Google Designer Says Gender Disparity is An Issue In Tech Field

Supporting Women of Color In Tech Through Mentorship and Community

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For Sharae Gibbs, it didn’t take long working in STEM to realize that she was one of the only Black women in the spaces she was in. Gibbs has over ten years of experience in the tech field and currently works as an Interaction Designer at Google. “I ended up moving to the Bay area, which is like the tech hub. When I was working there, I was always the only Black person or Black woman.”

It’s well known that STEM continues to be a male-dominated field. Even before women enter jobs in STEM or tech, they face challenges in higher education. Women make up only one-fourth of tech graduates and are underrepresented in STEM courses. After entering the workforce, women continue to be underestimated, making an average of 74% of what male counterparts make. However, there are further disparities within the field. Black and Hispanic women experience the largest pay gap in STEM jobs.

“I just noticed that there was such a disparity in terms of who was being employed, who was being hired, and who was coming in to interview,” Gibbs shares.

Mentorship Programs to help Pivot Careers

Her first-hand experiences with discrimination and disparities in the tech world led Sharae to found SheDesigns. SheDesigns provides mentorship and courses for women of color wanting to enter the tech field. At an accessible price, women who enroll have the opportunity to learn from Sharae and other women of color, work with a cohort of women who look like them, and be paired with a mentor to help guide them on their journey.

Tisha Woods learned about SheDesigns in 2021 when she was looking to transition from teaching into a new career. She is now a Design Program Manager at Lyft. “[I knew] I love technology and I love design. What else could I do with that?” Woods reflects. After looking into user experience careers in design, Woods was still looking for additional insight. “I thought, okay, this is a really good overview but I need to know about it from a Black woman’s perspective or someone who I could relate to.”

At SheDesigns, there is a large focus on expanding technical skill sets and building relationships. As a part of the program, participants are paired with a mentor who can give advice, answer questions, and provide support that students can utilize as they continue in their career. “We encourage our mentor to stay in contact with the student after the program,” Sharae explains.

She goes on to elaborate that building this relationship requires communication and effort from both the mentor and mentee. Sharae explains that for mentees, “it’s [a mindset of] as I continue my journey and my career, I want to be able to reach out to you continuously. So that also gives me the responsibility as the mentee to be giving and nurturing of that relationship.”

Women Paving the Way
Women Paving the Way

Learning to Network, Interact and Learn from Peers

Mentors aren’t the only people who participants develop relationships with throughout the program. For Woods, the cohort of other students who she worked with during the program have become close friends. She shares that one of the most powerful parts of the program was getting to interact and learn from peers. “The cohort that I was in had several Black women and women of color in there so it was really inspiring to see all that knowledge and culture in one place, all going towards the same goal.” Woods and her cohort members are still in contact today and she’s even attended one of their weddings.

It’s important to understand that many skills people may not associate with tech are actually very applicable in tech fields. “A lot of the time we see that our students have a lot of skills,” Gibbs explains. “They might just come from a teaching background, they might be experienced as a writer.” She asserts that teaching people about technical skills is a crucial part of changing the makeup of STEM fields and encouraging more women of color to enter the industry. “For us to improve the diversity in tech, we need to ensure that we’re equipping people of color with those skills and helping with any sort of gaps.”

As a former educator, Woods was able to build her skillset to reflect technical and design knowledge through the opportunities at SheDesigns. “When I am sharing my thoughts, I can articulate them and use design language and design thinking when contributing that,” she states. She also articulates how beneficial it was to her to learn from Sharae and other women of color. “I got to learn from them how to navigate some tricky situations and how they experience it. To hear it from women and people of color who experience it on a day-to-day was really cool,”

For both Gibbs and Woods, the mentorship and community at SheDesigns have carried into their work and everyday lives. Being a woman of color in STEM can be challenging and lead to imposter syndrome, or feeling like you’re not doing good enough. However, community can help combat these feelings. “Community is a feeling of belonging. For me, community has meant if I ever am unsure…I have a space to go to and people to connect with and reach out to,” Gibbs voices.

In Male-dominated fields Women Support One Another

Woods adds that in a male-dominated field, it’s important for women to support each other. “Given the industry climate…where men are still dominating the industry, it’s really good to lean on people who share a similar lived experience to help you navigate the tricky stuff.”

The STEM field continues to lack diversity. Only 28% of math and computer jobs are held by women and even less in the engineering industry. That being said, with programs like SheDesigns, a change is coming. As for what they would share to young women interested in STEM, both Gibbs and Woods have some advice.

“Find your people and nurture those relationships. Learn from them as much as possible,” Woods voices. She also reminds young people that there are free design tools and resources available, so “take the time to explore them.” Woods is now joining SheDesigns as a mentor and looks forward to helping students build relationships and find community like she did during the program.

Gibbs’ word of advice: don’t hesitate to pursue a career in tech. “Go for it!” she exclaims. She also reminds people that even if you don’t have a degree in tech, you don’t necessarily need one. “I think one thing that’s important to communicate is that when it comes to tech, certain degrees are not needed for you to be hired and so, the more skills you can develop will only make you so much more marketable.”

Hailey Dickinson (she/her) is a creator passionate about using writing and digital platforms to build community, make connections, and ignite positive social change. She is a Communications Major with a social media emphasis at the University of Minnesota and will graduate in December 2023.

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