft is is really something that I'm really hugely proud of. Another student that I have is going into her sophomore year at USC. She's a game developer. She's actually doing a virtual workshop, a virtual internship at Electronic Arts EA this summer in game development side. So those are just a few. We even have some students that are, You know I graduated already and have started their careers in a working at several different tech companies. So we're really starting to see the success of the program really coming to fruition and many of the students that I would say over 90%, about 95% of our students major in a STEM field when they go to college. And probably about 80% of them either major or minor in computer science. And so that's thousands of. Alumni that have come through our program to date. That's one of the things that I think will make a tremendous impact on the industry in just a few short years. Absolutely. And those are some great numbers there in terms of women that are going through the pipeline and entering into STEM careers. But once they've finished their education, formally an entering into the workforce So I want to touch a little bit on diversity in the tech industry. So just to kind of a broad question, in your opinion, why is diversity so important for tech companies to promote in terms of equality and diversity in the companies and the people they hire in the stuff that are currently there? Well, I think it's extremely important that tech companies improve their diversity numbers for, the very specific business imperative that the demographics in not only the US but in the world are gradually but significantly shifting, and it will continue to shift over the next few decades. So it's important that The composition of tech companies from a workforce perspective, be more, I would say reminiscent of the demographics that those customer bases actually are representative of. So it makes more sense to have folks that are Creating the products that are building the prototypes that are coming up with the ideas of the products that will be offered by companies are representative of those customers that are going to use it on the tail end. It's important that women have a seat at the table because we're heavy heavy tech adopters were heavy social media users Same thing for African Americans, Latinos, we are more early adopters in terms of technology than our peers. We utilize and we consume a lot of tech. We participate in a lot of the social media platforms, etc. So, I think it's really important for that reason. From a business driver perspective to ensure that The folks that you're building for are included in the process of the products that you build. I think it's also important that tech companies and desk tech enabled companies as well. Diversify their work pools so that we can shift the type of products that are used or that are created by the tech industry and how companies create those products. I think when you have only one demographic creating these products We miss these opportunities to create technology solutions or utilise technology solutions to solve some of the big hairy problems that persist in the world. So I do believe in terms of certainly bringing women into the. The industry, it allows us to open up the funnel of what we utilize tech to create. There's been several studies that have shown that some of the reasons that girls are interested in technology is because they are changemakers. They are change agents. They're They are very interested in not using tech just for the sake of using technology but they want to use it to solve a problem in their communities, health related problems and social justice problems. We'll say health care problems and it's important to have more women in the room because we will really utilize tech for good, if you will, for a higher purpose, I believe. And I think that's one of the reasons it's important to create a more diverse tech industry. With organizations like Black Girls Code addressing, as you say the pipeline of women entering the industry, what are then some specific ways which you think that tech companies can help foster diversity when they actually actively hiring for tech roles. Well, that's very interesting. I believe that the tech industry has certainly utilized some tactics to bring a more diverse talent pool into play when they're looking to fill roles. So there's certainly been many companies that have invested in anti bias training. They've utilized things such as the Rooney Rule to bring in diverse fleets of candidates when they're looking to hire. They've even looked at some of the the intake process and how they either do or don't or change or modify some of those gates that they have in terms of the assessments that they give to candidates when they're coming into very technical worlds. I think that those certainly have helped to improve the diversity of the candidate pool. But I think one of the things that could possibly be an opportunity maybe not in the future as more and more companies go virtual you Then now that that we have an opportunity to bring in candidates that don't necessarily need to live in Silicon Valley, they don't necessarily need to live in New York. That opens up opportunities for some of these talent pipelines and places like that. Austin, Texas, Atlanta, Georgia, Savannah, Georgia, Birmingham, Alabama, where there's certainly pockets of diverse talent pools that could be Brought in to these openings but not necessarily interested in moving to a place like the Bay Area. So there's an opportunity there to really create increase the tech pipeline from a diversity standpoint. By way of proximity to talent not necessarily need needing to live in the places where many of these companies are headquartered. However, I honestly believe the bigger hurdle for those companies is how do they retain that talent? That's one of the things that we've seen evidenced over the last 10 years is that although they can attract talent in the door They can't sustain and keep them there for a variety of reasons. And if they don't solve that problem, we're going to be in this never ending cycle of bringing and feeding organizations like bikers co feeding talent into companies but not being those companies not being able to keep They're until they can really create change and move to the top of those organizations. Some of those issues that you talked about in terms of retention of talent is that to do with systemic issues, such as racism? Absolutely. I think one of the things that's been shown in many of the studies as is that although those companies are able to attract talent, they're coming into environments that have some deep relationship. Rooted systemic issues. There are some environments hostile work environments that they encounter. They have often experienced a lack of opportunity to progress and to go into higher roles with it. There's certainly. A barrier to progressing and being able to advance and be promoted within their field. And all of those things are things I think that the tech industry is still challenged with. And and so there are some really Re imagining recreation of, I would say those environment, those work environments so they're more hospitable to a diverse talent pool and diversity and equity is really a part of the fabric of how. They advanced and promote as well as develop their diverse talent. There's still gonna be issues in terms of very low numbers which is what we see ten years later. The numbers are better for women. The numbers are not better for People of color. Sure, and one sort of final question I wanted to ask. You've spoken before about sustainable change, when it comes to promoting diversity, rather than being part of just a moment in history. It's a movement, rather than a moment. Can you explain a little bit more about what that means, and what that might look like, going forward? Yes, I would I would explain that from Black Girls coats own experience and in this moment in time, over the last I would say month or two, we've had an overwhelming support from individuals, corporations. Just a heavy spotlight on the work that we have been. Doing for 10 years. And it's the very first time in our history that we've given. We've really, really gotten support commensurate to Meeting some of the very, specific needs that we have to grow and sustain our organization. And it's because of this movement that has really focused on diverse communities and equity and diversity and inclusion and that's a part that we're grateful for. I think that one of the things that's a bit disappointing is that some of the events that have happened have really been the catalyst for this change, and that it has taken 10 years to happen, just for organizations like Black Morse Code, and others Just to level up to get to a point that we can actually drive some of the changes that we know will make this industry more inclusive. And I think when we get past if this moment does become a sustainable movement I think there needs to be some deep thought in terms of, how do we change these structures? How do we address these systemic issues so that companies can be More diverse by design, right? Not there's something that needs to be fixed after the fact. How can we design for diversity and inclusion and equity? How can we ensure that Leaders of nonprofit organizations, like myself, are given the support that they need to work on a level playing field. How can we address some systemic issues in our educational system so that we can remove these barriers that cause inequities for students of color? or students that are in under resourced communities. So I think now is just a moment that makes a spark. The work happens after this, the work, there's still a lot of work to be done. And I think that's still at on the other side of this moment. [MUSIC]

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