Black Girls Code Founder Kimberly Bryant On Racism And Implicit Bias

Founded in 2011, Black Girls Code is on a mission to change the face of technology by introducing girls from underrepresented communities to coding. Black Girls Code does this through a series of workshops, hackathons and summer camps.

“When we look at tech companies, they really at this point in time don’t reflect the demographics of the U.S. or the world in general and the people that are using those products,” Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant said. “So, it would be important to them to continue being successful companies and really meet the needs of their consumers to bring more people inside the company instead of just focusing on utilizing them as consumers.”

There are several studies that have shown diverse teams to be more effective. One is McKinsey’s 2015 report, which shows ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to financially outperform companies that are not diverse. Despite McKinsey’s study and others, many tech companies do not have ethnically diverse companies. Although there seems to be some intentionality around embracing diversity at tech companies, Bryant says, there haven’t been any real results. I asked Bryant if she felt like racism and sexism have any role in this.

“Absolutely,” Bryant said. “I think that we’re fighting several things. Two things here. We’re fighting really systemic racism that’s been built into the fabric of not just these companies, but our nation in general. I think even more predominant is this notion of implicit bias that is one of the leading factors in prohibiting the tech industry from becoming more diverse.”

In order to combat some of this, tech companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, Asana, Square and Pinterest have brought on board heads of diversity and started implementing unconscious bias trainings.

“I think it will absolutely be helpful,” Bryant said. “I feel that it’s both conscious and unconscious,” Bryant said. “So I don’t think it’s something that we should be ashamed of admitting — that we have these unconscious biases. But I think the trainings will help us to kind of address ‘how do we overcome them?’ and the decisions we make everyday and the perceptions that we have of our coworkers, our peers, etcetera and to allow us to be better at being able to focus on driving diversity in the company.”

The other thing with corporate diversity programs, though, is that they often times tend to prioritize one group of people, white women.

“I don’t think that the trickle down theory of diversity ever really works. For me, if a company is really committed to diversity, that means everything. That means gender diversity, that means sexual orientation for me, that means race, ethnicity. Everything should have a plan of focus at the same time — not one above the other. I mean, how do you prioritize that? I’m a woman but I’m a woman of color so for me, a company saying ‘we’re only going to focus on raising women in these positions’ is problematic because I also come to the table as a woman who is African-American.”

This is part one of a five-part series. Come back tomorrow to check out an interview with Slack engineer Erica Baker.