The best thing I’ve done so far to celebrate Women’s History Month was seeing Black Panther in the theater. As soon as it started I became one of the scores of people thrilled by what I saw on screen – a terrific superhero movie, a showcase of black excellence, and an army of black women fighters, scientists and heros. As a white woman, I was inspired by seeing something completely different than I had ever seen in a film before. And what I saw resonated for me as a believer in diverse businesses and told a story about what exactly we’re missing when we discount diversity, and specifically, black knowledge, power and expertise.
The movie depicts Wakanda, an African nation that has been untouched by colonization and thus has able to leverage the most powerful material in the world, vibranium. To protect themselves, Wakandans hide in plain sight from the rest of the world who believe that Wakanda is, as an American CIA agent puts it, “a third world nation.” The King, T’Challa, (Chadwick Boseman) surrounds himself with fierce women including his mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) a brilliant scientist and technologist, his general Okoye (Danai Gurira), and his conscience, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). With vibranium and the ingenuity, the people of Wakanda have mind-blowing tech including high speed trains that operate on magnetic levitation, pioneering spinal surgery, and VR and AR applications that would make today’s tech moguls swoon. As I was watching the beauty and power of this technology on screen, it wasn’t lost on me that director Ryan Coogler was showing us what could have been, and perhaps could still be.
For that utopia to become a reality, however, things need to change. Right now in the U.S. people of color, and specifically African-Americans and especially African-American women are woefully under-represented in tech. Black women are the most educated group in the U.S., are starting businesses at higher rates than any other group, and they employ 400,000 people and generated $40 billion in 2012. Yet they receive less than 1% of venture capital, about 0.2%.
I’m certainly not the first to mention what we’re missing, but as we watch the technological marvels on screen and revel in the possibilities, I want to think about what we can do to move our present closer to that future. I’m lucky enough to be in Washington DC which is consistently ranked #1 as the best place for women in tech. There are wonderful resources for women of color with Beacon, Black Female Founders, Black Girl Ventures, and Powerful Women Making Power Moves that are amplifying and elevating black women’s work.
A few black female founders in DC that are working on bringing us to a brighter future include:
The Mentor Method‘s Janice Omadeke who is creating career path for diverse job applicants with all-inclusive system for better diversity and inclusion business design. By working with The Mentor Method, companies engage their top performers to make sure they don’t miss out on the best talent.
ReciproCare’s Dr. Charlene Brown is tackling America’s caregiver crisis by making it easier and faster for senior care companies to find caregivers for their clients, thereby improving the lives of vulnerable populations who rely on long term care.
Go Together’s Kimberly Moore is solving a time management crisis for families, cutting down on traffic, and creating safe ways for parents to share transportation duties.