This is a guest post from Pratima Rao Gluckman, author of the book Nevertheless She Persisted: True Stories of Women Leaders in Tech, about how women of color are crucial in tech fields.
Out of the 19 women featured in my book Nevertheless She Persisted: True Stories of Women Leaders in Tech, only four are women of color. Though I dug deep into my network, it was depressingly hard to find women tech leaders of color—and particularly women of African heritage. My experience exposes a systemic problem. Women of color are doubly disadvantaged by the effects of both racism and gender bias. These women are poorly represented in tech as professionals and as leaders. This needs to change. Though it may take generations for a wave of change to become significant, we can start the ripples of change now.
The tech sector is burgeoning in the United States, with twice as many engineering positions open than there are qualified engineers to fill them. This disparity leaves America vulnerable to losing markets in which we have always held primacy. To remain competitive in both quality and quantity, we need to expand the engineering pipeline.
One of our best resources is women of color. In addition to the ethical goals of combatting racism and sexism, there are two powerful business arguments for including women of color.
Explore all available resources. Women and girls make up 49.6% of the world. In the United States, we are 50.6 percent. So today when companies do not hire women, or take their input, or empower them with making leadership decisions, they are ignoring fully half the population. Think of all the potential brainpower being wasted!
Inclusive teams perform better. Companies that promote workplace diversity at all levels are more profitable, innovative, and productive, as discovered in a recent Forbes study:
- Inclusive teams make better decisions up to 87% of the time.
- Teams that follow an inclusive process make decisions twice as fast, with half the number of meetings.
- Decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60% better results than non-diverse teams.
Diversity has become a must, not just optional window dressing. So it pays to shift things to help diverse women gain the hard and soft skills they need to thrive in tech jobs. Some organizations and companies have begun rippling the waters of change.
LinkedIn presents a shining example with their pilot REACH program, which offers six-month apprenticeships as software engineers to people from nontraditional technical backgrounds. They hope to eventually replicate the program across the industry.
Backstage Capital focuses specifically on targeting venture capital to companies that are led by women, people of color, and LGBT founders. To date they have invested more than $4 million in 100 companies, mentoring them along the road. In their own words: “These founders were being overlooked and deeply undervalued. [They] demonstrate exceptional grit. They prove to us beyond a doubt that while they are currently underestimated, they’re among the best startup founders operating today. This is what you can accomplish when you commit to diversity as a core value.”
Black Girls Code understands that when girls of color receive the tools for developing their own future, amazing things will happen. Their mission is “to increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology.” They plan big: to provide African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040.
I spotlight these initiatives for two reasons. It’s important to applaud the people who are doing this important work. One thing I look forward to when these ripples become waves is all the cool inventions that will be created by these women. One future discovery lies very near to my heart. My older son was born with a rare chromosome syndrome. My hope is that a cure may be found for him. But I worry that, when we alienate 50% of the population, the cure for my son might never be found. Perhaps there is a girl in a village somewhere who has the potential to develop that cure, but she may never be given the opportunity to contribute her gifts to the world because of her gender or her skin color. That breaks my heart.
So I want to encourage others to also follow in their footsteps, contributing to the work of helping women of color who are particularly disadvantaged by racism to get a strong foothold in the world of tech. Everyone can benefit.
Pratima Rao Gluckman knew she wanted to be an engineer from a young age. She attained a master’s degree in computer science (University of Texas at Arlington), a master’s degree in chemistry, and bachelor’s degree in instrumentation engineering (BITs Plain India). Currently, in her field of enterprise software, she is Engineering Leader at VMware and manages a team of engineers.
During her time in the industry, she has grown aware of the gender bias and related impostor’s syndrome that makes it challenging for women – including herself – to achieve their desired potential. Gluckman is striving to make meaningful changes in the tech world so that more women can enter careers as engineers and thrive to become effective leaders in their organizations.