Why Diversity And Inclusion In Tech Is An Even Bigger Issue In The Midwest

Technology has long had a history of a lack of diversity and inclusion. 76 percent of jobs in the technology space are held by men, but yet and still, only 5 percent of jobs in the space are held by blacks and Latinos. Women of color shockingly make up less than 3 percent of the space.

Though I know the numbers, write the numbers and evaluate the numbers, it didn’t change the feelings that I felt when I found out I was the only woman of color presenting at a Google Dev Fest in Minneapolis, Minnesota — out of 60 plus speakers that were chosen and accepted.

This year will be my second year presenting on diversity and leadership in technology (the irony). As excited as I was to have my presentation accepted once again, I forgot about the harsh reality that was waiting for me right on the other side of happiness and anticipation.

When the organizers of the Google Dev Fest finally released the official list, I was so thrilled to see myself that I quickly screenshot everything (like all millennials do), posted it on all my social media channels and reminded everyone to tune in. That same night, I went back to the Dev Fest website just to see who else I would be presenting alongside, and that’s when my reality kicked in. My stomach dropped.

Out of 60 plus speakers that were accepted to present at the Google Dev Fest, I was the ONLY woman of color.

“The only woman of color is me? I was the only one selected? Why?”

It broke my heart and made me extremely uncomfortable because I knew there were so many talented developers and technologists outside of myself in the twin cities that should be on this platform. Why were they not aware of this opportunity? Was it negligence? Was it simply overlooked? Was it a lack of partnership in the black community? I immediately wanted to know.

Deep down in my heart I believed, “Well shoot, I’m only at the beginning of my career so if I’m as good as it gets, then I don’t deserve it.” There are so many other women of color, much better suited, to be on the stage with me.

The revelation kept me up that night. Few people really understood the way I felt about the selection, because most people of color think of being “the only one” as a badge of honor. But I’m not about that and that’s not who I am.

I scrolled the list again and again and then when I woke up one morning, I sent one of my trusted friends, who sits on the board, an email about allowing me to sit on the board next year. I want to be part of the selection process so that this didn’t happen again and we can move forward in building stronger partnerships in the black community.

This is why it’s so important for diversity and inclusion to be a part of every single aspect of any organization. Every single person you hire must understand the importance and be willing to make the effort to build a diverse organization.

We can’t create change if we don’t change ourselves, step up and step out, promoting people of color into leadership positions and giving them power to make decisions. As hard as it is for me to stomach, I understand that I can afford to sit out of the conference and speak up. I have to be an advocate for those coming behind me, and for those who have come before me and didn’t get the same opportunities. This is a mission I am committed to for the rest of my life.

Hidden No More: Gladys West Finally Gets The Credit She Deserves For Pivotal Work On GPS

Black History Month is the perfect time to learn about the unspoken heroes and innovators that are not routinely discussed ever.

For 42 years, mathematician Gladys West worked at the naval base in Dahlgren, Virginia, as part of the team that developed the Global Positioning System (GPS) in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the Stamford Advocate. Most people didn’t know of the 87-year-old’s barrier-breaking achievements.

West’s work is becoming better known thanks to Gwen James.

James learned of West’s work while at an Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority function, where a line in West’s bio mentioned her calculations helped create the GPS. The two had been friends for 15 years, and the news shocked James to learn her sister had a hand in creating something so historic.

“GPS has changed the lives of everyone forever,” James said. “There is not a segment of this global society — military, auto industry, cell phone industry, social media, parents, NASA, etc. — that does not utilize the Global Positioning System.”

Once she found out about West’s contributions, James made it her mission to spread the word about this hidden figure.

West’s career started in 1956, when she was the second black woman hired at the Dahlgren base. She was one of‌ four black employees, one of whom, Ira, would later become her husband.

West worked with giant supercomputers that filled the room. She gathered location data from orbiting machines, working with early computer software to analyze surface elevations. She filled her days and nights with countless equations.

