“Once I started to understand math, I realized I was very good at it.”
It is clear, and was made even clearer at Tech Intersections, that the low numbers for womxn of color in the technology sector is not because of lack of skill or expertise. In addition to historic, economic, and political disadvantages that have created limited access to STEM careers for women of color and other marginalized communities, the technology sector still hasn’t realized how invaluable womxn of color perspectives are to creating a progress society using technology. In fact, people of color in tech is so rare – despite increasing diversity and inclusion efforts thanks to people like Erica Joy Baker – that seeing another person of color, according to Jasmine: “it’s the color purple syndrome… it’s like me and you, us never part.” While a comical analogy to describe feelings of loneliness in the tech sector, this shows that the need for solidarity and a feeling of community with others who think like you and may also look like you is constant. Tech Intersections provided this community, a network and this solidarity through their conference. I could feel the energy and excitement of new-found support from every young woman I talked to throughout the day.
As Leah McGowen-Hare said in her closing keynote speech: “A room full of women, and women of color. That’s power times infinity.” I felt that way the entire day as I went from panel to panel, both impressed and unsurprised by the brilliance of the women who were doing talks and leading panels. The talks transcended the feelings of isolation in tech, instead talking about how to decrease bias in the sector both in terms of hiring and AI. Topics like community control of modern technology and the intersection of space and AI were shared. Camille Eddy spoke about bias in algorithms, which led me to think about how these algorithms affect our communities from being (seemingly) in the air to people on the ground. Dr. Christianna Taylor spoke about using artificial intelligence to build in space utilizing materials from old satellites, which, as a Trekkie, made me imagine what the Starship Enterprise would be like if it were built and run by womxn of color from all over the world (or in this case – the universe). Idalin Bobe, one of the organizers of the conference, invoked the Black Panther’s ten point agenda conveying that “[people] don’t want to be scared of tech,” rather they want to use it to fight injustice. The breadth and depth of these talks reflected how widespread womxn of color in tech are, and the variety of fields within tech they are in.
After Camille reminded us that “the internet itself is biased… the internet is part of the problem,” I listened to Kaitlyn Carter – an engineer at Medium – explain how many recommendations systems work and how that affects us as users. These talks, and this conference more generally, prompted me to write an article discussing how my field, urban geography, intersects with technology. These sessions, which discussed system processes, bias, and technological production underscore the idea that how we do our work and who does the work matters. As Mama Leah said: “Silos, isolation does not foster innovation.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, and didn’t have to because she already did. The technology sector, although it tries, cannot isolate itself from the demographics and realities of the globe if it wants to thrive and survive in our increasingly changing world that is becoming more colorful and more resistant to inequity. Innovation comes from resourcefulness and resilience, two characteristics that womxn of color and other marginalized communities have engrained in our historic and contemporary experiences. In order to move forward, we must do it together. We know this, we’re just encouraging the technology sector to come on board.
This conference centralized and normalized womxn of color in tech in a way that built bridges and gave us tools to continue both individually and collectively. Even as an urban geographer I learned so much from this conference, felt my perspective was also valuable and could intersect with some of the work that others at the conference do. Tech Intersections was a revelation, realized by womxn who – on a daily basis – are creating an inclusive future for all of us using technology and a commitment to societal justice.