Kimberly Bryant is the Founder and Director of Black Girls CODE–a non-profit organization that focuses on providing technology education to African-American girls ages 7–17 years old. FWD.us spoke with her about the challenges facing young women of color and what motivates her to get girls involved in tech.
FWD.us: What is Black Girls CODE? Why is there a need to focus on young girls of color in STEM?
Black Girls CODE is a non profit organization founded with the mission to empower young women of color between the ages of 7-17 years old to embrace the current tech marketplace. We encourage girls to become builders and creators by introducing them to skills in computer programming and technology. Black Girls CODE works to eliminate this digital divide by introducing young women of color into the technical field through workshops and programs which are held after school and during the summer.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that by the year 2020, there will be more than 1.4 million computing related jobs in America alone. When we look at computing and IT technology as a career path, it’s currently the fastest growing and most lucrative career in our economy. Yet the U.S. can only fill 30% of those jobs with the current graduates from undergraduate programs. When I was in school in the late 80’s and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering there were about 30-36% of women receiving computer science degrees. Since that time, that number for women of all colors has plummeted–it’s currently 18% of all women.
When we look at the context of this within women of color, the situation is even bleaker. Women and girls of color are vastly underrepresented in the technology industry and are left behind as participants in the innovation economy. Black women only represent 3% of those receiving undergraduate bachelor’s degrees in computer science and if you look at Latinas and Native Americans, that number is less than 1%.
FWD.us: What do you see as the major challenges and social issues facing young women of color and women at-large from succeeding in the tech industry?
The first factor is the socio-economic disparity that limits the amount of resources and role models within the community. Many young girls of color live in urban communities and may have access to a cell phone but not a laptop to actually code and practice programming. Another challenge is the lack of internet access in their homes and schools. I remember once visiting a school in Oakland and their computer lab had really old, bubble Macintosh computers. I was amazed because I could not remember the last time I saw these devices and couldn’t believe that this was what the school was working with. Which leads me into the next challenge I believe young girls of color face: not having the money or investment for technology. The school I visited was a prime example of not having the proper resources to invest in the latest, most up-to-date computing devices.
Black Girls CODE Founder Kimberly Bryant pictured with participants at Love is Respect Hackathon in Oakland, CA, June 2014.
FWD.us: What are your goals for the future of Black Girls CODE? How do you hope the tech community will help achieve these goals?
Our goal overall is to teach 1 million girls to code by 2040 and become a staple organization for girls in technology. Within the learn-to-code movement, we’re one of the only organizations that specializes in solely teaching young girls of color technical skills to become creators. Since 2011, we’ve grown to several chapters across the nation and even one international chapter in Johannesburg, South Africa. To date, we’ve reached almost 2,000 girls!
The tech community has a huge role in this from the standpoint of tapping into organizations such as Black Girls CODE as mentors, corporate sponsors, supporters, and beyond that. We to make sure that girls who pursue degrees in computer science are welcomed by the tech community and have opportunities in the work force. It’ll be a shame if we do all of this work to feed the pipeline, have girls reach the point where they’re beginning their careers, and find that the work environment is hostile or not inviting or that cultural implicit biases still run rampant throughout the tech community. Recent studies have shown that over 56% of women in technical careers leave their positions mid-career. So there’s work to be done. I think the industry will change when there’s greater representation of women in tech. Right now, companies can work to change their culture so they welcome diverse employees.
Black Girls CODE Founder, Kimberly Bryant pictured with participants at Love is Respect Hackathon in Brooklyn, NY, June 2014.
FWD.us: If there was a young woman of color interested in STEM and reading this blog, what would you want to say to her?
There are many opportunities within the tech field, not just as a coder, but a coder is definitely one entry point. Also take advantage of every opportunity to see what’s out there, in terms of getting involved with programs such as Black Girls CODE and other programs like Code Now or Technovation Challenge. There’s just a huge influx of programs specifically focused on youth and technology education today. So take a step out, take a chance and take a class — even one just to see if it’s something you’re interested in — and definitely follow that up with finding a good mentor that can really help nurture your interests through your journey. Mentors are some of the key individuals in terms of making an impact and providing support during the rough points on the journey.
FWD.us: What excites you about the work you do? What’s something people wouldn’t expect about the work you do?
Seeing how we’re able to start making an impact on the field with the students who have come through our program over the last few years and seeing how we’re changing the discussion around technology and tech inclusion. I can definitely say that Black Girls CODE has had an impact in terms of really driving this discussion and making people aware that there is an issue in terms of women of color in the technology field. Also, just from a totally geek standpoint and being an engineer myself, what excites me are all of the possibilities because I think that we are really at the beginning of the next industrial revolution in terms of technology. We don’t even know where it’s going from here and where it will be in the next 5 to 10 years. So, being able to create this new generation of technologists that are going to be able to tap in and make some of these changes that I’ll probably see when I’m an old woman…that’s something that makes me really happy for the work that we’re doing and also I’m really excited about it .
Black Girls CODE focuses on young girls of color between the ages of 7-17 years old: blackgirlscode.com
FWD.us: What’s the most surprising encounter you’ve experienced so far in your work with Black Girls CODE?
I can’t really think of many things that have been surprising but being able to go back to my college alma mater and talk to the students there about computer science and coding and seeing still how new the industry is, especially in the startup field. There are still many opportunities to introduce a new generation to using technology to create and work on really important problems. Tapping into that rich resource for all students – not just women and not just people of color – is a great opportunity for to better our world.