On Saturday, May 18, more than 200 Black women (and male allies) gathered at Google’s New York City offices for We Build Black’s second Mavens I/O Black Women in Tech conference. What began as monthly meetups in downtown Brooklyn has evolved into a movement of Black technologists using their skills and talents to educate and empower their community to achieve socio-economic change.
“We can build each other up, as long as we’re together,” said Chloe Rice, a Front End Developer at Shopify and the only woman co-founder of We Build Black in her opening remarks. When Rice moved from California to New York City to begin her career in tech, she said that it was hard to stay motivated because she was often the only Black woman in the room.
“It wasn’t until I met Devin [Jackson] and started to attend other meetups with Black women across the City that I found my people,” she said.
In partnership with She Builds Black, the women’s centric component of We Build Black, the Mavens I/O Conference brought just a fraction of the talented Black women who are making incredible strides in all facets of tech to center stage.
The lack of diversity in the tech industry is an ongoing problem that many companies and organizations are working to solve through various D&I initiatives. For Black women in particular, the struggle isn’t just breaking into tech, but ensuring that we’ve got the support system we need to continue climbing to higher heights.
But this conference was more than just a visual celebration of Black Girl Magic in the tech industry, it was an affirmation that we are unapologetically blazing incredible trails as managers, executives, startup founders and entrepreneurs in a space that is traditionally very white and male.
The morning began with a fireside chat featuring Aretha Lewin Antoine, a Product Portfolio Manager with J.P. Morgan Chase. During her discussion with Danielle Skeen, a Strategy Manager at Microsoft, Antoine shared that it took her awhile to feel comfortable with being herself in the workplace. “Don’t wait as long as I did to bring your authentic self to the work that you do,” she expressed to the audience. “I’ve learned over time that it is impossible to bring my full self to work without first being comfortable in who I am.”
With several breakout sessions to choose from, attendees had the opportunity to learn from experts in design, development, data and even cryptocurrency.
But over the last few years, Dorsey believes that the increased visibility of Black women in tech has positively changed the narrative to show that we do exist in the space. “There may be a deficit in terms of representation, but I think the visibility of Black women, be that as entrepreneurs or within companies, is starting to rise,” she said. “When I look at being a young girl in Seattle surrounded by technology and technologists, it’s empowering to see other Black and brown women come to this industry in all of their authenticity.”
Sherrell Dorsey, founder and editor-in-chief of ThePLUG Daily, was one of three startup founders who shared her path into entrepreneurship during the “How to Go from Idea to Action” panel. Launched in 2016, Dorsey created ThePLUG because she noticed the lack of in-depth reporting on Blacks in technology.
Throughout the day, confidence was a reoccuring theme in both the workshops and larger group sessions. Regardless if you are a full-time employee with a side hustle or a full-time entrepreneur, many of the speakers reiterated the importance of having confidence in your ability to deliver great work and be yourself while doing it.
In the final panel discussion of the day, Bria Sullivan, founder of the online community Tech Stack’d and Software Engineer at Google, spoke candidly about how she has learned to overcome imposter syndrome both professionally and personally. In addition to having a supportive manager and encouraging coworkers, Sullivan expressed that it was the things she told herself that made all the difference. “I have to constantly remind myself that I am worthy of being where I am, and that I am smart and a boss,” she said. “Even when it gets tough, remember to own your confidence and find ways to appreciate yourself.”
To learn more about We Build Black, visit their website.