Being The ‘Only One’ In The Room: Diversifying Tech And Its Mental Toll on the Black Female Tech Community
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A tweet from an incoming Georgetown Law professor in response to President Biden’s Supreme Court nomination choice sent shockwaves through social media. Why? It said the President  nominated a “lesser Black woman” instead of a more qualified man.  

While most onlookers gasped, Black women took a  collective deep sigh at the all too familiar racist and sexist rhetoric aimed at our expense. The feeling of being overlooked, undervalued and then, when finally given their just due, undercut. The situation also rang true for those that are often the only one in the room. 

In many industries women of color, particularly Black women, are low in numbers. In the tech space, only 3% of Black women are coders and the majority of them are white men. Discussions about “othering,” imposter syndrome, the cumulative effects of micro aggressive behaviors in the workplace and being culturally isolated at work are taking center stage at Ada Developers Academy, the tuition-free coding training program prioritizing BIPOC women.  

“When you’re the only person on your job it can be isolating, and the pressure is real. As an individual, we thrived in being seen as such,” said Alexandra Holien, Career Expert and VP of Ada Developers Academy. “That means seen for all the nuance and quirks, we have earned as a person in this world. When you are the only one in the room who looks like you, you are no longer an individual, you somehow become a representation of an entire group as a whole, and you have to lose a little bit of yourself to do that.” 

For years, the mental toll of workplace inequity and underrepresentation has taken a back seat, but in the last two years, mental health has become a priority for more Black women in corporate settings. Dr. Nicole LaBeach, a certified psychologist said these stresses should be taken very seriously. 

“That feeling of not seeing people who look like you can often make you feel like you’re in an experiment of sorts,” she shared with Essence.  “That then exacerbates feelings of inferiority and internal suspicions which can creep into other areas of your life.” 

This is why Holien has prioritized providing the foundational elements for what’s needed to build a career in tech for aspirant Black girls, as well as equipping them with the tools to combat the invisible forces they’ll come up against once they’re in the industry. 

“This is an industry that tucks its racist views into algorithms and beta tests,” she shared with Essence. “We knew teaching just tech in our classroom wasn’t enough to prepare our POC students for the current tech industry. We knew they needed a coat of armor to succeed, and a LARGER part of that coat had to be healthy mental practices. Offering mental health support as free service during our program was a way of signaling that getting into the industry is one thing, but staying there means you have to protect yourself.” 

Software Engineer, Sabrina Koumoin recently entered into Silicon Valley and can attest to the anxieties that she’s faced as a young Black woman.

“As a relatively recent Software Engineer working in Silicon Valley, my greatest apprehensions when I was seeking for jobs, in the tech industry were that I wouldn’t be considered technical enough and I would face both racial and gendered discrimination,” she shared. 

Although it was a dream of hers to work in the tech space, she knew she had to face the harsh realities of what working in tech as a double minority meant. 

“The prevalent lack of representation of Black women in the tech field was something I was keenly aware of,” Koumoin shared. “I was one of the few black women in my computer science degree program. The insights I received from my inner circle all made me well aware that my success would require a tremendous amount of effort, and quite frankly, some amount of good fortune. I’m glad I stayed the course and am fortunately surrounded by black women at my job, in my professional network and family that have created an environment for me to flourish.”