Black Girls CODE Fosters Diversity in Tech

Black Girls CODE fosters diversity in tech by introducing young girls of color to computer programming, electrical engineering, and other STEM fields.

Building Technology Equity from the Ground Up

While on the surface, a career in engineering or computer programming might seem universally attainable to anyone interested, there are historic barriers for people of color in tech. It starts as early as grade school: Girls often are not encouraged to pursue STEM studies. Many schools suffer from lack of technological resources, including equipment and pedagogical knowledge. These hurdles are even more prevalent in certain socioeconomic areas. Their presence doesn’t mean that a career in tech is impossible for women of color, but that the barrier for entry is often higher. 


It's something that Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls CODE, saw the effects of when she studied electrical engineering at Vanderbilt in the 80s. The problem is, she realized things weren’t much better for people of color in technology (also known as poc in tech) when her daughter, Kai, started studying technology decades later. When Kai attended a tech computer game design summer program at Stanford, the lack of diversity felt too familiar for Bryant: “[The class] was well done in terms of how they approached teaching the skillset to these young learners, but there was very little diversity in the room,” she explains. Out of roughly 30 students, approximately five were girls. Kai was the only Black student in the room. “I realized that, here we were several generations separated, and my daughter’s classroom looked just like my freshman college classroom, when I was one of maybe two or three women engineers. That didn’t sit well with me,” Bryant adds. 


Building More Diversity in Tech


The experience gave her a push to found Black Girls CODE, a San Francisco based nonprofit that introduces young girls of color to computer programming, electrical engineering, mobile app development, robotics, and other STEM fields. Active in more than ten US cities as well as South Africa, it empowers girls worldwide and strives for technology equity. As the self-proclaimed “Girl Scouts of Technology,” the program offers educational events to girls of color from ages 6 to 17 that can help them become innovators in STEM fields and have agency in their own future through exposure to computer science and technology. 


Both Bryant’s and her daughter’s experience of the lack of diversity in computer science fuels her passion for the organization. “I knew that it was a very lonely journey to be in such a male-dominated industry, and I was really concerned about Kai being able to stick with it and feel welcome and accepted in the classroom,” she says. The first Black Girls CODE pilot program started in 2011, and the organized has flourished since. “It became much more of a movement than a mother’s concerned outreach for her daughter,” Bryant shares. 


Programs like this are essential for supporting diversity in tech. Bryant has witnessed elitism in higher education as a barrier for future careers in the industry. “I would say there is certainly a bit of elitism in computer science,” she explains. “Until very recently, higher educational institutions had what I consider an outdated approach to how computer science is taught, which was used—in my opinion and the opinion of many others—to weed students out.” 


Creating Foundational STEM Education


Bringing educational resources such as Black Girls CODE events to young students gives them a hands-on learning approach that will serve them well if they continue to study computer science or engineering in college. Tackling the education aspect first reduces many barriers young women of color face in STEM. It sets them up for success in a field where anyone can be successful with the right tools. “There’s just so much that you can teach and learn in computer science that I think, as a field, there is an opportunity for everyone that has a specialization,” Bryant shares. “There is space for everyone once we get through that first hurdle and get more people in the pipeline to find where they fit and what resonates with them,” she adds. 


Although the program opens doors for girls of color to pursue STEM education, Black Girls CODE does far more than foster diversity in tech. “You see an immediate surge in their self-confidence, and it gets right to the heart of the empowerment that computer science is able to give,” Bryant shares. And empowerment is a beautiful thing. 


Hear more from Kimberly Bryant in her conversation with NI's Eli Kerry, Chief Offering Manager for Electric Vehicles, on the latest edition of NI's Testing 1, 2, 3 podcast.

For more insights, listen to other episodes from season 2 of our Testing, 1, 2, 3 podcast. This engineering podcast connects you to tech leaders discussing how test plays a pivotal role in solving society's biggest challenges—now and in the future.


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