It was long, hard, complex work. But West says she “was ecstatic. I was able to come from Dinwiddie County and be able to work with some of the greatest scientists working on these projects.”

She was so ecstatic that she put in extra hours — so many ‌that she cut her team’s processing time in half, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars. Her supervisor, Ralph Neiman, noticed her diligence and recommended her for a commendation in 1979.

“This involved planning and executing several highly complex computer algorithms which have to analyze an enormous amount of data,” Neiman wrote then. “You have used your knowledge of computer applications to accomplish this in an efficient and timely manner.”

What she helped to create isn’t lost on her, but West still finds it hard to fathom how ubiquitous her technology has become.

“When you’re working every day, you’re not thinking, ‘What impact is this going to have on the world?’ You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this right,’” West said.

And though West has GPS devices like the rest of us, she still trusts her brain above all, plotting her trips using math and a paper map.

“I asked her why she didn’t just use the Garmin [GPS] since she knows the equations that she helped write are correct,” her oldest daughter, Carolyn Oglesby, said. “She says the data points could be wrong or outdated so she has to have that map.”

New Report: Black Tech Workers Make Thousands Less Than Their White Counterparts

Hired recently released its “2018 State of Salaries” report, and the company found that race has “a significant impact” on salary in the tech industry.

According to the report, the average salary for all tech workers is $135,000, an increase of 5 percent from its 2016 survey. However, the average white tech worker receives a $136,000 salary, while their black counterparts receive $6,000 less.

Photo: GIPHY
Photo: GIPHY

“The racial gap may be partially a result of black and hispanic tech workers undervaluing their skills, which is symptom of being underpaid in previous roles,” noted Hired CEO Mehul Patel, according to TechCrunch.

Being underpaid to start leads workers of color to ask for less when they receive new jobs, Patel believes.

“Black and hispanic candidates on the Hired platform set their preferred salaries lowest [at $124K],” Patel continued. “Ultimately though, Hispanic candidates are offered $1K more than their black counterparts. For comparison, white tech workers ask for an average of $130K and Asian tech workers ask for an average of $127K.”

The study found that there is a difference in what workers ask for and what they get in salary negotiations, however.

White workers were found to ask for more, and to get more. After asking for $130,000 on average, they were given an offer 4.6 percent higher than their ask, $136,000.

Black and Latinx workers asked for $124,000 on average; black employees were usually offered $130,000 (4.8 percent more than their ask) and Latinx employees were offered $131,000 (5.7 percent more than their ask).

Asian candidates were found to be given 4.7 percent more than their ask, receiving $133,000 per year on average.

In order to bridge the pay gap, Hired offers a simple solution to tech workers of color: in salary negotiations, ask for a few thousand dollars more than you think you should as for.

How One Teen Girl And Her Brother Used Her Struggle With Depression To Create An App To Help Others

Doctors diagnosed Hannah Lucas with a medical condition that caused frequent fainting. She became anxious, depressed and started to self-harm.

“I started passing out more and more often and I was terrified of going anywhere,” the 15-year-old told ABC News. “Because what if I passed out and no one was around or what if someone took advantage of me?”

It was based on these experiences that Hannah and her 13-year-old brother Charlie Lucas created an app to help people in distress. The idea for the notOK App came from Hannah telling her mom she wished there was an app she could use to quickly alert her family and friends when she needed help either physically or emotionally.

Hannah pitched the app while taking a summer class on entrepreneurship at Georgia Tech. There, professors connected the family with a development company in Savannah.

The app, which costs a $2.99 monthly fee, was released last week in both iOS and Android versions and allows users to press a button that messages up to five pre-selected contacts.

The text, along with a link to the user’s current GPS location, shows up on the contacts’ phones with the message, “Hey, I’m not OK. Please call me, text me, or come find me.”

The target audience for the app are teens with mental health issues. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) an estimated 49.5 percent of adolescents between the ages 13 to 18 have a mental disorder.

“The reaction we’ve heard has been really positive, especially from parents and kids suffering with anxiety,” Hannah said. “Those kids don’t know the words to tell somebody.”

