Closing the Gender and Diversity Gap in Tech: A Conversation with Shireen Mitchell #BlackSTEMLikeMe
Shireen Mitchell is an American entrepreneur, author, technology analyst and diversity strategist. She founded Digital Sisters/Sistas, Inc and Stop Online Violence Against Women. We had the opportunity to chat with her about the tech gender gap and racial divide.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE A CAREER IN STEM? Good question. I don’t know that I chose STEM. I was gifted with my abilities and a curiosity at a time when people were saying to me "What are you doing?" They were questioning how I knew what I knew and why things came so easy to me. I was a sick kid, so I wanted to become a doctor. Being terrorized by a medical professional, I wanted to make sure other doctors wouldn’t terrorize young kids like myself. The natural state for me was very analytical and technological. So, I started out with video games. Then I started hacking.
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A GIRL IN TECH? The concept of a girl in tech was far and few between in the 80s. But it was the highest point when women started entering the tech field. Research shows that women made up 36% of the tech fields during that time. Now, in 2017, we are down to 22 - 30% women. That's not even counting black women and girls.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE WORKING IN TECH? The biggest challenge is in hiring practices and policies. That is where the pipeline breaks. It’s the "I don’t see gender" and "I don’t see color" mentality that is the break in the pipeline. For women of color, both those things are consistent. We are having these conversations about Hidden Figures. What we did during that time was remove those women from the timeline, and we started to believe what was presented to us instead of the data and what the leaders in tech were saying. It was a false narrative, and it still is. It’s an illusion that women and women of color, in particular, don’t have the ability to be leaders in tech. A white 20-something dropout being considered an ideal leader in the tech industry is a completely false narrative. When we talk about Hidden Figures, we know who had the intelligence. We also know who has been removed from the storyline to allow the false narrative to populate.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER BLACKS WHO WANT TO GET INVOLVED IN STEM? They need to know they have the capacity. Learning STEM is the easy part. The part that we haven’t handled is the social part and the bias it perpetuates. I would also tell them not to let anyone tell you that you don’t know what you know. Don’t let anyone deter you from building your base in tech. Create a space for yourself. Use a model that only you have, and you can change the industry by who you are.
What challenges have you overcome in your STEM Career? Share them with us. We want to hear from you.
Photo Credit: BlogHer15