Dr. Rashada Harry, Enterprise Technologist at Amazon Web Services, explains the need for greater diversity of thought in tech by encouraging more Black women to enter the sector.
Research from the British Computer Society (BCS) shows that while more women than ever before are working in STEM, Black women account for just 0.7% of IT roles. As a Black woman in tech, I’m passionate about creating an environment where diverse voices have opportunities and their talent affords them flourishing careers.
Leaders across industries are beginning to recognise the importance that diverse perspectives bring to businesses. An inclusive industry will foster greater innovation, something everyone can benefit from. So how can we all help bring more diverse voices into STEM and support their long term success?
Dr. Rashada Harry on the inclusion programmes out there
One way in which we can get underrepresented groups into STEM is to educate individuals on the plethora of exciting and newly created opportunities and career paths out there. I proactively encourage working with and engaging local grassroots organisations that are committed to making impactful and lasting changes to the Black female talent pipeline.
There are more of these out there than you might think. Coding Black Females, for example, has a programme designed to get Black women into the industry by providing coding boot camps to UK Black women, while a programme that’s close to my heart is Your Future, Your Ambition that seeks to bridge the gap between education and industry providing young people with free resources and access to incredible role models.
I founded this initiative a few years ago to educate and encourage the next generation of underrepresented groups into tech, and we have now introduced over 7,000 young people to the career paths available to them in STEAM which now also includes the ‘Arts’.
Amazon’s D&I initiatives
Amazon too has a number of great initiatives. Some take a long-term approach to help increase the larger talent pipeline – like our Amazon Future Engineer programme, which supports young people from lower-income backgrounds to get into computer science. We also run programmes like AWS GetIT, which aims to introduce girls aged 12-13 to cloud computing and digital skills in order to inspire them to consider a career in technology.
Other initiatives aim to introduce more diverse talent immediately into the workforce, like AWS re/Start, a skills development and job training programme that prepares unemployed and underemployed individuals for entry-level careers in the cloud.
Diverse candidates need to see visible role models represented in the industries they want to target, at all levels that they aspire to, and see proof of their successes. That’s why for those of you already in the industry, it is important to recognise that you are a role model, and your voices are important to help inspire others. Lend a helping hand and become a mentor, sponsor or advocate to someone else. Share your knowledge and insight with someone who may not realise that the skills they have are not only transferable but are in demand in tech.
Affinity groups can play a big role too. At Amazon, we have groups like BEN (Black Employee Network), Glamazon, and Women@, and these groups help to promote awareness internally, support career development, and engage in community outreach to increase recruitment of underrepresented groups. They can help provide the guidance and mentorship underrepresented groups need and help foster an inclusive environment. These groups at Amazon passionately and positively impact our company, each with an executive sponsor that ensures these groups are engaged at every level of the company.
In order to see lasting change, everyone needs to be part of the process. History has proven that contributions by Black women have led to significant breakthroughs in STEM innovation, from Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock here in the UK, to Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler’s medical work, to Katherine Johnson’s work with NASA. Things are moving in the right direction, but by embracing some of the above ideas we can all drive change faster. I, for one, am excited to be a part of this transformation.
Rashada Harry co-leads Women@AWS for Amazon in the UK, and she also volunteers with BEN to support the network’s important work on diversity and inclusion. Outside of work, she also founded Your Future, Your Ambition (YFYA), leading 30 organisations and 300+ individual volunteers to mentor, educate, inspire and encourage hundreds of students every year to pursue careers in STEM. To date, YFYA has hosted events for more than 7,000 students – helping to build a more diverse STEM talent pipeline in the UK.