Breaking Black women into Tech.
A diverse workplace whereby inclusion is at its core means there is more access to different points of view, skill sets, creative visions, approaches, and experiences which translates to tech companies producing more innovative products and services for users and clients.
Tech companies are starting to realize that hiring women and underrepresented minorities have benefits that reach beyond a socially appropriate PR effort and because technology by itself is not biased, it reflects society, and in creating technology that would be making decisions for us in the future (AI), diversity and representation is extremely important.
It’s also been proven that diverse teams, particularly in the tech space, work better. A study of gender diversity on technical work teams found that diverse teams adhere to project schedules better, have lower project costs, and Individual employees have higher performance ratings. Frankly, the upsides are endless.
According to Statistics Canada, women make up 50.4% of the total population, but research has shown that women are only 20% of the Tech workforce. How many of these are black women?
Existing Canadian research on diversity within tech primarily looks at gender and often overlooks race, the numbers hardly exist which uncovers a larger problem. Black women accounted for 3% of the tech industry in the US and estimated to be about 1% in Canada.
This begs the question Why? Why are the numbers so low? We determined that education was not a barrier, seeing as Research shows 7 in 10 Black adults have a post-secondary diploma. Could this problem result from lack of access, the recruitment process, or lack of awareness?
Our customer research was able to provide us with insights into the factors that may be responsible for the low numbers.
User pain point + feedback
During our user research, we interviewed two groups of users. Some were women who made up the 1% already in Tech jobs, and other Black women you were trying to land similar jobs. Both sides had differing perspectives that we came to realize were two sides of the same coin. For the job seekers, we found that part of the problem is, these women do not know what jobs/opportunities exist in tech besides the traditional roles, and these positions are often filled from an existing pool of non-diverse talents.
On the other hand, when they apply to these positions, they lack advocates to speak for them and level the playing field so they can be given a chance to prove their worth. This has led them to believe that tech companies are hostile to people that look like them.
A few quotes from the women we interviewed are:
“When you don’t see yourself represented in an industry, you do not see it as somewhere you can thrive or excel in”
“I am tired of being the ONLY in the room, I would like to have more people that look like me in the organizations where I work.”
“1%? That is very low, what can I do to help bring that number up?”
Landing on the solution
To effectively cut scope because we had only six (6) weeks to build a solution, considering our resources and other constraints, we decided to focus our solution on a platform that would immediately provide value based on our goal, which is to get more Black women into Tech jobs.
This was our overarching goal, and to do this our MVP is centered on bringing both sides of the equation to the same playing field. Our product is built to connect Hiring managers and Recruiters who are serious about equity and diversifying their workforce directly to Black female talent.
For our MVP, our user groups are divided into 2 categories. The first set of users are anyone with Hiring power or someone with knowledge of job openings at companies they work at. The second set of users are qualified Black women looking to land jobs in tech.
Our solution provides hiring managers with a space to post opportunities available in their organizations and enables Black women apply to jobs from companies actively seeking underrepresented & diverse talent.
With just two (2) weeks to Demo day, our team developer dropped out to attend to a personal family emergency, and we were faced with two options - stop building, or pivot quickly.
We chose to show our resilience and pivot by using a no-code solution to build our web-based platform. We built this with Webflow.
On next steps for Project Unicorn, we would like to connect the 1% of Black women already in Tech with those who are searching for jobs on our platform. It’s one thing to get into the job and it’s another thing to progress in your career. Through Project Unicorn, we are creating a platform for these women to get jobs and also be connected to someone to guide them, advocate for them, speak up for them when their voice cannot be heard, and push them to keep rising.
We hope that once that individual gets to a successful position, they can in turn pay it forward and guide someone else who’s in the position they were once before. We hope to create and foster this continuous culture of advocacy and a cycle of mentorship and sponsorship.
Co.Lab was a very interesting experience for me, I came into this looking to get hands-on experience in being a team’s product manager, and building and shipping my own product, but l can honestly say I did not know what exactly to expect. I am immensely grateful for the mentorship and guidance of my team mentor (Laide), and my discipline mentor (David). No question was too silly, they were always available to provide direction.
In this experience, I learned how to effectively work cross-functionally with design and development teams. This was really important to me, as I was able to confidently speak to my experience when asked.
I also quickly realized that you may go into this with an idea for a solution, but building anything in agile means you cannot know on the first day what your final product would be. This is as a result of the constant iterations involved in agile processes and incorporating your customers’ feedback into your product. Falling in love with the problem is the surefire way to ensure that whatever solution you land on, addresses your problem.
Being able to adapt, think on your feet and pivot quickly is priceless. You think you are prepared for challenges, but you quickly learn that ‘the best-laid plans often go awry’ and you need to be able to roll with the punches.
As a product manager, I also learnt how to communicate effectively with my team, and accommodate all the different styles of work, while providing direction towards our goal.
Co.Lab taught me several things in such a short amount of time.
As a designer, I’ve learned that I will not have all the time and resources to implement all of my ideas and that is totally fine. It does not take away from your work as a designer. I have realized that finished Is always better than perfect. My designs will always be a work in progress and there will always be something to change, modify and improve upon. You can cut scope and still produce a functional MVP.
I learned the importance of thinking quickly on my feet and that although I may not entirely be aware of obstacles ahead, I can still allow myself to be focused on the solution instead of the problem. Doing this throughout my experience has allowed me to become more confident in my problem-solving. Time will always be limited, so it’s important to take strategic steps forward that will move my team and me forward rather than backward.
Communication is key and makes teamwork easier! If a problem ever arises, other teammates can step in to help and find a solution. Although Co.Lab was a 7-week journey, I know that the lessons I have learned from this experience will go beyond this timeframe.
Our learning includes learning how to communicate with one another, how to prioritize effectively, learning how to pivot when faced with challenges that could throw us off track and learning how to take responsibility for our parts in making the team work efficiently.