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Posted 16 May 2023

Black Futures Month: More Black, Neurodivergent Women In Tech

In the modern era the tech industry wields great power and influence over most of our lives, whether we care to admit it or not. It is hard to exist in the workplace without a degree of tech proficiency. Social media helps us stay connected to each other but also has the power to manipulate how we see the world and feel about ourselves. Knowing that we have no choice but to rely on tech makes it even more important that we have people working in this sector with good intentions and varied life experiences. Bias creeps in so easily when all the people at the top look and think the same.

In the neurodiversity world, we have seen a big drive to recruit Autistic people into tech jobs as the Autistic brain is often well suited to this type of work but with that, we have also seen an example of when intentional inclusion goes off-track. Sadly, this white male-led industry ended up recruiting mostly white male Autists into these roles, with less success including other genders or ethnic backgrounds. They also focused in so specifically on one neurotype that they excluded the benefits of employing others from the neurodivergent community. This message has landed with some tech companies, but it is taking a long time to make change, given the current layoffs and the downturn cycle. It is, however, essential for regaining a competitive, innovative edge, to turn the tide of stagnation.

Introducing Kathryn Smith, Co-Founder Of Inpathy

Currently, Black women make up only 3% of the tech industry workforce according to a 2023 report by Forbes, but I believe that is set to change, as more women start businesses and develop social media platforms.

Kathryn Smith is a Trailblazer in Tech and Diversity, she is co-founder of the: Inpathy app, which aims to develop a social media community based on narratives of positivity and support. I spoke to her about getting inclusion right. Smith says:

“My personal commitment to my role as the Co-Founder & Chief Operations Officer at Inpathy is to advocate for tech companies who are trying to solve mental health problems to see the benefit of hiring BIPOC social workers in leadership positions.

The conversation around Autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions has been dominated by white, male voices, but neurodiversity does not belong to a race, class, gender, or culture. Diversity and inclusion in the tech industry will not truly be achieved until we challenge the social structures and systems in place that prevent underrepresented groups from entering and thriving in the tech industry. It is crucial to recognise and address the systemic issues that impact black women and other marginalised communities in tech – including the gatekeeping of the resources, education and opportunities needed to obtain a successful tech career.”

Low Diversity Equals Lower Reflexivity

One of the strongest benefits of increasing diversity in business is that customers are diverse. In technology, the developers are typically they types of people who love entering data and creating accurate strings of numbers. But technology users are very often people who hate entering data and are highly inaccurate at typing in strings of numbers! Technology that does well has strong user experience and accessibility features, known as UX and this comes from diversifying the tech developers, across intersectional lines. It is time to move away from the myth that the white male Autist has the best brain for tech. Smith concurs:

“The prioritisation of one protected condition alone has perpetuated the idea that tech is only for a select few, which is far from the truth. The system is not complete without the presence and participation of every voice at every level. This requires acknowledging the power imbalances between all groups and working to dismantle them all simultaneously. True EDI is achieved when there are social policies in place that address the needs of a diverse range of communities and the value and diversity of all individuals and communities is recognised.”

How To Solve Technology’s Problems

Without a thoughtful unbiased approach to inclusion, tech companies are still lacking in true representation across a wide range of groups. This is their loss because the talented people they miss out on will become the founders and entrepreneurs and change makers that compete with them. All businesses benefit from diversity of thought, especially in industries that move change quickly and rely on constant innovation. Smith’s lived experience brings different priorities to her work, which give her the edge on transformation of an industry which has become a public and civic health concern. Smith says:

“Our Inpathy app supports the overall mental health and wellness of marginalised youth by providing them the ability to use their social networks as an outlet to be themselves, share their stories and express themselves freely without social pressures and the fear of discrimination, hate speech, or cyberbullying”.

There is a huge appetite for social media that facilitates authentic connection without compromising mental health and community engagement, Smith is onto something. Solving the problems created by modern technology will require diversifying the in crowd currently making the decisions. You simply cannot fix problems using the same mindset that created them. Black, neurodivergent women can lead the way.