What an amazing idea from two extremely talented young people. To learn more, check out the app’s website. Congrats Hannah & Charlie!

Black Girl Gamers Exist, And Jay-Ann Lopez Is Helping To Bring Them Together

Jay-Ann Lopez understands that the global gaming industry is one dominated by white men. This is why she built Black Girl Gamers, an online community and safe space to allow black women who enjoy gaming to connect and enjoy the experience collectively.

Lopez, 26, is based in London and launched BGG as a way to bridge the divide and bring black girl gamers together to share tips, connect and play against each other. The online community has grown tremendously over the years and now features close to 1,500 black girl gamers.

Below, we spoke with Lopez about her experience with gaming, why she launched BGG and what her goals are for the growing online group.

When were you first introduced to gaming and what do you enjoy about it?

I was first introduced to gaming by my uncles at the age of around 7 or 8 and I became instantly involved.  I’m a fun-loving person, so anything that lets me enjoy an imaginary world is always intriguing to me.

When did you first create Black Girl Gamers and why?

I created Black Girl Gamers in 2015 for multiple reasons. The first being I started my own gaming channel and realized that I hardly had any other black women to play with. I created BGG to allow black women to come together in a safe space and allow them to enjoy talking about gaming and play together.  The second reason was because the gaming scene is full of misogynoir — whether you’re streaming, playing with random people online or watching popular gaming channels, you can find yourself constantly hearing either racist/sexist comments and/or jokes. In order to combat this, I established BGG to be a safe space for black women, sans misogynior/homophobia/transphobia etc, but also a progressive one.  We are currently working on a website which will serve as a platform for the variety of black women in gaming and allow our voices to be heard. We are also working on attending more conferences and expos.

What has your experience been like as a black girl gamer?

A lot of people are shocked to hear I’m a gamer. I don’t fit what the “gamer look” supposedly is and this leads to different reactions, particularly from men. From certain members of my family, it’s seen as a very childish hobby and that it’s a waste of time, when really gaming has truly helped me destress.

I’ve received racist/sexist comments, both directly and indirectly, and… to be honest, it did stop me from playing online for a while because it was draining. However, since starting BGG, though I still receive racist comments, I am able to brush them off knowing I have created a safe space of women who enjoy gaming just like me and who also now have the BGGfam, the supportive network we have of non-BGGs that love what we’re doing.

In gaming itself, it has been frustrating a lot of the times to not see Black women represented often or well. There are approximately 15 Black female human playable protagonists in the history of gaming; this, compared to the amount of rugged middle-aged white men characters and the franchises there are, does leave you feeling annoyed.

How has Black Girl Gamers changed your experience with gaming?

I enjoy gaming so much more and actively seek to play with BGG members. There are over 1,000 members in BGG so it’s always great to meet someone new and play with them online, I don’t have to worry about hearing problematic things and we genuinely have a good time. Our streams are considered a safe place and we’ve established a community of regular supporters that continuously grows — not to mention we play with our supporters, who have game nights and movie nights.  We’ve been contacted by media platforms/game developers to provide insight into topics.  BGG has opened my mind to experiences of other women and their interests, I have friends overseas I regularly talk to and game with.  It also just warms my heart to hear other BGGs say how glad they are to have found this space so that they can be themselves and feel unapologetic.  The existence of BGG gives validation to black women and girls wherever they are, including myself, and lets them know that it’s okay to enjoy games and that we’re not actually as rare as people chose to believe.

What are some of your personal favorite games to play?

My favorite games are RPGs and co-ops.  My favorites over the years have been Guild Wars 2Mirrors Edgethe Halo FranchiseThe Witcher 3Mafia III and more.  I can’t really pick a favorite, I enjoy such a multitude of games that span genres.  I am looking forward to the new Harry Potter game coming out on mobile/tablets.  I’ve got to also highlight Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan, a 2D platformer African Fantasy Action-RPG that has really made impact.

