Only 3 percent of computing jobs in the United States were done by African-American women in 2016
By Lee Mannion
LONDON, March 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When 13-year-old Rebecca Taylor attended her first Black Girls Code session in California in 2013, it was a revelation.
She had not known any other girls who loved playing computer games as much as
"That was really awesome because I finally felt, 'It's not only me'," Taylor told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Black Girls Code was set up by Kimberley Bryant, an electrical engineer, in 2011 to give African-American girls between the ages of seven and 17 weekend and summer classes in computer programming, app development
Bryant, who was
Only 3 percent of computing jobs in the United States were done by African-American women in 2016, despite accounting for about 7 percent of the population, government data shows.
The charity aims to teach 1 million black girls to code by 2040.
"I think of myself as a social activist educator who is addressing the social inequities by way of computer education," she said by phone from California.
"Our goal is to empower this community to go into those jobs that will have a strong financial impact on the future success of their families."
The U.S. government predicts software developer jobs - which earn an average salary of more than $100,000 - will increase 24 percent by 2026, much faster than most other occupations.
Bryant hopes to address some of the historic disadvantages suffered by black women, who have higher rates of poverty and unemployment and lower earnings than white women, according to the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank.
Only 2 percent of African American women are represented in science, technology, engineering
ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM
When Bryant studied for a degree in electrical engineering in the 1990s, there were few other female students. It got worse when she moved into information technology, she said.
"I was used to being one of just a handful of women but I wasn't used to being the only woman in the room, which is actually what it looked like on the computer science side," she said.
Silicon Valley tech companies started releasing workforce diversity figures in 2014. But progress has been slow, underscoring the challenge of transforming cultures that critics say are too homogenous, white and male-dominated.
Google's percentage of African American employees in the United States did not move at all in 2015 from 2014, remaining at 2 percent, despite initiatives such as using work time to teach at historically black colleges and universities.
Women made up 31 percent of Google's overall workforce in 2015, up 1 percent from 2014. Figures for the number of black female employees were not available.
Facebook reported in mid-2017 that its black U.S. workforce had increased to 3 percent from 2 percent in one
"We're not interested in diversity for diversity's sake," Facebook's diversity director Maxine Williams said in a phone interview.
"We are interested in it because we understand how it helps us make better decisions, build better products."
Black Girls Code classes engage pupils by letting them loose on whatever excites them - building a fashion website, solving a robotics problem or addressing a community issue.
Thousands of girls have attended, either paying $35 per day or attending for free if they are eligible.
Three-quarters of Bryant's funding comes from
Bryant sees a clear business case for diversity.
"If companies want to survive and stay relevant they must have a diverse staff that is connected in a cultural way to the communities they are trying to reach and are trying to sell to as customers," she said.
Five years after taking part in Black Girls Code, 18-year-old Taylor is in her first year of a computer science degree at California State University and is focused on a career programming computer games.
"Before that first session, I didn't know what I wanted to do when I grew up. It completely changed who I was," she said.
(Reporting by Lee Mannion @leemannion, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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