MAKING A DIFFERENCE
The coding camp for Black women
The founders of Black CodHer are making the technology industry more diverse.
When it comes to the under-representation of Black women in the technology industry, “I have not seen much of a shift in the last decade”. This is the view of Charlene Hunter, the founder of Coding Black Females – a network for Black women in tech.
“Organisations want there to be a difference and to find Black women. But bias and racism still exist,” says Hunter. “There are a lot of women with the skills, but I don’t always see them being hired, or they're hired and judged more harshly. Companies need to understand their biases and create inclusive working environments.”
This is part of the reason that Hunter has joined forces with Oyinkansola Adebayo and Olaoluwa Dada, the women behind Niyo Enterprise, a Birmingham based organisation promoting empowerment for Black women. Together they created Black CodHer, a free coding bootcamp specifically for Black women based in the West Midlands, who are unemployed or earning less than £21,000 per year.
With local authority funding, the six-month course – which now has a second cohort of students – teaches women the programming skills needed to secure a job in the technology industry.
“I don’t see any diverse leadership. It’s still white male, which is problematic because Black women working in these organisations don’t feel like they can progress.”
Olaoluwa Dada, cofounder of Black CodHer
“We need these women to be hireable at the end of the course,” says Adebayo. “It’s not good enough to teach them a bit of HTML. The content is intensive, it’s a full-stack developer course.”
Instruction takes place over video calls, with lots of homework and a portfolio to build. Students also get mentoring sessions with established members of the tech industry.
“This course is also a door opener,” says Dada. “We want the women to build relationships with people who can help them progress.”
Black CodHer applicants are not required to have prior experience of coding, however some had already embarked on their own learning journeys, often using coding apps, such as Solo Learn, Mimo and Code Playground.
A lot of companies say they are meeting their diversity targets. I’m saying, ‘Make sure you also have Black representation.’
Charlene Hunter, cofounder of Black CodHer
Bukola Omojowo was a student among the first Black CodHer intake. “It’s quite intense,” she says. For Omojowo, that this course was specifically for Black women was key. “So much is geared more towards men or other backgrounds... This provides a safe space so you feel comfortable, working in an environment where there are other people like you.”
Unfortunately, the Black CodHer founders can share many stories of racism they have experienced at work.
Hunter recalls someone at work whispering the “n-word” in her ear.
A senior manager at a multinational engineering firm once compared Adebayo coming to work with a “curly crochet” hairstyle to “coming into the office with an ugly bowtie”. An intern at the time, she says, “I didn’t have the confidence to challenge and escalate it.”
Dada remembers joining a new company. “When I was logging into the systems, my password was: “BAME” plus the year I was born... You wonder, ‘Have you even noticed that I have a skillset?’”
With this course, and the wider work that they are doing in their networks, Hunter, Adebayo and Dada hope to affect real change in an industry that still has a long way to go to become diverse.
“If there are 10 percent of Black people in the population, there should be 10 percent inside an organisation, says Hunter. ”I want to see Black women in roles from entry level right through to executive level with the correct representation.”
“A lot of companies say they are meeting their diversity targets,” continues Hunter. “I’m saying, ‘Make sure you also have Black representation’.”
Black women have unique challenges that are separate from those of Asian women.
Oyinkansola Adebayo, cofounder of Black CodHer
Adebayo relates. “I was talking to someone about representation and they kept saying: ‘BAME’ – Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. But Black women have unique challenges that are separate from those of Asian women.”
Dada says: “I don’t see any diverse leadership. It’s still white male, which is problematic because Black women working in these organisations don’t feel like they can progress.”
And, of course, making progress means getting Black women into programming with courses such as Black CodHer. And, if you too would like to find your way into tech, the coding apps used by some of the Black CodHer cohort, are a great place to start.