Google and more giant tech brands are joining forces to encourage black women programmers and technology entrepreneurs to hone their skills and acquire venture capital investment.
Seeking to change the face of the tech sector — which is overwhelmingly young, male and white — the coming Focus 100 symposium, soon to be held in New York City, will bring together brilliant minds of all backgrounds.
Organized by Digital Undivided, Focus 100 bills itself as “The Most Diverse Tech Conference on the Planet,” according to its web site. Major corporations in addition to important venture capital firms such as Andreesen Horowitz are behind this effort to bring more black female talent to the digital space.
Eighty percent of the speakers at the October 4-6 symposium will be comprised of women and people of color, a complete reversal of the typical depiction of the technology field.
Typical tech conferences are often described as homogeneously white, male and hostile towards those outside this demographic.
Just days ago a controversy erupted over these issues in Silicon Valley. In early September, the world famous conference Disrupt, hosted by the seminal blog TechCrunch, opened with a demonstration for an app called “Titstare” — yes, an app for oggling women’s breasts.
What seemed like a great joke to the largely straight, white, male audience resulted in a web-wide backlash that validated rampant complaints of sexism and myopia in tech-related environments.
Black digital evangelist Adria Richards was also fired earlier this year after complaining over Twitter about sexism she encountered at a technology conference, an occurrence that spawned an industry-wide conversation about tech as a white boys’ club.
Focus 100 aims to change this pervasive problem.
Helping black women make a difference
Although all groups are invited, black women will be the focus of the main symposium events.
“Twenty-five percent of our attendees for the hackathon will be African-American women coders,” a conference spokesperson explained to VentureBeat.com. The hackathon, a contest in which programmers take on a challenge (sometimes for a prize), will augment a business bootcamp as an additional training ground.
Ultimately, Focus 100 will connect black women and others who are underserved with the tools, contacts, financing and other resources needed to level the playing field and render technology a true reflection of our society.
“The black community, especially black women, are a vital part of the overall tech ecosystem, as both consumers and creators,” Kathryn Finney, managing director of the conference, told Venture Beat. “If you’re looking for diversity in terms of ideas and thoughts around technology and the startup world, then you must attend Focus 100.”
Bringing together ideas and innovators
This may sound too good to be true, but Focus 100 has a proven track record.
“Forty tech companies that were founded or cofounded by African American women were at Focus 100 last year, and 20 percent of them have [taken] at least one funding round since,” Venure Beat also reports. “All receive mentorship and guidance from some of the planet’s biggest tech companies, including Microsoft and Facebook.”
This year’s Focus 100 is a great follow-up to recent events held by the organization Black Girls Hack, which was founded by partners who met at Focus 100 last year. Recently, Black Girls Hack hosted the first non-profit hackathon series targeted to African-Americans. This year, Focus 100 will continue this tradition, which it helped make possible.
“They’re grooming us to be players in the real world,” a previous Focus 100 attendant said.
Ending racism, sexism in tech
Ending racism, sexism and other forms of exclusion in the technology community is often discussed in a negative fashion, in terms of raising valid complaints about discrimination and seeking to change society.
To complement that, more efforts such as Focus 100 are needed to place the tools of change in the hands of those seeking a greater voice.
“The way to change this is for people who have been successful from the disadvantaged communities to help others behind them,” Vivek Wadhwa, a technology scholar and columnist told theGrio in a previous report on racism in technology. “Indians did that and achieved extraordinary success. This is building on itself.”
Focus 100 is poised to help blacks, women, and all those who want to work together in the spirit of equality, to do just that.
Focus 100 will take place in New York City, from October 4-6.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.