Convention Works To Encourage Extra Black Women In Tech

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With school barely in the rearview mirror, dozens of girls in Louisville spent a week in June learning science and technology skills.

Alisia McClain turned the city’s expansive Center for African American Heritage into an incubater for creativity.

“What would I have needed in eighth, ninth, or 10th grade to feel like I was welcome in this field?” she said on Friday as she looked over the tables of bustling conversation. “I would imagine that most of these young women have not ever been to a conference, much less a tech conference, much less a tech conference for young women.”

Science and technology skills have long been coveted in 21st century education. But beyond the knowledge these girls acquired over the week, the students themselves are vital to how McClain – who earned a PhD from the University of Louisville, works for Microsoft, and founded her own company – wants her industry to change.

“Black women have seen a decline in participation in computer science,” she said. “That was intriguing to me, hopefully for obvious reasons; I identify as a Black woman.”

In 2016, the National Science Foundation reported Black women made up 3% of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences. 

At the conference, we sat down with a group of four freshmen who attend three different Louisville schools but became fast friends over the course of the week. They will worry about glass ceilings later. For the time being, they were busy at work designing an app to tackle another problem.

“Our app is gonna be for teens that have mental illnesses or mental issues,” Kayla Neeley said confidently. “Like, if you never have anybody to talk to our app is so that you can be able to talk to other teens.”

While deep in their web design, the significance of Black representation was not lost on them.

“I think it’s awesome that people of color can do stuff like this,” Jershyda Wright said.

“Yeah, and not feel bad or feel weird about doing it,” Neeley added. “They’re able to express themselves in many different ways here at this program.”

Whatever these young women choose to do in life, McClain said just being there, learning together, was already a success.

“If they walk out of this conference feeling like they have a place in technology, even if they decide to go into music, then we will have succeeded,” she smiled.

Leave a Comment