Black Girls CODE discusses ‘cracking the code’ of underrepresentation in STEM

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Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

In 2018, women of color represented only 11.3 percent of STEM degree holders in the U.S. Nonprofit Black Girls CODE is working to raise these numbers.  

Since its founding in 2011, Black Girls CODE has brought technology opportunities to underrepresented students in America and South Africa. This year, Black Girls CODE had the opportunity to bring their nonprofit’s mission to the SXSW Interactive stage.

In the featured session “Behind the Click: Securing the Future for Black Women and Girls in Tech,” founder and CEO Kimberly Bryant and four current Black Girls CODE students spoke about the group’s steps toward changing a field that has systematically left their perspectives out of the bigger picture. AAA

Following a video including testimonies from current Black Girls CODE students, Bryant started the conversation about Black Girls CODE’s transformation from a six-member to 15-chapter organization. Bryant said she wanted to change the narrative that she and other members of the tech industry have struggled with in the past.

“You don’t have to necessarily have credentials to create change,” Bryant said. “If you see something, do something.”

However, Bryant said the nonprofit’s initiatives do not revolve around just womanhood and blackness. Bryant said it is also important their nonprofit supports those of other identities, such as LGBTQ students.

“Our girls don’t live in a vacuum,” Bryant said. “They live in a world where all of their identities are important.”

Encouraging the four students to lead the conversation, Bryant said as a group, Black Girls CODE’s current goal is to focus on younger insight rather than relying on the experts.

“I think it’s vitally important in not just technology but in every single career field that we let the youth speak,” Bryant said. “Our goal is bringing their voices … (and) their journeys to the forefront.”

The four girls’ comments focused on the ways in which they struggled and persevered in the STEM industry. Black Girls CODE alumna Alexandra Philip said that because of her position, speaking up and networking is imperative.

“In class you’re mainly seen as a number, so it’s important to stand out from the rest of them,” Philip said. “Show that you’re special from everyone else.”

While serving in positions of leadership, Black Girls CODE alumna Kai Morton said it’s also necessary to form a tribe of those who share similar experiences.

“I feel like as women, we value community more than just being at the top,” Morton said. “Being at the top is great, but if you don’t have a community under you, what’s it worth?”

A sense of community is what Bryant said she values more in Black Girls CODE than teaching them the latest tech skills.

“This sisterhood and this bond (Black Girls CODE) develops throughout the organization, that’s unique,” Bryant said. “That’s the special magic.”

For the future, Bryant said she wants the tech industry to promote a more women-centered culture. Though she related Black Girls CODE’s goals to prominent male tech leaders’ success, she now envisions it through the young women she teaches.

“In the past, I would say, ‘I want to create the next Mark Zuckerberg,’” Bryant said. “Now, I want to create the next organizations created and run by (women of color).”