Why do you think representation in gaming is so important?

Representation in gaming is important for so many reasons. As a little girl, I always wondered where the black characters were, which led to the false belief that gaming was a “white thing to do.” There are plenty of young black children that play games that would gain from being represented in games. They, too, deserve to see themselves playing and creating games. They, too, are the norm.

Representation in gaming is key but accurate representation is even more essential. We don’t need any more stereotypical tropes of black characters i.e. the sassy, strong black woman with attitude or the black guy who’s there just to add comic relief.  This is changing with the increased popularity of character customisation in games as well as the creation of games such as Mafia III and Watchdogs II (depending on how you feel about them).  It is hard though to expect diverse games from an industry that is predominantly white and male. This is why BGG is also here to uplift and amplify the visibility of black game developers and artists.

Racism exists in the gaming culture because the narrative is not challenged enough by the players or the creators. Representation is a step towards removing the racist thread that exists in gaming culture.

This piece has been brought to you by Google Play

Nipsey Hussle To Launch STEM Programs In Inner Cities Across America

Nipsey Hussle recently appeared on radio host Big Boy’s The Neighborhood to discuss his new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) initiative.

Too Big To Fail will be a STEM center and maker space for youth in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw neighborhood.

The rapper plans to launch the academy with his business partner and real estate developer Dave Gross. The 32-year-old said that he hopes the space can be a “bridge between Silicon Valley and the inner city.”

The Los Angeles native doesn’t plan to stop in California, saying that the first school will be “a model that we’re going to scale.” The duo has plans for STEM academies in other cities, such as: Atlanta, D.C., and Baltimore.

The ultimate goal is to create “a resource network across the country” that students can tap into for knowledge-sharing and networking.

To find out more about the initiative and how you can help, visit Too Big To Fail’s website.

Photo: GIPHY
Photo: GIPHY

This Morehouse Grad Created A Dope Alternative To Bitcoin

Ever since the growing influence of Bitcoin, cryptocurrency has been quite the hot topic. As with any popular concept, alternatives to the OG started to blossom. Meet Shawn Wilkinson, the founder of Storj — a storage platform that is distributed, encrypted and super fast. The best part is, you are the only one who has access to your data.

According to Black Enterprise, the Morehouse grad sat down with blockchain founder Lamar Wilson to discuss how exactly he launched Storj and his thoughts about cryptocurrency as a whole.

So how did Wilkinson dip his toes into the cryptocurrency pool?

“I started out mining. I had a friend at Morehouse that was mining and said, ‘Hey, I got a little computer here, electricity’s free. What do I have to lose?’ I started mining away making like half a bitcoin a day. I ended up turning it off because it was making my residence room a little too hot,” said Wilkinson. “Suddenly the bitcoin I was mining was worth a lot more so I looked into the technology further and just fell in love with it. I saw that there was a real need and issue in cloud storage so I figured hey, let me start my own project to solve that exact thing.”

Photo: GIPHY
Photo: GIPHY

Wilkinson also talked about his inspiration for Storj, which largely stemmed from his concerns around the privacy and security  — or lack thereof — of cloud-based storage, especially since a significant chunk of society uses it.

“When I created [Storj], it was really focused a little bit more and continues to be on the developer side. I was looking to build out applications, store a bunch of data and I was playing around with the Twitter firehose,” Wilkinson noted. “A lot of people thought we were focusing more on the Dropbox side of things but, what you find out when you actually dig into this ecosystem is, the developers are actually building cloud tools and us as users we benefit.”

To learn more about Storj, head to its website here and see the full interview below.

Star Trek Timelines Provides Strategy Fun For All Star Trek fans

When Star Trek: Discovery’s cliffhanger left us dangling over the winter hiatus in mid-November, I idly wondered how mobile game Star Trek: Timelines was dealing with the new influx of Star Trek backstory. This prompted me to pick it back up again, and I don’t regret it. For starters, it’s the first game that utilizes Science Specialist Michael Burnham and her compatriots aboard the Discovery.

