‘We need more inclusion in the room’: This organization is helping Black girls feel welcome in the tech industry

January 3, 2024

It’s no secret: Black women have been left behind in the world of science and technology. And the numbers back it up. Only 2% of the STEM workforce are Black women, and from a business leadership perspective, just two Fortune 500 companies have a Black woman as CEO.

Those statistics are alarming—especially considering that STEM occupations are growing over four times faster than non-STEM jobs—according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One organization is trying to make the tech industry look more like the world—one that is diverse and allows Black girls and gender nonconforming youth of color to thrive in careers they enjoy.

Cristina Jones is the CEO of Black Girls Code. She says it is crucial to not only show Black girls that technology is in fact for them and to get them into the room but also to convince them that they belong in the room.

“We need girls in the room, we need more inclusion in the room,” she says. “But the way that we go about it is by creating space for people themselves to understand what their own value proposition is—that they are in the room because they are smart, they’re capable, they’re creative.”

‘Meet the girls where they are’

No matter what a girl is interested in—whether it be music, sports, gaming, and beyond—there is a space for them in tech, Jones says. Black Girl Code’s mission is to help Black girls understand that—through inspiring, education, and access.

The organization has worked with notable brands like Epic Games, the NBA, and Nike to show girls that coding is not scary. Most recently, Black Girls Code partnered with singer-songwriter Ciara for its Build a Beat challenge, in which participants were encouraged to create music using Python for a chance to win prizes and to meet the artist.

“Here at Black Girls Code, we want to meet the girls where they are,” Jones says. “And so we are showing them that you can, technology is a clear path to the jobs of their dreams.”

And while coding is sometimes largely an isolated and online-based activity, Black Girls Code emphasizes the need for in-person connections like workshops, hackathons, and other skill training events.

The organization has various chapters throughout the country, and in-person events are expected throughout the country in 2024, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, Washington DC, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, and Detroit. Jones says having the in-person component helps girls more deeply feel connected and supported with fun and culturally relevant activities.

“I really can’t tell you how inspiring it was to be standing there to see little black girls coming in saying that they’re excited to code and leaving saying that they wanted to come back every day for the rest of their life,” Jones tells Fortune.

The organization also makes it an objective to connect with girls throughout their educational and early career journey.

“There’s many places where our girls can fall out of the funnel; we want to wrap them with not just coding skills, but also leadership training, mental health support, and really activating our communities,” Jones says.

Since 2011, Black Girls Code has connected with thousands of girls who are young as age 7. Many of the organization’s connections are now graduating college with the confidence that there are truly people who look like them who enjoy and are pursuing STEM careers.

Creating imaginative creators

For Jones, helping boost the confidence of youth of color—especially girls—is personal. She became CEO of Black Girls Code in October 2023—a job she says she has practically auditioned for her entire career.

As a former executive at companies like 21st Century Fox and Salesforce, she knows first-hand what it’s like to be the person constantly raising your hand advocating for stories and initiatives that are inclusive to people of color. Being an intentional storyteller is part of what she lives by.

And as discussions about technologies of the future, like AI, occur, she says it is more important than ever that all voices are heard.

“Who’s in the room, making the decisions about how technology is getting used? And who’s in the room deciding who to fund? Well, if you look at it, I think it’s clear that there is a demographic missing, right. And that’s what my main interest was in stepping into this role was catching the girls early,” she says.

Jones cited Shirley Chisholm’s famous quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” in describing her passion for starting conversations and creating real change when it comes to Black girls’ education.

“I want to create tables for these girls so that they can create tables so that we can affect change at scale,” Jones says. “Because it’s the momentum—once we get going hopefully, it’s like a snowball effect.”

Source: https://fortune.com/education/articles/black-girls-code-empowering-computer-science-education/

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