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“Black Girls Code” Brings More Women of Color to Silicon Valley

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By Kiratiana Freelon (Contributor, Loop 21)

If black girls can rock and black girls can travel then they can surely code, right? The statistics show otherwise. Women of color represent less than 3% of the people in technology fields.

But if it’s up to Kimberly Bryant, pretty soon tons of black (and brown) girls will be coding, which is the art of creating computer programs. She is the founder of Black Girls Code, a Bay Area organization whose mission is to increase the young women of color in the field of digital and computer technology.

Since launching in October, Black Girls Code is now teaching twelve young women how to code in scratch and there are immediate plans to expand the program.

Loop 21: Tell me about yourself! What is your background in coding? How did you end up in Silicon Valley?

Kimberly Bryant: I’m originally from Memphis, Tennessee and I am a career Electrical Engineer and Biotech/Pharma professional. My college minors were CS and Math but I took a more traditional engineering route out of college and spent the majority of my career in large industrial environments. A career move in biotech landed me in the valley where I slowly transitioned into the IT side of the business. I have been in the bay area for five and a half years since moving from the East.

Loop 21: How did you become interested in coding and engineering?

Kimberly Bryant: I personally became interested in engineering as a high school student with the encouragement of my guidance counselors given my strong performance in math and science and the demand for students in the engineering field. I really had no direct knowledge of what an engineer “did” or if I really wanted to pursue engineering as a career. I eventually studied electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University. It was difficult but I just determined to make it through my studies. We also had a pretty strong support network within the school, so that helped.

I think that is the key to getting more kids of color interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by providing them with exposure to the many career choices STEM allows.

Loop 21: Why don’t more minority students study stem more? Is it a cultural thing? Do we not have the resources in our schools?

Kimberly Bryant: I think more minority students neglect to pursue a career in STEM fields because of lack of exposure. They don’t generally see these fields as a career option and thus they don’t pursue a technical career path. This is why it is important to have more black tech founders and women tech founders in positions of influence so that minority students can find a role model with which they can identify. They have to see that this path is accessible to them in order to achieve it. Unfortunately there are not adequate resources solely through our school systems to accommodate this need.

Loop 21: Why did you create Black Girls Code and how did you start it?

Kimberly Bryant: The genesis of Black Girls Code was formed after I discovered in doing lots of networking in the valley that I was often one of a few women in the room and sometimes the only person of color at various tech networking events. I was doing a lot of networking to launch my own mobile health company. In the process is when I started to have conversations about the lack of females and minorities in tech.

As an engineer myself, I realized that the key to getting girls in general and especially girls of color interested in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) fields starts long before they reach high school or college. It is key to catch girls at that critical age in middle or elementary school when being a “geek” is no longer cool. Now Black Girls Code is my side passion project but I spend as much time on it as my job.

Loop 21: How did you come up with the name Black Girls Code?

Kimberly Bryant: Well I actually chose the name Black Girls Code to reflect the issue of focus for my organization which is specifically focused on helping “girls of color” to learn programming and technology. Our core target market are girls of color (African American, Latino, Native American). It is this demographic that is less than 1%-3% represented in technology and STEM fields. I wanted the “name” of my organization to reflect that and to be sure it was understood that this is our focus.

Actually there are MANY organizations which focus on girls, women, technology. And unfortunately MOST of them are very lacking in attracting girls or women of color to their programs. It is overwhelmingly white, Asian, and affluent. Our girls are being taught to have pride in who they are and in this case it starts with acknowledging and showing pride in this identity which is reflected in our name, our logo, the mentors, etc that we infuse into our program. This will never change.

» Read the full article at Loop 21.

  • http://www.gs.net Great stuff!

    This is great. There are no role models even today for young girls to look up to in the Valley and in tech. I’m grown and I almost feel jealous that these young girls have people looking out for them trying to expose them to STEM and guide them. I had none of that in Junior High. I did take a liking to computers but I didn’t know it could be a career option for a female, it was always seen as a male endeavor. They steered me toward “female friendly” career paths like writing or journalism.It was boring and poorly paid. Ha ha!

    Anyway, good luck with your business!