The Case for Inclusion: Black Women and Girls in Computing

The Research Coalition for Black Women & Girls in Computing

Black women are a segment of the population that is one of the least represented in computing, and increasing their representation is further challenged by the lack of positive messages in media that celebrate their contributions to technology.  In an effort to combat this lack of awareness, it is important to amplify the voice of a thriving community of black women in computing and technologists and inspire black girls to pursue their interests in computer science.  The Research Coalition for Black Women & Girls in Computing provides a platform for supporting the community of black women and girls through education and professional development.  We outline the most salient opportunities for impact: societal, media, and community.

Societal Impacts.  Black women have contributed to the field of computing from academia, industry, government, and non-profit sectors, and while their numbers are small, there are more of these professionals than is expected.  Incorporating positive images of black women in computing across various media can dramatically increase societal – and by extension, young black girls’ – awareness of their contributions.  There is also a tremendous opportunity to recognize black women computing professionals as multifaceted, recognizing the obstacles they have overcome along the way.  This intersectional approach of seeing black women computer scientists as socially conscious and having different educational and personal experiences provide a more complete picture for all to see, and is critical for sustainability of effort and support[i].

Media Impacts.  There are many reasons to connect with media outlets to celebrate black women and girls in computing.  One such reason is the incredible amount of revenue and influence generated by blacks, especially in entertainment and media[ii].  As of 2013, 53% of black Americans are 35 or younger, and blacks also watch 37% percent more TV (from primetime to sports broadcasts) than any other group.  Black Americans, more generally, are also major consumers of digital media (e.g., Google registering as the #1 search engine), and much of this content is accessed by the 71% of black consumers who own smartphones.  Further, adult black women make up over half of the black employment population (54%), and connecting with them to expose and increase awareness in computing has the potential to produce amazing impact.

Community Impacts.  To innovate, we must bring the broadest perspectives to bear on our most difficult technical challenges.  This effort is also bolstered by collaborative efforts with other organizations with similar goals of inclusive and excellence.  Our three, main goals for the Research Coalition of Black Women & Girls in Computing for the larger computing community are as follows:

  • To provide education and professional development,
  • To connect with other communities and platforms – education, media, entertainment, technology, among others – the amplify our efforts in supporting black women and girls; and
  • To share narratives which portray black women and girls as exciting, innovative, and multi-faceted.

[i] Burge, J. D., Thomas, J. O., & Yamaguchi, R.  2016.  Computing and Intersectionality: The Social and Behavioral Structures at Play for Black Women in the Computing Sciences, Final Workshop Report.

[ii] Nielsen and the National Newspaper Publishers Association (2013).  Resilient, Receptive, and Relevant: The African American Consumer Report.  NY, NY:  The Nielsen Company.