These 3 Women Of Color Are Re-Wiring The Tech Industry

The tech world is notorious for having a diversity problem. It’s dominated by white men and even when the room is more diverse than that, women of color are still largely left out.

And it’s the worst for Black and Latina women. Only 0.2 percent of all venture capital deals made between 2012 and 2014 went to Black women and only 17% of start-ups are headed by women.

Despite the hardships, there are a whole new crop of women of color who are not just working on being in the room, but owning the whole building.

Here are three women who are blazing a path and inspiring other women to follow in their footsteps:

1. Lisa Mae Brunson

Brunson seeks to change the world through tech by putting women and girls at the center of the conversation. Growing up in a poor yet multicultural environment, she says she surprisingly didn’t experience that much discrimination until she entered the tech industry.

Through her own experience of being ignored, ridiculed and shut out of conversations, she sought to not just level the playing field, but to create a new one through her initiatives Hacks4Humanity and Wonder Women Hacks.

She launched her Wonder Women Tech Conference two years ago to highlight, educate and empower women and young girls in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics).

The conference disrupts the typical conference model by offering a variety of speakers, panel discussions, workshops, hackathons and even coding classes that are made up of and run by women and tailored to women and girls of color from diverse and disenfranchised backgrounds.

This year her Wonder Woman Tech Conference will continue its run in Long Beach and return in 2018 with the possibility of events in Washington, DC and London.

Hacks4Humanity creates hackathons all over the country and even held it’s first global hackathon in Australia last year, where developers can create mobile apps for social good. Participants have to create the app in two days in teams and adhere to 7 principles, including respect, empathy, and compassion.

In Melbourne, Australia the winning team created an app to help families launch missing persons campaigns easier. The hope is that these apps and teams will have real and lasting impact on the not just the tech industry, but the world at large.

Brunson shared with Ebony, ‘Women innovated from the perspective of looking at the whole challenge holistically. When men are innovating they seem to forget about what the rest of the population looks like. And that’s why we need more women.”

2. Kathryn Finney

Finney is the founder of one of the first lifestyle blogs, TheBudgetFashionista, and the tech equity organization digitalundivided, which provides training and support to women of color entrepreneurs. She is a trailblazer.

The Rutgers and Yale educated epidemiologist turned a hobby into an internet powerhouse and when she sold TheBudgetFashionista in 2014 she became one of the first Black women to sell a tech company.

She decided to use her newfound influence to make a difference in the tech industry and she started digitalundivided.

One of her first initiatives was #ProjectDiane which researched the state of Black women in tech entrepreneurship in the United States through an extensive study of over 60,000 start-ups. It also compiled 350 Black women-led companies and 88 startups led by Black women.

“We knew there was a problem,” Finney told Inc.. “We just didn’t have the data. Now we have the data.” After this study she became general partner in the Harriet Fund, a pre-seed venture fund focused on investing in high potential Black and Latina women-led startups.

She is also the founder of the Harriet Angels Syndicate, an angel investment syndicate focused on providing “first” investment to exceptional Black and Latina women founders and digitalundivided has become an org that provides coaching, networks and access to capital specifically for women of color.

These are the first organizations to directly target women of color with not just mentorship, but with actual capital. They will literally open up opportunities that women were previously denied and ones that they didn’t even know existed.

In March of last year, she opened The BIG Innovation Center a 6,000 square foot center in conjunction with the U.S. Small Business Administration, located in Atlanta right next to several historically black colleges and universities including Spelman College for women.

It seeks to provide resources to those who are often left out of the conversation and to de-center where people think entrepreneurs should come from.

In the wake of continued gender and racial discrimination in the tech world Finney’s organizations are an invaluable resource to budding and current women of color innovators.

In the wake of the very fresh sexual harassment and discrimination cases against companies like Uber, diverse teams and especially diverse leadership seem to be the key to the continued success and innovation in the industry.

3. Bozoma St. John

This Ghananian-American executive burst onto the tech scene and became a semi-celebrity at Apple’s developers conference last June when she entered to Sugar Hill’s “Rapper’s Delight” and got the almost 3,000 stuffy developers in attendance to clap and rap along with her.

Born in Ghana, her family moved to Colorado and settled across the street from an Air Force Academy when she was 13 years old. She experienced extreme culture shock, but used what made her different-being tall, black, and a young women in that setting-as fuel to propel her to great heights.

She turned an English degree from Wesleyan University into a trailblazing career in advertising, previously working at Pepsi where she secured multi-million dollar endorsement deals with celebs like Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, and Eminem, fashion brand Ashley Stewart and the advertising agencies Arnold Worldwide and Spike DDB.

“She’s singular,” said Tiffany Warren, a senior vice president and chief diversity officer at the advertising and marketing company Omnicom group to Wired. “The unicorn is a mythical horse that people don’t think exist.” Warren says when you’re an African American woman in a very senior role, when they walk down the hall, people do a double-take because it’s just so rare to see.

St. John has used her position at Apple Music to help shape narratives where women and people of color are at the center, like the Apple Music commercial that featured Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, and Kerry Washington.

In a shocking move, St. John has recently transitioned to Uber as their Chief Brand Officer amongst their backlash and controversy. She had this to say to Variety, “I’ve always been part of the internal groups and advocacies for women and people of color at every company I’ve been at. This is not new to me — I plan to continue being an advocate for women and people of color everywhere.”

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Real change will not happen if the same people are always in the driver’s seat; these three women understand that to solve the world’s problems all of us must be at the table and that all of our stories must be told.

About the author

Siaira Shawn Harris is a creative and a youth worker hailing from San Francisco, California. She is now living and exploring in Los Angles by way of Brooklyn.

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