By Lee Edwards, Chicago Crusader
Black Girls CODE Chicago is striving to create a generation of African American women prepared to take on careers in the digital workforce. Kimberly Bryant, Black Girls CODE (BGC) founder and executive director who launched the non-profit organization in 2011, says BGC teaches girls of color how to become digital creators and technology leaders. Girls ages 7-17 learn to construct web pages, build mobile apps, and use robotics.
Providing African American female youths with the skills essential to secure the estimated 1.4 million computing jobs in the United States, and training one million girls by 2040, is the organization’s goal.
BGC chapters function in Oakland, CA; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, Detroit, and Memphis.
Black Girls CODE Chicago’s charge is to change the digital workplace for African American women and girls. The challenge comes at a time when it’s needed the most. According to a February, 2016 report by CNN Money, the #ProjectDiane study titled, “The Real Unicorns of Tech: Black Women Founders” by DigitalUndivided stated tech startups led by African American women constituted just four percent of all women led startups, which is an estimated 88 out of 2,200. #ProjectDiane is a research study that delves into the state of African American women tech entrepreneurs in the United States.
Funding for African American women tech start-ups is traditionally sparse. According to The #ProjectDiane study, African American female tech start-ups constituted just 0.2 percent of all venture capital deals from 2012 to 2014. Wingard says there are women who have perfect business plans, great marketing, and may even be starting to make money but when it comes to funding to grow, or hire a staff, that still seems to be an issue.
One mission of Black Girls CODE Chicago is to empower young women to overcome the hurdles African American women face in the tech industry. Monique Wingard, BGC Chicago community outreach lead and social media associate, said lack of exposure to programming is the number one barrier to women starting tech related careers.
She recalled a mother at a BGC Chicago event asking why there were not more STEM events held in the city for her daughter to attend. Wingard said BGC Chicago has combatted the exposure deficit by building a strong core team (of which she is a member), and establishing a committed group of volunteers to host events throughout the year.
In 2017, in addition to its trademark programming workshops, BGC Chicago plans to continue Women of Color in STEM, panels which provide an opportunity for female STEM professionals in Chicago to share information about their paths to success. Additionally, BGC Chicago hopes to launch the robotics program, typically its most expensive and detail oriented program.
Black Girls CODE Chicago has received corporate sponsorships from Capitol One, Chase Bank, Leap Innovations, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. BCBS recently donated a workspace with computer based tools, lunch, and volunteers for a BGC Chicago weekend event. More than 50 percent of the young women who have attended workshops in Chicago had registrations paid for by the donations to the BGC Chicago website, according to Wingard. Donations cover the costs for food and instructors.
Working in the tech sector as an African American woman can be daunting. Chicago native Jamila Parham, BGC Chicago event/volunteer lead, who works as an IT Project Manager at Chicago Transit Authority, identified a double standard in positions of leadership, especially for women of color. She said being labeled too “bossy,” along with more colorful language, as a specific barrier she’s had to overcome.
Parham, who graduated from DePaul University with a bachelor’s degree in computer graphics/animation and a master’s degree in information project management from Keller Graduate School in Chicago, said she didn’t have role models in technology to look up to, which is why she’s committed to BGC Chicago. “I believe this is my purpose, to encourage young women of color, whether it’s career-wise or even personal growth; to reach back like women before me did,” said Parham.
Parham suggested that young women interested in tech related fields should try everything, to learn what they love first, and then pursue it.
BGC Chicago will take some of its youths to see “Hidden Figures,” the story of the African American women who contributed to NASA winning the space race in the 1960’s.
To learn more about Black Girls CODE Chicago visit http://www.blackgirlscode.com/.