We are everywhere. As Black women, we know we are, even though certain areas of mainstream entertainment, education, and development all too often seem not to. Few places is this more obvious and downright destructive as in STEM. To get even more specific, it’s the T in that acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics that is so often a landscape where we are underrepresented.
Black women and women of color in tech are an inspiration to me, an admitted tech-world newbie who still marvels at the latest app or my own smartphone’s fancy font. Technological design and development are simply areas in which I was never educated, nor have I pursued them professionally or personally, but our representation in all walks of life is something I fight for; particularly in a discussion of the industry that is literally shaping our future.
That’s why I reached out to some emerging tech superstars that I’ve recently come in contact with, both to highlight the work that they’re doing and to show anyone reading this who might be interested in a tech career that doors are being opened every minute. Representation matters. These women represent.
Sarah Huny Young, who goes by her middle name, Huny, is a Creative Director who works to develop and guide brands. She says, “That can cover anything from web design and development, identity design (logos, style guides, and packaging), ad campaign strategy, photography, copywriting, storyboarding and directing commercials and other video promo, event planning, and more.” Specific titles she’s held over her sixteen-year career include Graphic Designer, Front-End Developer, UI/UX (user interface/user experience) Designer, and Interactive Art Director.
“My field is still populated with mostly white dudes, obviously, so erasure is a continuing factor,” Huny tells me. “You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who looks like me profiled in most design publications and websites or speaking at most design and tech conferences (unless the panel is specifically about diversity, go figure). That’s not because qualified Black designers and developers are few and far between–the Revision Path podcast alone proves that’s not the case.” (Huny was episode 100).
She continues, “It’s because we just aren’t what a lot of people envision when they hear Creative Director, Web Designer, Developer, or Programmer. And that’s because it’s more difficult for us to gain that kind of visibility when we don’t get invited to the table or presented with the opportunities our white counterparts are. That’s also the number one reason why I assembled the ‘Design of a Millennium: Women of Color Are Redesigning the Tech Landscape’ panel at this year’s Women’s Freedom Conference.”
That panel was one of the most informative and enlightening in an already brilliant digital conference, and it also introduced me to Christina Morillo and Stephanie Morillo (no relation), who co-founded the incredible resource Women of Color in Tech Chat. Through the (of course) well-designed website and organized #WOCinTechChat social media discussions, Christina and Stephanie have created a formidable community.
Christina’s area of expertise is Identity & Access management/IT Security. She’s been working in this field for about 10 years now, but she’s been in IT for over 17 years. She tells me that, “Even after 17+ years in tech, some men will assume that you are not ‘technical’ solely on the basis of being a woman.” As we know, WoC have to face both racism and sexism, and in tech, those scourges can be exponentially increased.
Stephanie’s experience is slightly different because, she says, “I look racially ambiguous; people can’t always quite place me, and I get confused for lots of different things. [She is Dominican.] But then they hear me speak, they learn where I’m from, and I get ignored or people try real hard to be ‘down.’ Or they try to relate to me in some way, or fake empathize with the fact that I grew up in a low-income area, the daughter of immigrants, in a mostly Black & Latino neighborhood. So I’ve heard all kinds of wild stuff, real ignorant comments, because people see what they want to see in me. I’ve been told I’m “extremely articulate” before, I’ve been called an “inspiration” for I guess rising above poverty, or I’ve been told that I’m not at all what they thought someone from where I grew up would be like.”
Stephanie has been working as a writer for most of her professional career, and she learned to program just under four years ago, entering the tech industry thinking she would be a developer. Presently working as a copywriter at a cloud infrastructure company, she’s able to marry writing and tech to “educate and communicate with tech-minded people.”
When I asked her to explain coding in the simplest terms possible, Stephanie said, “At a very basic level, code is a set of instructions that you are writing so that your program (or app) can carry out an action.” She quoted a software engineer friend, Lauren Voswinkel, as saying, “Can you follow a recipe? Then you can learn to code.”
Kronda says she was always “the family tech support person” since getting online in 1996, and she decided to become a developer at 36. As she writes about her “Aha” moment here, “I was working in project management, and I was pretty sure the developers I was meeting with were making at least three times what I was making, and had more freedom.” In doing her work of “helping growing businesses master online marketing without being overwhelmed by technology,” she specifically aims “to employ WoC in my business and mentor other WoC and Black women in particular, who want to learn to build a business online.”
Kronda says, “the question I’ve been asking myself lately is, ‘Where are all the Black women in WordPress?’ I gave the keynote at our local Wordcamp last month, and not only were there no other Black women presenters, I was literally the only Black woman in attendance at the entire conference.”
Kronda knows she can’t really be the only one, but in a climate where she herself has been fired from a job a month after being promoted for being a “bad culture fit” (!) it’s crucial to reach out and connect with women facing similar challenges and also possessing more than the necessary skills to not only be present, but dominate in this industry. Being “the only one” in a non-diverse workplace is a burden too many of us are having to shoulder. As Huny puts it, “I don’t think a lot of people understand how psychologically damaging it can be to have to constantly code switch and bite your tongue and ignore racist comments in the workplace.”
The good news is that it’s changing every day, thanks to these women and those that they name as role models, including Kathryn Finney, Tiffani Ashley Bell, Deena Pierott, Kimberly Bryant, Lynne D. Johnson, Adria Richards, Luvvie Ajayi, Erica Joy Baker Ellen Pao, Tracy Chou, and Saron Yitbarek.
A few months ago, #WOCinTechChat held a photo shoot to provide the internet with free images of WoC to use in tech contexts. Thanks to this seemingly small act with potentially huge impact, those are the images used here.
In addition to #WOCinTechChat, there are so many incredible resources out there, including People of Color in Tech, Black Girls Code, Saron Yitbarek’s Code Newbie, and Huny’s own upcoming Black Girl Design Voltron project, which she says she envisions as “a sounding board for both leading and emerging Black women designers, as well as an invaluable resource for finding and hiring us. I intend for us to build and brainstorm with, encourage, and shape the world with each other. I intend for BGDV to inspire even more Black girls to get into design and technology.”
If you’re interested in tech, Christina says “Google is your BFF,” and Stephanie suggests “finding scholarships to tech conferences and ATTENDING; a good place to start would be checking out those listed on Diversity Friendly. Don’t be afraid of not understanding everything at once; there’s a LOT of information out there. Be patient with yourself!”
One of the things that will ensure that the face of tech changes is the ease of technology itself—all of these women are highly reachable, and the spirit of sisterhood is infectious with everyone I spoke with on this topic, and crucial to our collective advancement. Reach out, say hello, join a chat, learn by example, and jump in!