PowerUp: Black Professionals in STEM

If you are a Black woman in a professional capacity, you have likely experienced the phenomenon of being “the only Black woman in the room” at work. I personally have over 20 years of experience in the IT industry, and the grand total of other Black female “techies” I have worked with can be counted on one hand. In fact, I don’t even need to use all five fingers. I’ve become so accustomed to working primarily with white, male colleagues that it is a true novelty whenever I meet a fellow Black woman who also has a technical background.

While this experience can be isolating and disconcerting, it is not surprising, as the numbers bear this out. The newly created community, Lean In, has published some dire statistics around the lack of Black women in leadership positions: while 21% of C-suite positions are women, only 4% are women of color and a mere 1% are Black women. Perhaps most alarming is that no Fortune 500 or S&P 500 company has a Black woman as CEO. For computer and information science careers, it is even worse. Although Black women make up 7% of all women employed in IT, they comprise under 1% of the workforce in Silicon Valley, and Black women hold less than 0.5% of Silicon Valley tech leadership positions.

The reasons for such low participation among Black women are multi-faceted and systemic, but some of the challenges Blacks face include:

  • Lack of access to quality education
  • Discrimination in recruitment, hiring, and promotion
  • Lack of Black role models currently working in the field
  • Lack of encouragement at an early age to pursue STEM

And while we won’t be able to solve this problem overnight, there are some things we can all do to try to increase the number of women of color, and specifically Black women, in STEM. Educate yourself on white privilege and implicit bias, encourage your HR department to exercise intentional hiring practices to increase the number of Black women in tech, consider mentoring a young Black girl, and increase the diversity of your professional network to include others unlike yourself.

To learn more about this topic, take some time to review the Kapor Center/ASU Data Brief on the worrying statistics around women of color in STEM, and the Pew Research Center findings on the challenges facing Black STEM professionals.

#blacklivesmatter #WIRPA #PowerUp #WomenInTech