A lot of attention has been paid in recent years to the employment gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Presently, more men than women pursue and persist in careers in these areas. A similar employment gap in STEM fields exists for non-Asian minorities. For example, more whites and Asian minorities find success in careers in the STEM fields than non-Asian minorities do. This means that white males make up the largest percentage of employees in STEM careers. It also means that non-Asian minority women face a double employment gap in STEM careers.
Many people are making efforts to close these employment gaps and help members of underrepresented groups not only qualify for but also find and stay in STEM careers. These advocates primarily build education pipelines to ensure that members of underrepresented groups can meet the same educational outcomes in STEM fields as others experience. They also hope to achieve workplaces in STEM that are more diverse, opening opportunities for all in these lucrative employment fields. Their dream is for everybody to believe that their STEM career possibilities are limitless, regardless of their gender, race, or ethnicity.
One person striving to achieve these goals is Khalia Braswell, whom The Charlotte Observer recently profiled for her work providing tech education to girls of color in North Carolina. Braswell, only 27 years old, was an engineer at Apple when she started a nonprofit organization that aims to introduce girls of color to the important skills, workers, and employers in the high-tech field. Eventually, Braswell decided to devote herself full time to her nonprofit work. Since 2014, roughly 550 middle-school-aged girls have participated in programs sponsored by her nonprofit.
The nonprofit, called INTech, offers girls summer camps that focus on technical skills. The camps also introduce girls to female mentors who work in technical careers and provide tours of local tech-focused workplaces. After a weeklong camp, girls learn enough HTML coding and mobile app development to launch websites focused on solving community problems such as bullying, homelessness, and unemployment. These camps are offered at schools in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro, North Carolina.
However, Braswell’s story has not always been rosy. She began her life as the daughter of a single mother living in a small city in rural North Carolina. Braswell’s mother knew that opportunities for her daughter would be limited there, so her mother moved alone to the much larger city of Charlotte, leaving her daughter in the care of the girl’s grandmother. After a year apart, mother and daughter were reunited.
With little income, Braswell and her mother lived in a single-wide trailer in a high-poverty area of the city. However, Braswell excelled in elementary school and was placed in advanced curriculum classes and gifted programs. This led to her eventual admission to the technology magnet high school where she met two influential female mentors. Her AP computer teacher and the school’s IT systems manager were both women of color who served as role models for Braswell.
As an undergraduate, and later as a graduate student, Braswell encountered additional mentorship opportunities. She found connections through the National Society of Black Engineers and the National Black Data Processors Association, as well as through the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Finding mentors and peers of similar backgrounds who are pursuing similar types of work can help anyone stick with a career path. So, opportunities for mentorship like the ones Braswell found through her pursuit of higher education were likely invaluable to her success.
Because of the mentorship opportunities they provide, Braswell’s nonprofit and others like it are vitally important to the success of future generations of girls of color who want to pursue tech careers. These young women need someone to introduce them to the latest technology. They also need to meet women of color pursuing careers in tech fields who can serve as role models. Finally, these young people need to learn about the companies that are hiring in the tech fields. Braswell’s nonprofit fulfills all of these requirements, which makes it a model program for others to emulate.