We Won't Let Women of Color Get Left Behind in Tech

A call to action and invitation from a new group.

October 17, 2018

By  

Camille Stewart

If you talk to any company executive today, they’ll tout the importance of continuously innovating and making room for unique voices. They’re desperate to not be left behind in a global race for new talent and ideas. But in their race to get ahead, they’re not only leaving major talent on the table – but also making products that hurt huge swaths of the population.

Last week, for instance, Amazon abandoned a project to build an AI recruitment tool which engineers found was discriminating against female candidates. The majority of historical data fed into the system was from male applicants, which meant that women were adversely affected by the mere mention of the words “woman” "women," or “women’s.” In other words, “garbage in and garbage out.”

In an industry where 83% of tech executives are white and there are staggeringly low numbers of women underrepresented minorities at leading companies, the adverse effects that some technology products have on women as a whole are likely amplified for women of color. What concerns me is that this disparity is rarely called out or questioned. In this case, I wonder, did Amazon look at that the effects of its recruitment tool on women of color? Has anyone? If we don’t investigate this time, how will we identify the next time tech further marginalizes this demographic?

The question that plagues me, and others: How are women of color affected by emerging technology and cybersecurity? Will this group continue to be left behind?

My colleagues at Women of Color Advancing Peace & Security and I are launching a group to explore that very question. Our group will focus on the impacts of emerging technology and cybersecurity on communities of color with an emphasis on women of color. By identifying, amplifying and augmenting work already being done to explore these effects, we hope also to encourage communities of color to get involved in the national and international discourse on these issues. We’ll also explore how to help equip communities of color to enter the workforce of the future.

As a first generation Black American woman, elevating the impacts of emerging technology and cyber security on communities of color, and in particular women of color, is not just me adding a unique perspective; it is me giving voice to my mother, sisters, cousins, friends, community members, and future daughters. Not only are these unheard perspectives a missed opportunity and potentially lost revenue for businesses, it may be the difference between these communities thriving or dying on the vine. How can we uplift and empower these communities if we are unaware of and unable to address their discrete needs?

To be sure, this matters to me beyond reasons of demographics and identity. Reflecting the needs of everyone in technology is the only way for it to achieve what it was designed to do – often, to make all of our lives easier. Unless and until we harness the collective intellect and experiences of the entire population, we’ll never realize our full potential as innovators, and as a society.

Consider this to be your invitation to join us (however you identify) if you, too, are concerned about the answers to these questions, or are already exploring answers in your work. What research should we look at? Which researchers should we talk to? What other questions should we be asking? To get involved, send an email to wcaps@wcapsnet.org. And then watch this space, where we’ll share our findings and insights over the coming months.

CybersecurityBonnie Jenkins