As the rest of the world held a microscope over big name technology companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google when they rolled out their diversity data figures last summer, many minorities in tech — women, African Americans and Latinos — weren’t so surprised. It only takes a walkthrough at popular meetups or conferences in Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, and places in between, to see that one of today’s fastest-growing industries has a diversity issue.
That being said, there are women of color trailblazing the space and making sure African American and Latino women are represented in technology. One such woman is Kathryn Finney, managing director at Digital Undivided. Finney and team are the brains behind what has been called “the most diverse tech conference in the world.” Held at The Graduate Center at City University of New York, the two-day event (October 3-4), provided a mostly female audience with TED Talk-style addresses from Issa Rae, writer, producer and director and owner of Issa Rae Productions; Laura Weiden Powers, co-founder and executive director at CODE2040; and Sarah Kunst, venture investor, philanthropist and startup executive, among other powerful women in tech. There were also one-on-one chats with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn; Maxine Williams, global head of diversity at Facebook; and a keynote address from actor, producer, writer and investor Omar Epps.
#FOCUS100 2014 offered no shortage of lessons for women looking to excel in digital and technology. Here, we highlight seven tips for women trying to break into tech:
Can you imagine how innovative our world would be if we allowed ourselves to pursue each idea, no matter how impossible it may seem? So many ideas get killed before they even see the light of day. Research has shown that diversity fuels diverse ideas, so why not give your idea a shot? Of course it won’t be easy, but you could be filling an existing void. The industry needs it.
You don’t have to be technical
If coding isn’t your thing, don’t feel pressured to learn to do so in every existing coding language. That’s what developers are for. You can break into this industry working in a non-technical role such as analysis, business development, sales, recruitment or marketing.
Leverage your network and create meaningful relationships
Whether you’re a tech newbie or serial entrepreneur, you know that establishing relationships with others in the space is crucial. “Tech is all about relationships, so get involved with the tech scene, “ says Nicole Sanchez, founder of VIXXENN and former FOCUS Fellow. “Go to local events, build relationships with other entrepreneurs, and volunteer to get your foot in the door. It may take time, but when opportunities arise, people will know you and your work.”
Be seen…not just at niche tech events, but all tech events
While it may be more comfortable to attend events where the majority of attendees look like you, you’ll need to step outside of your comfort zone. It’s not to say you shouldn’t attend events geared toward women or people of color in tech, but in order to diversify your network and meet angel investors, venture capitalists or other entrepreneurs outside of your network, you’ll need to attend as many events as possible. You never know who’ll meet and how they can contribute to your venture—and vice versa.
Bring you’re A game…always
You’re not always going to have good days, but despite it all, put your best foot forward. You never know who you’re going to meet at an event/meetup. As the popular quote goes, “Success is where preparation meets opportunity.”
Create your own narrative
The current narrative is there are no qualified African Americans, Latinos or women to fill the tech-talent pipeline. We know that’s not true. Don’t let the current landscape intimidate you or prevent you from creating your own story. Be confident in what you have to offer the tech space and, ultimately, the world.
Don’t take no for an answer
As an entrepreneur, you’ll get a lot of “nos.” Don’t let it stop you. “No means not yet.”
Based in New York City, Janel Martinez is a multimedia journalist who covers technology and entrepreneurship. She is the founder of “Ain’t I Latina?” an online destination geared toward Afro-Latinas. You can follow her up-to-the-minute musings on Twitter @janelmwrites.