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Why IT leaders need to take notice of black women in tech

Black women make up just 0.7% of the UK's IT workforce. This lack of diversity is harming employers.

Charlene Hunter is founder of Coding Black Females, a non-profit organisation that promotes black women in tech. She writes for Tech Monitor as part of BCS president Rebecca George’s guest editorship

IT leaders in the UK are missing out on a range of untapped talent in the black community, especially when it comes to black women. Women employed in IT currently make up 20% of the total workforce – but for black women, that figure is a mere 0.7%, according to analysis by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT 

My main reason for setting up Coding Black Females in 2017 comes after spending over ten years working as a software developer and realising that black women were heavily underrepresented in techI wanted to change that. To me, it is vital that black women can identify role models, see familiar faces within the industry and have access to great opportunities.  

Charlene Hunter, founder, Coding Black Females. (Photo by Coding Black Females).

What it boils down to is this: I am extremely passionate about getting more black women into tech and showcasing their skills and talents. But it also needs the tech industry to change and there must be the will to make the workplace more inclusive and fairer by design.   

This goes beyond doing the right thing – businesses ignore diversity at their peril. Not only are they missing out on a wide pool of talented and skilled workforce, but they are also driving away a broad customer base and that will affect their bottom line and the financial viability of their businessesHere are a few reasons why diversity makes sense 

  • Diversity increases the financial viability of businesses as found by McKinsey (2015). With ethnic and gender diversity correlating with better financial performance.
  • Diversity enhances innovation and competitiveness, according to studies by Forbes and Harvard Business Review. Employees from diverse backgrounds have different perspectives and this increases the likelihood of the businesses opening up of new markets.
  • Customers are more likely to buy from businesses with employees from diverse backgrounds because they are better able to ‘understand and meet’ their unique needs and requirements.  Diversity improves a business’s brand image, shows they are ‘forward-thinking and customer focused.
  • The engagement of employees also increases with a diverse and inclusive workforceA positive and happy environment fosters inclusion of employees from different backgrounds and this leads to increased productivity, not just among people from minority backgrounds but the entire workforce.
  • Businesses with a diverse workforce find it easier to hire and retain the best talent. According to Glassdoor (2014) 67of job seekers prefer to work with employers that have a diverse workforce. 

My own interest in tech started early after I became involved in my father’s companySAM Software. I went on to complete a BSc in Mathematical Sciences, a MSc in Computer Science and then landed my first job on a graduate scheme for BAE Systems. I spent five years in consultancy, then moved into contracting for a range of technologies and industries before becoming a lead software engineer at Made Tech, a public sector technology company. 

I am also the co-founder of Meet Up and Code, a community that brings developers to network and code together, and co-organiser of Black Devs London, a community to increase the representation of black people in the tech industry. Due to my work to encourage diversity and opportunities in the tech industry, I have been recognised as one of Tech Nation’s 50 inspiring Black voices in UK tech, one of Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Women in UK Tech, and a Computer Weekly Women in Tech Rising Star. 

Coding Black Females is the largest community of black women in tech in the UK and is growing globally. Its mission is to grow the community of black women in software development and technical roles, from entry to executive level, to diversify the tech sector and remove barriers to enter and progress within the industry. A mission that is being achieved through:  

  • Building and showcasing the talent of black women within our community and enhancing the visibility of our role models. 
  • Providing opportunities for the women in our community to learn and share their skills through regular events, workshops and training programmes. 
  • Supporting the women in our community through mentoring, and providing a safe space for discussions and development.
  • Ensuring black women are aware of the different routes to enter and progress within the tech industry.
  • Working with employers to take advantage of the pool of untapped talent within the black community, and particularly black women.

We are extremely passionate about working with a variety of companies to bring about change in ways that ensure they start taking advantage of the available pool of talent of black women in tech, and we have a range of initiatives and programs in place to diversify the sector. Our corporate partners share job opportunities directly with the community, while collaborating to provide training opportunities and enable us to provide university scholarships. 

Earlier this year, we partnered with Niyo Enterprise, a social enterprise set up to economically empower black women, to create the Black Codher coding bootcamp aimed at black women. This 30week bootcamp is fully funded by the West Midlands Combined Authority and will allow 50 black women to develop the skills to be full stack developers while supporting them with mentorship, childcare and laptops. We are working with a range of corporate partners to ensure there is a range of employment paths for the women being trained.  

We have recently partnered with BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, to provide 50 membership bursaries. This will ensure that the BCS can have more influence from black women, while removing barriers to the success of black women in software and technology careers.  

A diverse workforce, and for black women in tech, in particular, is about developing a talent pool that meets the needs of both its workers and the businesses, today and for the next generation.  All it needs is for businesses to get on board.

Charlene has been a software developer for over 10 years in a range of languages and technologies.