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SUPER HARBOR | November 2017

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Making a Unicorn More Common- Black Women in STEM

young black girls in STEM
Fikriyyah George

Job and wealth opportunities have opened up in Brooklyn with the advent of technology. How well that wealth has been spread across the borough’s diverse demographic is another matter. Lack of diversity within the tech nationally has been a sore spot for a number of years: “Within the technology workforce, 25% of CS professionals are female, while just 4% of these professionals are African American (3%) or Latina (1%),” according to a study in diversity.

While women of color working in the field are not as visible their presence has been rising. To make sure that tide keeps doing so the non-profit organization Black Girls Code in conjunction with YWCA of Brooklyn hosted the Women of Color in STEM panel yesterday where 11 women of color in the various STEM fields spoke to their younger counterparts what it takes to make it in the field.

Featured speakers Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams made a rousing speech followed by equally impressive missives by Councilwoman and MoCADA founder Laurie Cumbo, and Black Enterprises’ Janell Hazelwood.

For two hours doctors, entrepreneurs, technologists, and engineers spoke about their experiences making it in their chosen field such as getting informational interviews, and advocating for one’s education in the midst of non-supportive teachers or professors.

Many of the women revealed how they struggled with attaining high grades in math at times, but persevered in order to get to their current positions.

Perseverance was an occurring theme as speakers on the panel elaborated on what it meant to be a “double minority”-a woman and of color- in a field dominated by mainly white men and how to cope.

An informal survey revealed that many of the young girls and their accompanying guardians were from the neighborhoods of East New York, Canarsie and Bed-Stuy.

While many of the older children listened to the panel some were in the back working on projects using the coding program Blockly or jeliku, a puzzle piece meets Legos, provided by Google one of the organization’s sponsors.

The event brought out women such as Tanisha Hall. Originally wait-listed she traveled from the Upper West Side to bring her 8-year-old daughter Amira Archibald who’s already taking two after-school classes in web design and creative coding.

“You know what? It’s one Saturday let’s make the trek to Brooklyn,” she said of her decision to come anyway. “She needed to hear this so I’m happy.”

I appreciated “how they talked about how you should never let your grades take you down,” said McKenzie Clarke from P.S. 115. The 9-year-old and two other girls were accompanied by a friend’s mother Nadine Beckles. Ms. Beckles related that she often takes on her friend’s children for outings. “We just carpool them on. It’s about a village. It takes a village.”

“I’m a strong advocate for empowering young girls. It’s a struggle out there. Your voice has to be a little bit louder, a little bit stronger. To not be afraid is the biggest thing.”

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