“I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them,” said Madam C. J. Walker.
“Black women in technology are the unicorns of mythology,” says Charlene Brown, a full stack web developer, branding specialist and owner of Bklyn Custom Designs (bklyncustomdesigns.com), one of few small women-owned tech companies aimed at ensuring new and established businesses that are professionally and effectively branded. “We are incredibly rare,” says Brown, who has been in business for nearly 20 years, “but we’ve come a long way.”
Creating new opportunities in technology is an ever-present challenge for Black women. Brown is no stranger to the many challenges faced by boutique and small Black women-owned tech companies. “Our current economic times are challenging enough when it comes to finding clients who are financially poised to utilize my services,” says Brown. “It becomes more of a challenge when potential clients realize that you are not only a woman but a Black woman.” Brown does not shy away from the challenges she faces and makes every effort to reassure potential clients that she is more than qualified to handle their project. “When clients see the final product, it builds a level of trust. They value integrity. Clients then become advocates and send business my way.” Staying on top of her profession by continually learning, improving and honing her skills has created opportunities for Brown that might otherwise not be available to her. “I look at already established norms in successful businesses and utilize them as a road map to improving my business.”
Finding a large pool of Black women in technology, although daunting, is not an impossible task. In various sectors of business, Black women generally tend to be grossly underrepresented or in some industries, systematically excluded. Technology easily falls near the back of the bus when it comes to the essential and substantial representation of Black women. In recent years, however, the number of skilled Black women in business overall has increased exponentially. Seeking out this niche group of experts should be a priority if the technological landscape is to be inclusive, allowing for fresh ideas from an overlooked and often ignored group.
According to the 2018 State of Women-Owned Business Report commissioned by American Express, the number of firms owned by Black women increased by 164%, leaving white women lagging with a 58% growth from 2007 to 2018, a gap that was doubtfully expected nor predicted. Impressively, Black women are also the only racial/ethnic group who have surpassed their male peers in business ownership. Still, economic gains do not bear out. Black women continue to struggle to make equitable revenue compared to non-minority businesses, with a surprising decrease in capital and revenue between 2007 and 2018 based on American Express’s findings.
Gains in the field of technology could help to position women in general to play more vital roles in technological advancements. Women hold about 25% of the market share of tech positions according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s 2016 report. The numbers are incredibly abysmal for Black women, who hold only 3% of all tech positions in the industry. While the task of bringing more Black women into the tech field is daunting due to various social, economic and ethnic/racial roadblocks and/or general exclusion, Black women are not deterred by the numbers and are fervently engaged in ways to more readily enter this ever-evolving and growing premium sector.
Black Women Talk Tech (blackwomentalktech.com), one company at the forefront of increasing the visibility of women in technology, is a collective of Black women tech founders who are sensitive to the challenges Black women face in the industry. Their goal is to not only reform the statistics but “identify, support and encourage Black women to build the next billion-dollar business,” states their website. Through their efforts, women are “building community and profitable, scale-able businesses” that allow them to contribute to the industry in meaningful ways which could ultimately transform the landscape of technology for all women, Black and white.
Black women techies still have a long way to go before they can claim a greater percentage of the technological market. The cards are stacked against them, yet Black women optimistically and determinedly continue to push forward into a space that continually excludes them from an ever-expanding market. “I am undaunted by the challenges we face in this industry,” says Brown. “It is time Black women retained a greater share of the pie. I’m here to cut out my slice.”
Professionalism, integrity, and expertise are the ingredients Black women sprinkle into the technology pot. This recipe will ensure Black women receive an increased share in a sector responsible for significant global advancements. Black women deserve to be a part of these pivotal moments in technological history. As the upward trend of women in technology continues, more Black women will realize that they cannot wait for opportunities in technology to come to them, they must get up and make them. With this in mind, Black women march on, slowly closing the gap; the days of being hidden figures in modern history will soon come to an end.