Star Trek: Timelines is a strategy game created by Disruptor Beam Inc. that utilizes the rich multiverse of Star Trek to tell a tale as old as dilithium. How many Trek fans have tried to come up with the perfect crew complement, using a mixture of officers from every crew? All of us, that’s how many. Star Trek: Timelines is that fantasy manifested … and on steroids. A temporal anomaly is responsible for time converging, allowing various versions of beloved Star Trek characters to coexist and take up old hostilities and start new ones. The player’s job is to keep the peace and restore balance to the alpha quadrant while also investigating what caused this issue in the first place. Wild stuff! In no particular order, below are the top three reasons, all Star Trek fans should pick up Star Trek: Timelines.

Variety of Gameplay

Every Star Trek game should give players the chance to captain a ship. As Commander Edington put it when he was conning Captain Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space 9, folks join Starfleet to get a chance at the captain’s chair.

Captaining a starship gives the player a lot of options at their disposal. Sometimes captains have to send an away mission to handle a problem. This is probably my favorite mode of gameplay because it requires the most actual strategy and reveals the narrative best. Captains have to pick the right crew based on a variety of metrics and mission requirements. Success relies on the appropriateness and leveling of the away team members. Captains can also get drawn into space battles, challenge other real people in space combat, and participate in faction events that have you racing against time to construct unique items that yield rewards while furthering the narrative and gaining favor among the various centers of power scattered around the universe. Recently, a gaming mechanic called voyages was added as a way to collect resources and crew while adding story content.

The Clever Conceit

It could also be dubbed a wacky premise if one were so inclined. It’s the perfect way to use all manner of Star Trek assets from characters to installations to planets. Plus that number goes up exponentially when you figure in the different versions of the same characters.

The variety of requirements for different missions means you have to keep your ship fully staffed with a diverse mix of whimsical figures from “Promoted Sisko” (My highest ranked officer) to Benny Russell, the version of Sisko that is either a 1920s sci-fi writer who created Deep Space 9 or an illusion conjured by the Bajoran gods to prove a point to the real Sisko. Hell, maybe he’s both. The point is, this game is not shy about getting downright metaphysical when selecting the different crew that players can recruit onto their ship.

During this crisis, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s omnipotent pest, Q serves as the player’s advisor, sometimes offering guidance, sometimes heckling. Fully voiced by the original actor, John de Lancie, Q serves as a steady through-line as players troubleshoot the galaxy.

Team Support

It’s obvious that the game has been made by those with knowledge of and respect for the source material. The devil is in the details, and they know their Trek lore. Also, the team updates the game with frequent timed missions that provide short narrative arcs and plenty of opportunities to amass bushels of rewards. And while there are lots of micro-transactions available, they don’t feel essential to having a good time with the game. In fact, the team is quite generous with providing game assets whether as amends for a minor technical snafu or just as a way to entice players back to playing if it’s been a few weeks. It makes me more inclined to buy things when a game doesn’t seem like it’s rationing out the fun until I drop a significant chunk of change.

Add to that, the game feels like a fully fleshed out strategy experience. While there are some things left up to chance like which specific crew and supplies you will be offered when you dip into the Time Portal, a lot of the game feels like it’s in the player’s control. Not all mobile games manage this, but Timelines does.

So, this year live out your Starfleet dreams as the plucky captain on a desperate mission to restore order in a universe gone mad. Collect legendary characters — seriously, there’s currently 13 different versions of Picard alone — and embark on daring quests that require a steady mind to strategize through.

Engage!

Facebook Welcomes Its First Black Board Member, American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault

Facebook announced this week that American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault will be joining its board, The Hill reports.

A few months ago, Facebook vowed to add a black person to its board of directors amidst criticism that the company’s C-suite lacked diversity. The promise came during a tense meeting between Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), who chastised the company for not being diverse enough.

There was some question as to whether or not Facebook was merely telling its critics what they wanted to hear, with one member of the CBC noting, “We get a lot of lip service from the technology companies.”

