Black Women In The Computing Ecosystem

Despite gender-focused efforts to increase the number of women receiving Bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science, Information Technology, and other related fields, a closer look reveals that the percentage of African American women receiving Bachelor degrees in these fields in the United States has significantly dropped over a ten year period (2004 – 2014) (NSF 2015 Report). Few empirical studies have specifically examined the experiences of African American women in the computing pipeline, indicating this is an understudied area of research in broadening participation in computing.  

Breakdown of Gender & Race in CS

African American women often struggle with self-efficacy (an individual’s belief that she can perform a task for producing a specific outcome) and persistence (a student’s determination to complete a specific curriculum to attain a degree) as computing majors, resulting in decreased retention in the computing pipeline. Subsequently, this research focuses on the personal experiences of African American women in in various stages of the computing pipeline to better understand the challenges they face. Results of this research will inform best practices for effective mentorship models and networks of support for career development.

Collins & Bilge [14] describe Intersectionality as “a way of understanding and analyzing the complexity in the world, in people, and in human experiences.” Though Kimberle Crenshaw has been credited for using the term intersectionality because of her work which focused on the discrimination of Black women in the legal system, intersectionality dates back to the 19th century (Collins, 2000).  Informed by Critical Race Theory, (Bell, 1995) intersectionality posits that “when it comes to social inequality, people’s lives and the organization of power in a given society are better understood as being shaped not by a single axis of social division, be it race or gender or class, but by many axes that work together and influence each other” (Collins & Bilge, 2016). I utilize intersectionality as a critical framework for drawing attention to Black women’s experiences navigating the computing ecosystem, paying close attention to the interlocking systems of oppression (gendered-racism, White supremacy, sexism, etc.) that negatively impact Black women’s ability to persist in the field of computing.