Bridging the Gap: The Resilient Journey of Black Women in Tech

21 February 2024

In honor of Black History Month, it’s crucial to celebrate the resilient journey of Black women in technology. Despite facing significant challenges, including underrepresentation and the gender pay gap, Black women have made remarkable contributions to the tech industry, paving the way for future generations.

Statistics show that women are significantly underrepresented in STEM fields, holding only about 25% of jobs in science-related careers. Black women, in particular, face even more considerable obstacles, representing just 3% of the women in tech. This disparity underscores the importance of acknowledging and supporting the achievements of Black women in this sector​​.

Among the notable Black women who have made significant strides in tech, we spotlight Mae Jemison, Kathryn Finney, Regina Gwynn, and Kimberly Bryant.

Mae Jemison – Trailblazer in Space and STEM Advocacy

Mae Jemison is a pioneering figure whose contributions span space exploration and STEM advocacy. Born in Decatur, Alabama, and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Jemison became the first African American woman to travel in space when she served as a Mission Specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Cornell University Medical College, her career includes work as a general practitioner, time with the Peace Corps, and research in medical and technological fields. Beyond her historic spaceflight, Jemison is deeply committed to promoting STEM education among underrepresented groups. She founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, launching initiatives like the Earth We Share, an international science camp designed to cultivate critical thinking and problem-solving skills among students globally. Jemison’s advocacy work, public speaking, and educational programs have made her a leading voice in the push for more inclusive representation within STEM fields, underscoring her profound impact on space exploration and science education. Through her groundbreaking achievements and ongoing efforts to inspire future generations, Mae Jemison leaves an indelible mark on the world, exemplifying the power of pursuing one’s dreams and broadening access to STEM opportunities.

Kathryn Finney – Pioneering Inclusion in Tech Entrepreneurship

 Kathryn Finney is a distinguished figure embodying the spirit of innovation and dedication to uplifting Black women in the sector. As the founder and first CEO of digitalundivided, Finney has worked tirelessly to support Black women tech founders by providing them with the necessary training, connections, and funding to succeed. 

A Yale-trained epidemiologist, Finney’s transition from public health to the forefront of tech entrepreneurship is marked by her savvy acquisition and subsequent sale of The Budget Fashionista, positioning her as one of the first Black women to navigate such a venture successfully. This milestone was just the beginning of her journey to dismantle barriers and foster a more inclusive tech ecosystem. Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, Finney’s launch of The Doonie Fund showcased her acute awareness of Black women entrepreneurs’ challenges. Starting with a personal donation of $10,000, the fund quickly burgeoned to over $200,000, distributing micro-investments to more than 2,000 Black women-owned businesses. 

Regina Gwynn – Empowering Beauty and Tech Innovation

Regina Gwynn is a prominent figure in the intersection of technology, beauty, and empowerment for women of color. As the co-founder of TresseNoire, Gwynn launched the platform in 2014 to transform the beauty service industry for women with textured hair by offering personalized beauty routines and connecting them with mobile natural hairstylists. Her venture into tech was driven by a desire to merge convenience and beauty, inspired by the on-demand technologies that have become staples in our daily lives, such as Uber and Fresh Direct.​

Beyond TresseNoire, Gwynn’s influence extends to her role as a co-founder of Black Women Talk Tech, an organization aimed at identifying, supporting, and encouraging Black women to build billion-dollar businesses. This initiative speaks to her belief in the untapped potential of Black women in the tech industry and her commitment to empowering them​. Given the stark disparity in venture capital funding, where Black women entrepreneurs secure less than one percent of the funds compared to their white male counterparts, largely due to a lack of accessible networks for seed capital, it is observed that an overwhelming 91 percent of Black women entrepreneurs concurrently maintain full-time employment while endeavoring to build their startups. 

Kimberly Bryant – A Visionary in Tech Education

Kimberly Bryant, an accomplished electrical engineer, founded and was the first CEO of Black Girls CODE to address the lack of diversity in technology. Black Girls CODE provides technology and computer science education to young women of color. Inspired by her daughter’s experiences, Bryant’s work has led to the creation of a global movement to increase the number of women of color in the tech industry​​. Through Black Girls CODE, Bryant has fostered an environment where young Black girls can see their potential as innovators and leaders in STEM​. Despite encountering significant obstacles within Black Girls Code, Kimberly Bryant has unwaveringly pursued her dedication to promoting technological inclusivity. This commitment is further demonstrated through her initiative to launch Ascend Ventures, a venture capital firm designed to empower and invest in startups led by those from underrepresented backgrounds, showcasing her continuous advocacy and leadership in fostering diversity within the realms of STEM education and technology.

The Importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are not just buzzwords but essential components of innovation in technology and the economy. A diverse workforce brings a range of perspectives, ideas, and solutions to the table, driving creativity and innovation. When people from different backgrounds and experiences come together, they challenge each other’s assumptions and broaden their understanding of problems and possibilities. This diversity of thought is crucial for developing technologies and solutions that cater to society’s wide range of needs and challenges.

Fostering DEI in the Workplace

Enterprises can foster DEI by implementing inclusive hiring practices, promoting a culture of respect and belonging, providing mentorship programs, and offering continuous education and training on diversity and inclusion. Encouraging open dialogue about diversity and inclusion challenges and successes can also help create a more inclusive environment. Additionally, recognizing and addressing unconscious biases, ensuring equitable growth opportunities, and measuring and reporting on DEI progress are critical steps toward building a more inclusive workplace. 

By committing to these practices, organizations can enhance their innovation capabilities and reflect the diverse society in which we live.

Celebrating the achievements of Black women in technology and STEM during Black History Month is a vital step in acknowledging the contributions they have made to their fields. However, it’s equally important to continue supporting and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the year, ensuring that the tech industry becomes a more welcoming space for everyone.