Breaking into Tech as a Black Woman

Dionne – HSBC Technology Graduate (LinkedIn) (Dionne’s Website)

Deciding to pursue a career in the tech industry meant that I would be hyper-visible as a minority in a space where there are barely any BAME individuals or women. Before I share my experiences of being a Black Woman in tech, let me share some statistics with you:

1.    In the UK the percentage of women who work in tech is 16%.

2.    Only 15% of the tech workforce is from a BAME background.

3.    3% are Black.

4.    I sit in a very tiny percentage that are Black women.

Beginning the Journey

Being one of the only women in a room full of men wasn’t a foreign experience for me. From having studied Maths and Further Maths at A-level, to pursuing a degree in Mathematics, I have always been used to being the minority. However, it was never something that caused me to reflect on the magnitude of what this meant until I started applying for technology graduate schemes during my gap year after university. 

I vividly remember walking into an assessment centre for a role I had applied for, and instantly noticing that I was the only woman in the room. The candidates were men, the assessors were men, and the staff were 90% men. Although due to my educational background this was the norm and my differences were instantly highlighted by walking into a room, I didn’t like the thought of potentially working in a place with such a lack of diversity. 

I decided to seek out opportunities where I could meet more women in tech, and also more Black people in tech. When I began my search, I found many organisations that were created so that these groups of people could have a space where they could connect. It was a relief and inspiring to finally see people who look like me, in the roles that I was pursuing.

I believe that many people under estimate the power of representation. Many young Black students grow up not seeing people who look like them in certain roles, or higher positions. This is disheartening, and as a result, many students may believe that there isn’t a place for them in those professions, which is the farthest thing from the truth. During my journey into the tech industry, many of the people I met were white men and women; I rarely saw anyone who looked like me. However, this didn’t deter me; it motivated me even more to become the role model that I would like to see.

code on a laptop

My Current Work

I am currently a technology graduate, working in cybersecurity at a large bank. I thoroughly enjoy what I do and the various roles I have been able to experience during the first year of my graduate scheme. Cybersecurity is a huge area, I am constantly learning new things, and I love it. This, however, is another area which needs to be more diversified in both gender and race.

Being a Black woman in the corporate world, there were many questions that went through my head. Whether or not I am being seen or used as the “token Black person”? Can I do my hair in certain ways without it being the topic of conversation? I don’t want to come across as a stereotypical ‘angry Black woman’. What do I do if someone says something that doesn’t sit right with me? 

I am fortunate enough to have not faced any discrimination regarding race or gender during my year at work. I have always been supported by those around me and they have pushed me to do and be better. I have had the opportunity to get involved with initiatives which aim to encourage Black students to consider a career in tech, and I have also had the privilege of hosting my own outreach project that aims to empower year 12 students from a Black and Asian heritage. I believe that events like these are important, because until you are in a room (or virtual room) with people who look like you, hearing about their experiences, struggles they may have faced and how they overcome them, you may never consider taking that step, purely because you have no insight into what that could look like for you. My goal is to use my platform to share my journey and help others who were in similar positions to me. I want to support and empower the future generation, to ensure that when they walk into a room, they can see many others who look like them.

Tips to Break Into Tech

Tips for someone looking to get into tech:

1 – Network with a purpose! LinkedIn is a great place to find people who are in roles you may pursue, make sure you state why you wish to connect. There are also many organisations that are targeted at Black individuals looking to get into tech. There are also ones that are for women and Black women specifically who are interested in the tech industry or who are already working in tech. I found this beneficial because I was able to meet other women who were in the same position as me, or people who were further along in their career. Hearing about their experiences and getting advice on how to navigate my career was invaluable. Specific organisations that helped me: Witty Careers, CodeFirstGirls, Bright Network – Women in Tech event, TargetJobs – IT’s Not Just for the Boys event, Coding Black Females, Rails Girls London and WeAreTechWomen.

2 – Find a mentor! A mentor is very important as they can help you with mapping out your career path. They can also help in terms of personal development. I found a mentor during my gap year after university; she helped me immensely when it came to building my personal brand as well as putting me in touch with various people in the tech industry.

3 – Be resilient and believe in yourself! The route to success is not a straight road; you will face many trials on your journey. You will learn how to navigate through challenging times and how to deal with failure. Failing can be vital in appreciating the true value of success; it is not that you have failed that is significant, it is that you have made an attempt at success and you are closer than you were before you attempted. Finally, make sure you are confident in yourself and your abilities, do not allow people to put you into a box, you can do whatever you put your mind to, and you will not be stopped! You deserve it just as much as anybody else.

Despite the stats I shared with you above, starting a career in technology was the right decision for me, and I hope I can encourage others to break into tech and increase those numbers!

Views expressed in guest posts are solely those of the writer and do not represent the thoughts, opinions or views of any other mentioned third parties, including employers or colleagues.


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