women of color in tech

We need more women! Of color, too, though!

The Problem:
Throughout the course of Women and Technology time and again we have realized, learned, and reiterated that there are not enough women in computer science or technology occupations. To put it plainly and in numeric form, women only made up 26% of the computing workforce in 2013 in the United States. However there is a looming issue that also needs to be addressed; the number of women of color in said fields (or lack thereof). Five percent of the computing workforce in 2013 were Asian, three percent were black and only 2 percent were Hispanic. [1] Clearly women of color are severely unrepresented in the computer science occupations, but whose fault is it? Tech companies say they would hire minorities and women if they were qualified to fill the positions.[2] Well we see that this is partially true as African American and Latina women combined earn just 5% of all CS degrees.[3] It goes farther back then post-secondary education however. Schools with relatively high concentrations of minorities often show a lack of tools, opportunities, and encouragement needed in order to choose and succeed in computer science as a field of study and occupation. [4]

The Goal:
The most positive outcome that could arise from addressing this issue is a much needed increase of diversity in the field of computer science and technology. It would be excellent to not only have gender diversity in these occupations, but to have race and ethnicity diversity as well. Ideally this outcome would arise from introducing computing skills and language to girls of color at a young age specifically in primary education. Teaching young girls to be fluent in the language of computers would help solve issues of “the pipeline problem.” Realistically we cannot reach all women of color at a young age because schools are and have always been under served. However even reaching a larger population of young girls then is currently being reached, would help increase the number of women of color in the jobs of the future.

The Solution:
There are already people combating the lack of women of color in computer science and technology occupations. And they are doing it by targeting young girls in schools that are underrepresented and at risk for the problem mentioned above. These programs provide workshops, summer camps, and mentors all to do with coding and computer skills to young girls of color. The solution would be to help expand programs such as Black Girls Code whose very mission reads, “Black Girls CODE has set out to prove to the world that girls of every color have the skills to become the programmers of tomorrow. By promoting classes and programs we hope to grow the number of women of color working in technology and give underprivileged girls a chance to become the masters of their technological worlds.” Partnering with the Latino Startup Alliance whose mission is similar, “To encourage the inspiration and cultivation of U.S. Latino led technology startup ventures by providing a strong support network of fellow entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, & mentors.”
So what do these programs need? They need funding, mentors, and willing participants! If the future of the US economic system resides in occupations dealing with computer science and technology, then the federal government must provide funding for programs that will help fill those jobs domestically. Having role models in any career is extremely important, having role models where there is scarce representation makes it even more important for women and men of color to participate as mentors to the youth in such programs. The most important tool however is young girls willing to learn and become interested in the computer science field. And they will not be able to do this without the funding of computers and technology for exposure, or without the encouragement and mentorship of successful professionals in the field.

Work Cited:

[1]By the Numbers. (2013) National Center for Women and Technology.

[2]Pepitone, Julianne. (2011) Silicon Valley Says Diversity Challenge Starts in College. CNNMoney. Cable News Network.

[3]NCWIT Scorecard: A Report on the Status of Women in Information Technology. National Center for Women & Information Technology.

[4]Margolis, J. & R. Estrella, J. Goode, J. Holme, K. Nao. (2008) Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.