It’s putting it mildly to say that Black women are underrepresented in the field of technology. A new interactive map uses historical data to help raise awareness among Black women that anything really is possible and that, specifically, there is space for them in the technology industries.
Can you share the main objectives of the collaboration between GTA Black Women in Tech and UN Women, and explain how the interactive historical map project fits into those objectives?
At GTA Black Women in Tech, we wanted to find a way to continue raising awareness about all the amazing Black women throughout history who have made an incredible impact on the technology field. We’ve published three different books on this topic, but wanted to do something a bit different this year. We developed an interactive, visual map to help Black women and girls learn about the inspiring individuals who came before them. The partnership with UN Women helped make this dream a reality, as they supported with the development and sharing of the interactive historical map. UN Women does so much work on a global stage to continue the fight for gender equality, and we were thrilled that they chose to partner with us on this project.
What motivated you to create the world’s first interactive historical map chronicling the stories and impact of Black women in the tech industry, and why is this initiative so important?
This interactive historical map is incredibly important, because it increases the accessibility of stories about influential Black women, ensuring that their stories are not forgotten. Furthermore, we provide role models that young Black women can relate to. This collaboration with UN Women ensures that these stories reach diverse audiences worldwide, promoting awareness and understanding of the experiences of Black women who have been silenced throughout history. Together, we celebrate and amplify their voices, contributing to the ongoing pursuit of equality, inclusion, and justice for all women around the globe.
The project focuses on untold stories and profound impact. Could you highlight one or two stories or individuals from the map that you find particularly inspiring and representative of the contributions of Black women in tech?
I love the legend of Queen Moremi, who lived in the 12th century in the Kingdom of Ife, which is now Nigeria. She is a legendary person in African history and folklore. Alongside her husband, King Oranmiyan, she ruled the realm as a strong and important queen. Queen Moremi is renowned for her bravery and slyness, which helped preserve her people from a grave threat, despite her regal status.
I also loved discovering the story of Shaka, the founder of the Zulu nation, who played a significant role in South African history in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. His mother, Queen Nandi, was a devoted Zulu devotee who was renowned for her leadership and intelligence. Her union with King Senzangakhona, who was born into the Elangeni tribe, signalled a political partnership. Queen Nandi instilled in King Shaka the principles of bravery and deference. As a peacemaker and mediator, she was instrumental in the establishment of the Zulu country. The enduring legacy of Queen Nandi serves as a testament to the noteworthy influence that women have had on South Africa’s history.
How do you see this interactive historical map contributing to greater diversity in the tech industry and addressing issues related to social, economic, and gender justice on a global scale?
At the moment, the lack of Black women in the tech industry means that there are currently fewer Black women in leadership positions who are making hiring decisions. In fact, less than 0.7 per cent of Black women currently work in tech in the UK. This makes it difficult for cultural change to take place on a large scale, as Black women do not currently have many allies in the workplace who understand the unique challenges we face.
The only way that we can create change is by continuing to increase visibility and make our voices heard. In addition to GTA Black Women in Tech’s new book, The Voices in the Shadow, Volume 3, the interactive historical map will become an important tool for young women and girls who are exploring careers in this industry. Both the book and the historical map will be available in schools for students. When Black girls begin to see others who look like them in technology roles, whether on the historical map, through our books, or in real life, it will become clear that anything is truly possible; there are places for them in the industry to achieve anything they set their minds to. The historical map is an important part of creating the visibility for this cultural change to take place.
Can you describe the technology and design aspects of the map and how it will engage the public and help them explore the history and impact of Black women in tech?
We tried to make the map as visually engaging and accessible as possible. Our approach for the map combines the written word, visual arts, and multimedia technology to create an immersive experience that captivates readers and viewers alike. We wanted the map to be a convenient and informative way for people from all walks of life to learn more about the profound impact that Black women have had. You can simply traverse the globe by hovering over the map and clicking on an icon in a specific continent to expand your perspective.
Collaboration with UN Women is a significant achievement. In what ways do you envision this partnership catalysing positive change in the tech industry and beyond?
We’re incredibly privileged to be working with UN Women on this project. This organisation has engaged in pivotal work to help women and girls reach their full potential in life, partnering with global organisations on key issues that transcend borders. This partnership has helped us reach more Black women who are looking for opportunities, as well as employers who are looking for talent. Moving forward, we will be working with UN Women to educate through projects such as this one and create opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, and empowerment. By fostering a supportive ecosystem, we aim to break down barriers and ensure lasting positive change in the tech industry and beyond.
What are your hopes and expectations for the long-term impact of this initiative, and how do you plan to ensure its sustainability and continued relevance?
The interactive map is a live project and we will continue to add to it over time to ensure that a wide range of Black women’s experiences are incorporated from around the globe. In the meantime, we remain dedicated to building bridges of opportunity for Black women and girls, hosting events and building our network of partners and employers to help connect talented Black women with companies that are looking for their unique expertise. Our long-term goal is to see increased representation of Black women in the tech industry and related fields. To ensure sustainability, we plan to collaborate with educational institutions, community organisations, and industry partners, creating a robust network that supports ongoing initiatives, growth programmes, and educational resources.
Finally, what advice would you give to organisations and individuals who want to initiate similar projects or collaborate to promote diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, based on your experiences with this historic endeavour?
Don’t take “No” for an answer! The only way for us to truly create change is by continuing to speak about the challenges that people of colour have faced as they enter the tech industry. Diverse perspectives and voices will always matter, particularly in an industry that is paving the way forward and creating solutions to tomorrow’s challenges. Lack of diversity is a huge problem, because that leads to lack of innovation. Problems can be solved more quickly and creatively when the teams doing the thinking have diverse world views to share. Embrace collaboration and seek partnerships with organisations that share similar values. By amplifying underrepresented voices and fostering inclusive practices, we can collectively contribute to a more diverse, equitable, and innovative tech industry.
Flavilla Fongang is a multi-award-winning serial entrepreneur, and an international multilingual keynote speaker. Her impressive repertoire includes being the founder of marketing agency 3 Colours Rule and co-founder of the not-for-profit organisation Global Tech Advocates – Black Women in Tech and the networking platform Black Rise.