However, Facebook has kept its word. Chenault will make history as the first African American to join Facebook’s board of directors.

One of the only four black CEOs currently heading a Fortune 500 company, Chenault comes to Facebook with over 30 years experience at American Express. He’s also no stranger to Silicon Valley: he currently serves as a member of IBM’s board. Chenault joins a small group of black board members at major Silicon Valley tech companies that includes Ursula Burns at Uber and Debra Lee at Twitter.

“I’ve been trying to recruit Ken for years,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement. “He has unique expertise in areas I believe Facebook needs to learn and improve — customer service, direct commerce and building a trusted brand. Ken also has a sense of social mission and integrity I admire and the perspective that comes from running an important public company for decades.”

The CBC was satisfied with the appointment. “I’m pleased to see Facebook taking real action to address the issue of diversity within their company,” said Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL). “When we began this dialogue with Facebook, we expected swift action, and this decision is without a doubt a step in the right direction.”

Kelly, however, also noted that this ought to be only the beginning for the tech world. “Much work still remains to diversify Silicon Valley. Progress has been slow and we will continue to press companies to enact inclusive hiring policies,” she said.

Kat Blaque Calls Out YouTube For Removing Her Video About The Hypersexualization Of Black Women

There’s a reason why #YouTubeBlack is a thing! Marginalized voices finding a platform on which they can speak and be heard is important, so when Kat Blaque took to Twitter claiming she had been silenced by Google, our ears perked up!

Blaque, for the unfamiliar, is a YouTube personality and transgender activist. She recently posted a screenshot of a notice she received from YouTube on Twitter that stated one of her videos had been removed.

The video in question was a video Blaque said was a “educational” look at Sarah Baartman. Called “JEAN PAUL GOUDE & THE HOTTENTOT VENUS,” Blaque’s video addressed the 2014 Kim Kardashian “Break the Internet” cover of PAPER magazine, and the connections between that image and the historical image of Sarah Baartman, a black woman toured through Europe as a “freak show” curiosity in the 1800s.

 

@YouTube I just received this message that you’ve, not demonetized, but removed a video that I did YEARS ago about Sarah Baartman, a black woman who was hypersexualized and exploited across Europe in the 19th Century. This video was educational and you removed it. pic.twitter.com/NsqGcLqeD6— Kat Blaque (@kat_blaque) January 8, 2018

 

Photo: GIPHY

Blaque went on to lament that the removal was just the latest in a long line of incidents that had her questioning YouTube as a company, and the site’s overall culture.

And I was really excited to sit down and produce this content, but shit like this really really really discourages me and it’s one of the many reasons why I’ve become really disenchanted with Youtube as a platform.— Kat Blaque (@kat_blaque) January 8, 2018

To @YouTube , i am nothing more than a sales pitch.— Kat Blaque (@kat_blaque) January 8, 2018

 

To @YouTube , I am nothing more than a black, woman who’s trans whomarks off diversity points with little to no effort. They get to feel so empowered and look so good by inviting me to things. By including me in things.— Kat Blaque (@kat_blaque) January 8, 2018

And the reality is that none of these companies will every give a fuck about what I’m doing because what i’m doing doesn’t make them money.— Kat Blaque (@kat_blaque) January 8, 2018

 

So I’m gonna make what I’m gonna make. I’m gonna put it where it can be seen, but I’m not going to hella participate on Youtube really. Might not even upload there because apparently my very vanilla work is too much for the platform. lol.— Kat Blaque (@kat_blaque) January 8, 2018

 

My work is very baby’s first activism, and ya’ll can’t take. That’s interesting. lol. Anyways….— Kat Blaque (@kat_blaque) January 8, 2018

 

YouTube responded to her tweets with an apology, tweeting that the removal was an “error.” The video has since been restored to the site.

We’re glad the video is back up, and shout-out to Kat Blaque for speaking her truth!

You can watch Kat Blaque’s super informative video, and learn more about Baartman below: