Kimberly Bryant

 

How Black Girls Code is Bridging the Digital Divide

Kimberly Bryant: 2019 SXSW Interactive Hall of Fame honoree

In 2020, a projected 1.4 million computing jobs will become available in the United States. Kimberly Bryant, Founder and CEO of Black Girls Code, is training the next generation of women of color to take advantage of these growing opportunities and enter this burgeoning industry.

Through its coding programs and emphasis on STEM education and entrepreneurial concepts, Black Girls Code is making a real impact on the next generation of tech innovators, specifically young girls from African-American communities. The Bryant-led non-profit organization has set a goal of having one million girls from around the world participate in its program by 2040.

“Culture is important, and that is how we will win at technology here in the U.S.”

As a bold visionary and purveyor of female empowerment through Black Girls Code, Bryant is the 2019 inductee into the SXSW Interactive Hall of Fame. This award recognizes pioneers within the interactive community whose career achievements have charted the course for the digital industry’s future.

In 2011, after a professional career spanning over 20 years in technical leadership roles in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, Bryant shifted her focus from Fortune 50 companies to equipping young girls with the tools to develop their own futures and forge a new tech generation. In eight years, Black Girls Code has since grown from its grassroots start into an internationally acclaimed non-profit.

Photo courtesy of Black Girls Code

Photo courtesy of Black Girls Code

 

Reaching as many as 14 chapters across the U.S. and recently laying its first global stone in Johannesburg, South Africa, Black Girls Code expects exponential growth as it gears up to meet its 2040 goal with hopes for local chapters around the world. Using a long-term model, Black Girls Code aims to keep girls engaged in its program throughout their schooling years — from early education through high school — by cultivating a supportive learning environment that champions curiosity, imagination and a passion for technology.

After eight years of encouraging girls of color to enter the tech field, Bryant is now witnessing the perpetuation of her organization as its participants enter college. Even so, as Black Girls Code alumni prepare to set the standards for future generations, they still must bypass societal factors that can clog the tech pipeline.

“We’re doing something wrong in technology education in the U.S., because when we are engaging kids in it or inviting people to the table, we are trying to erase culture rather than embrace it,” said Bryant during her 2018 SXSW session “Minority Report: Engaging Kids of Color in Tech.”

Bryant also explained that she was the only woman in her electrical engineering freshman class: “Four years — that is lonely, and it takes a lot to make it through and persist. And to say that we are still there 20 or 30 years later means we have to do something different.”

She also has equated future college efforts to find star computer science students to be like those of athletics: “If you want a diverse community … you need to recruit.” Bryant discusses enrichment opportunities, which are specifically focused and engaged in cultural relevance, through which colleges can start early partnerships with youth programs in which kids can display an aptitude for tech. By funneling talent into collegiate communities where they are not going to be alone, students can have the support they need to succeed and take the next step to get into the industry.

Kathryn Finney, Bret Perkins, and Kimberly Bryant 2017 panel, Inclusion and the Digital Neighborhood. Photo by Luis Bustos

Kathryn Finney, Bret Perkins, and Kimberly Bryant 2017 panel, Inclusion and the Digital Neighborhood. Photo by Luis Bustos

 

“It is really important that colleges create the tech pipeline that they want to see,” said Bryant. “We need to see colleges create that pipeline early, before a kid — especially a black or brown kid — is a high school senior.”

Bryant’s 2019 SXSW Featured Session, “Behind the Click: Securing the Future for Black Women and Girls in Tech,” will continue the intersectional narrative of tech inclusion with appropriate timing since it falls on International Women’s Day (March 8).

The 2019 theme for International Women’s Day is “Balance for Better” — calling for a more gender-balanced world. That balance has many interlocking facets when it comes to observing the common players in the tech industry. While gender representation within the industry is challenged as more women enter computer science careers, there are still great disparities between men and women in these fields, and notably women of color. Bryant commented on the issue of underrepresentation further during her 2018 session stating, “If we look at the number of computer-related jobs that are going to be created over the next 10 years, and how many engineers that we’re graduating that can fill those jobs … we are lagging.”

Alongside her organization Black Girls Code, Bryant is taking large strides to bridge the digital divide through equal representation and an emphasis on culture. “Culture is important, and that is how we will win at technology here in the U.S. It’s something we need to embrace rather than erase.”

“Behind the Click: Securing the Future for Black Women and Girls in Tech,” is a Featured Session in the Entrepreneurship & Startups Track. Kimberly Bryant will be inducted into the SXSW Interactive Hall of Fame during the Interactive Innovation Awards Ceremony on Monday, March 11.

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