Dear tech companies: Do a better job of showing up for women of color

Each story in our “Dear tech companies:” series focuses on issues in the tech space and provides strategies and solutions to companies looking to invest in meaningful solutions that will drive impactful industry change and make the industry more accessible to Black, Latina, and Native women. This series is written by Reboot Representation CEO Dwana Franklin-Davis.

The first essay in the series calls for companies to be intentional in their diversity and inclusion efforts by creating policies with women of color in mind and understanding the specific set of barriers they face because of race and gender.

photo credit: @omarlopez1

Although Black, Latina, and Native American women make up 18% of the population, they represent only 4% of computing degree recipients. From August to October, we’re in the midst of equal pay day season for Black, Latina, and Native women — a representation of the day's women of color have to work to catch up with what white men were paid in 2019. If we’re going to close the gender gap in tech, we need to take collective action and invest in approaches that recruit, support and retain women of color at every level in tech.

This summer, we saw the Black Lives Matter movement reach new heights, and in response, corporations made unprecedented acts of solidarity with the Black community through initiatives, donations, and statements — from proclaiming their intention to make diverse working environments a top priority to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, to donating millions of dollars to Black-led organizations. While it’s great to see companies strive for anti-racist work environments, these largely performative and broad actions are not enough when we don’t consider the specific set of barriers that Black, Latina, and Native women face in the workplace.

In our mission to foster anti-racist work cultures, it’s important that we don’t treat people of color as a monolithic group, assuming that their experiences are the same. There needs to be an intentional effort to create initiatives and make philanthropic investments that address the unique needs and barriers Black, Latina, and Native women face. Here are some ways to center the needs of women of color in the workplace:

  1. Disaggregate your data: It is crucial to collect gender and racially or ethnically disaggregated data at every stage of the pathways into tech and design interventions that fit the distinct experiences of different segments of women. Disaggregating data will help improve strategies that encourage participation from women of color in the tech industry and lead to initiatives and a workplace that is welcoming.
  2. Train management and leadership: Women of color receive less support from their managers due to race and gender bias, and it keeps them from advancing in their careers. If women of color are going to thrive in tech they need advocates that can lead them without bias, double standards, and microaggressions. If women of color don’t feel welcome in the workplace, they likely aren’t going to participate in networking that can put them in the position to build relationships with managers who decide who gets access to various opportunities and promotions.
  3. Hire women of color at every level: Women of color not only need culturally competent managers, but they also need managers that look like them and have similar life experiences. Having Black, Latina, and Native American women in leadership who can be intentional and specific in their mentoring can help women of color succeed and is another reason why it’s important to diversify all stages of the tech pipeline. As companies become successful in fostering equitable work cultures, they will likely attract more women of color to the company.
  4. Understand women of color face barriers because of their race and gender: Women of color are most likely to experience workplace harassment among all groups due to sex and race. Rejecting a male-dominated culture that allows misogyny to thrive is just as critical as creating an anti-racist culture — they both have a big impact on women’s desire to stay in the field. In order for women of color to successfully thrive in the tech industry, it’s important we meet them where they are in their journey and address the extraneous factors that prevent them from studying computer science.

We must be committed to showing up for women of color. Let’s not think of equal pay days as just opportunities to raise awareness but as times to seriously reflect on the contributions women of color have made to society and recommit to showing up for them so they can thrive in the field.

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