Black Women in Tech: A Survival Guide
Cybersecurity wasn’t on my childhood list of career dreams, but it has been a source of excitement and a constant push to learn something new every day. Building security programs, finding malware, and conducting forensic investigations; I have a lot of fun on the job and I’ve accomplished a lot more than I imagined for myself, considering I never intended to work in technology. Impostor syndrome aside, I accepted a challenge to work in a field that I knew nothing about, and I’m proud knowing that my parents raised me to work hard and to always do my best.
I’ve been a mini entrepreneur since the sixth grade. Making earrings and bracelets, using the bead sets I’d receive every Christmas. I’d sell the jewelry to classmates to earn lunch money. This wasn’t something I did out of necessity, but it kept me from having to ask my parents for lunch money. I watched my mother raise a squad of kids and work long hours, and my father graduated from college, while working full time within my lifetime. The least I could do was sell a few pairs of handmade earrings to feed my cookie obsession.
My parent’s raised my siblings and I to believe that through education and hard work anything was possible. So when a manager at my first cybersecurity job declined my training request because he felt that the content was ‘too hard’ for me, the only woman and black person on the team, I knew I’d have many fights with fragile egos ahead of me. I quickly learned to ignore blatant misogyny, as I believe every woman in the tech eventually learns to do, and took every opportunity to learn something new. Ultimately, I fell in love with security and decided to get a master’s degree in IT information assurance. Never underestimate a black woman.
As black women we get used to people telling us what we can’t do. Then, we execute and make their heads spin. We go into every situation knowing that we have to work three times harder than our white male counterparts to maybe (possibly) advance, or be recognized for our work. There’s a clear distinction between recognizing that someone does great work and valuing that person as a member of the team. A black woman with a resume a mile long, wears a perfectly ”professional” hairstyle as to not be stereotyped, and has an impeccable work record, still may not be promoted over her white male counterpart.
I don’t need to reference any studies, this happens to me and other women of color every day. Time and time again black women receive the message of, “We’re happy that you deliver valuable work, but we don’t value it enough to confirm your efforts by promoting you”. For all the people believing that “it’s 2019, it can’t be bad like that anymore”, knowledge is the cure for ignorance. As for the rest of us, we know these disparities to be true.
We are expected to over deliver with a smile on our face, while battling emotions associated with being undervalued and overlooked, but watch someone in a suit and trendy haircut get hired for leadership roles in spite of them having no experience, and no education. Only for them to be promoted from a project manager to corporate executive in three years. True story. #ThisisAmerica.
How do black women work in historically male dominated fields and take care of their mental health? There isn’t enough time to fully answer this question. But here are five things I’ve learned over the 12 years of working in cybersecurity that may help to manage work stress and reduce the desire to flip a conference table the next time John starts posturing during the department meeting. Ugh, stop it. We know you’re posturing, and we really couldn’t care less.
5 Survival Tips for Black Women in Tech
1. Connect With Other Women
Let’s face it, there aren’t many women in the science and technology fields so when you see one, the goal should be to support her growth whenever you can. I hate meeting mean girls in tech. I get it, we learn to be tough because ‘tenderness is weakness’, but there’s no need to be nasty. Sadly I’ve worked with some egotistical women that let power ruin their reputations to a point where no one wants to work for them. These people perceive fear as power, and sure it may work for some people, but everyone else is either waiting for them to get fired or job searching. Do women have to be sunny and sweet to work well together? Absolutely not, but there has to be a mutual respect and a willingness to help other marginalized people advance.
If you are fortunate enough to have other women on your team, be sure to invest in their growth and encourage them take on new and challenging projects. Black women in technology are unicorns. When you meet a group of unicorns make an effort to build lasting connections. This not only helps amplify good ideas in a room of people who constantly talk over her, but it’s great moral support. There is nothing better than pursing your lips a