On the last day of Miami's Black Tech Week conference, about 40 women (and a few men) gathered for the “Women’s Innovation Brunch and Awards” to network and share stories about the challenges of being a woman of color in the disproportionately white, male tech industry.
Felicia Hatcher, who co-founded Black Tech Week along with her husband Derick Pearson, asked the group of African-American and Caribbean women to think about something they wish someone had told them in a moment of vulnerability. She asked half the room to close their eyes, while the other half whispered those words that came to them into another’s ear. As the room quietly buzzed with low whispers, tears fell and women began to embrace.
Hatcher said Black Tech Week’s growing community is built around using technology as a tool for empowerment.
Hatcher had big goals when she founded her first project, Code Fever, an organization that teaches students from the poorest neighborhoods in Miami a skill they can build stable careers on – learning to code. But after the first few lesson, she realized many students would have to start with the basics.
“If you go into some of these neighborhoods and classrooms, we realized some of our students didn’t know where the backspace button was or how to use a computer. So we had to take a step back say ‘we are going to teach you digital literacy,’” said Hatcher.
She created a safe space where students could ask basic questions without judgment or hesitation, the same environment she strives to offer with her collaborators at Black Tech Week.
Valencia Gunder, a community activist and founder of Make the Homeless Smile Miami, has attended the conference since its first year in 2014. She says every year has taught her something new; this year was mental wellness.
“[On Friday] there was a panel of entrepreneurs talking about ways they actually take time to invent self-care in their lives—and still are badass women all at the same time,” Gunder said.
Carving out time to preserve mental well-being had helped the panelists keep their careers on track while juggling the responsibilities of raising a family.
Another exhibitor, Sasha Smith, a business strategy consultant at Cognizant Solutions, spoke about her experience expanding workplace diversity in Fortune 500 companies.
“When you have diversity it brings the organization more revenue, more money. You know, America is diverse. So our clients will look at us like, ‘Why are there no women? Why are there no people of color?’ because their customers are those people,” Smith said.
Black Tech Week is expanding nationally this year, with plans to take the conference on a 10-city tour, visiting low-income minority neighborhoods. The locations and dates can be found below:
- March 8-10, Austin, Texas
- March 22-24, Los Angeles
- May 10-12, Philadelphia
- May 17-19, NYC
- May 24-26, DC
- May 3-June 2, Charlotte, NC
- Sept 6-8, Atlanta
- Sept 13-15, Detroit
- Sept 20-22, Kansas City, Mo.
- Sept 27-29, Cincinnati
For more information, visit BlackTechWeek.com