Black Girls Code: The Next Steve Jobs Will Be A Woman of Color by Whitney Johnson

Black Girls Code: The Next Steve Jobs Will Be A Woman of Color by Whitney Johnson

In March 2011, while attending a Berkeley Women Entrepreneurs Conference, Kimberly Bryant, an accomplished tech engineer with experience both broad and deep, found herself engaged in a discussion about the dearth of women working in the technology field. Observations ranged over the territory of shortages of women currently available in the resource pool, and a stagnant, even dwindling pipeline of women, and particularly women of color in STEM sectors. Bryant had an epiphany, a moment of realization that if the problem was going to find its solution, she needed to take it upon herself to personally do something about it. Some of the best leadership advice ever given may be contained in the clichéd couplet, ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’

Shortly thereafter, Bryant founded Black Girls Code (BGC), a non-profit organization dedicated to equipping girls from underrepresented communities with coding skills through participation in workshops and other training vehicles, with the end result of “seeding the tech pipeline with the girls from the younger generation who will be come to tech leaders and creators of the future.” BGC has a stated objective of reaching over one million young women of color by mid-century, and transforming technology to represent the diversity of the United States’ population, and even the world’s, within the ranks of the sector’s employees, rather than just its consumers.

The 2015 McKinsey report is only one of several studies that highlight the positive impact of a diverse workforce on the corporate bottom line; Bryant is committed to battling the systemic biases that have minimized the role that women, and particularly women of color, as well as other underrepresented groups have played in the technology explosion—it is not only financially right; it is a social and moral necessity.

Her primary goal at present is to develop a sustainable business model that will allow BGC to reach girls ever farther afield and achieve the lofty 1M goal. Bryant has drawn inspiration from David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, which resonates with her as the founder of a small startup stretching to become a global business against daunting obstacles. “It’s shown me that with skill and strategy, even David can conquer a giant. ”

Bryant’s efforts have garnered multiple awards, from the White House Champions of Change for Tech Inclusion award in 2013, which celebrates people “who are doing extraordinary things to expand technology opportunities for young learners—especially minorities, women and girls” to being named on Business’s 2013 list of the 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology. In addition to her leadership of BGC, she is currently participating in the Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship, a two-year program that targets innovative leaders in educational initiatives who are focused on improving the quality of the education experience available to low-income children. Fellowship participants collaborate on the development of strategies to deliver improved learning opportunities and enhance the leadership qualities of those who serve them.

Ask Bryant to identify which of her many achievements she is most proud of and the answer is that over twenty years later, her defining moment is graduating from Vanderbilt University School of Engineering with a BS in Electrical Engineering. During the four years she spent as an undergrad she was one of a handful of women in the school of engineering. She describes them as some of the most difficult years of her life, demanding fortitude and grit to persevere as a woman in a field dominated by men, and not at all racially diverse. Times are changing, albeit slowly, but evolved enough that Bryant dares to dream that the next Steve Jobs could be a girl of color. That is the future she envisions and has taken upon herself to promote.

Whitney Johnson is the author of Disrupt Yourself, Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, and a co-founder with Christina Vuleta, of Forty Women Over 40 to Watch.


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