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5 conferences that are helping black women and women of color overcome gender inequality in tech ' and how to land a coveted spot

Published by Business Insider on Fri, 21 Feb 2020


Women of color represent 80% of new female-led small businesses, but black women make up less than 4% of female-led tech startups.Conferences like LinkedIn's TransformHER and Mahisha Dellinger's Black Girls Making Millions Academy are bringing women of color together to talk about improving gender and racial equality in tech.The founders of these events wanted to create empowering communities locally and nationally for women of color to learn best practices and tools for navigating spaces where they are the minority.These conferences are just a few of many that help transform the experiences black women have as founders and tech professionals.Click here for more BI Prime stories.It was a warm April day in 2018 when over 500 women of color gathered at the Empire State Building in NYC for a conference focused on being a woman and a person of color in tech.The gathering was LinkedIn's first-ever TransformHER conference, dedicated to finding a solution for navigating spaces where you're a minority. That morning I had an opportunity to speak on a panel about how to be authentic in the workplace to a packed room of women who each had a different experience of navigating the workplace. It was my first major speaking event and the first time I attended a conference dedicated to women of color's professional development.After the panel, I stayed to hear other panelists and network. In the evening portion of the conference, a young black woman came to the mic and started crying. She shared her gratitude for the social network for producing an event where she felt seen and heard for the first time. There wasn't a dry eye in the room because everyone felt the same way. It's a feeling of "other" that is far too familiar for black women in corporate America.Recent data shows that rooms like this are rare: Women of color account for 80% of the new female-led small businesses, but black women account for less than 4% of female-led startups in tech, gender equality research from the Kapor Center and Arizona State Universityfound. The data also revealed that when it comes to tech professionals, only 7% are black women.Within the last few years, several conferences have been produced by black women to meet the needs of inclusion and community and provide tools for black women to navigate today's work cultures.But even as more black professionals are becoming equipped with the skill set to enter tech-focused jobs, companies still fall behind in recruiting, retaining, and promoting black candidates. While companies are still trying to figure it out, black women have created safe spaces to gather and develop a community of support around these issues.Here are a few conferences designed to empower women of color founders and tech professionals.1. LinkedIn's TransformHEREmployee resource groups are finding ways not only to reach their workers, but also to connect with the broader tech community. LinkedIn's TransformHER was created by LinkedIn employees Tyrona "Ty" Heath and Ezra Zimbler in 2018 in New York City. It's a space "designed to look beyond obstacles and get into action, up-leveling, and changing our trajectory," Heath shared with Business Insider. The conference launched in San Francisco in February 2019 and returned to New York City in March 2019.When Heath ended her term as president of LinkedIn's black inclusion group, she wanted to create an event that would have a lasting impact beyond her leadership role."As women and as people of color, we are all well aware of the obstacles and challenges we face," she said. "We can acknowledge these challenges and at the same time look forward to the future and ask ourselves: 'What's possible and how can we be in action around a solution''"TransformHER is a day long and free to attend; it's always hosted at one of LinkedIn's offices.However, with admission being free, space is limited, so LinkedIn offers a livestream link for those who can't attend in person. This year's conference is taking place on February 28, 2020, at its New York City offices, this time offering three tracks for attendees to experience: "Build," "Thrive," and "Grow." These three tracks touch on issues concerning entrepreneurship, self-esteem, wellness, and professional development.2. Black Women Talk TechFour years ago, friends Lauren Washington, Esosa Ighodaro, and Regina Gwynn wanted to host a small group of black, female tech professionals in New York City to create a sense of community. However, their plans for a small gathering turned into 300 RSVPs for a room that could only hold 30 women. The response let them know that there was a need for something bigger, which led them to create Black Women Talk Tech."We didn't see ourselves or our experience reflected in the usual tech conferences we were attending when we met back in 2015," Washington said. "If there were any black women speaking at these conferences, they were often talking about diversity, not about their expertise or being a founder."Beyond wanting to see more women on stages who looked like and shared the same experiences as them, they also wanted to create "a strong network of black women founders who we could lean on and uplift," Washington shared, because entrepreneurship can get lonely. The group now has eight chapters across the US to help create impact and provide support on a local level.In 2019, Black Women Talk Tech grew to a three-day conference with over 1,000 attendees. Their theme was about preparing black women to build and operate billion-dollar companies, with a keynote by Julia Collins, cofounder of Zume."We purposely create the conference so that founders leave with tangible action items to build into their business and with real connectionsto each other, investors, or supportersto bring them to life," explained Washington.The event takes place every Black History Month and includes two ticket types: a pass for company founders and general admission. Attendees can also get group passes if sponsored by an organization or corporate company. This year's three-day conference will take place February 27 to 29 in New York City. There are two days dedicated for founders to learn and engage with one another: the Founder's Retreat and Founder's Day.A founder's pass gets you access to both days and the general summit, which includes workshops, panel discussions, wellness experiences, networking, and beauty services, for $349.3. Black Girls Making Millions AcademyBlack women need to know how to create billion-dollar businesses, but they also need to know the fundamentals of creating a million-dollar one.The 2019 American Express "State of Women-Owned Businesses" report showed that black women-owned businesses average $24,000 in revenue. And only 1.7% of all women-owned businesses have generated $1 million or more in revenue, according to American Express' 2018 report.Mahisha Dellinger, founder of CURLS, brought the concept of her show, "Mind Your Business With Mahisha," to life with the inaugural Black Girls Making Millions Academy in Los Angeles, and she closed out the year by bringing the academy to Miami in December 2019."After my show, 'Mind Your Business with Mahisha' on the [Oprah Winfrey Network] ended, I knew I had to do more," Dellinger said. "I received thousands of requests for personal, one-on-one mentoring, so I created an environment to do so on a larger scale. Black Girls Making Millions was born out of necessity; supporting black women and highlighting their achievements is a top priority for me."The sold-out, three-day event brought together 80 women. Attendees chose from three tracks: "The Start Up" to help turn ideas into a viable business, "The Come Up" to help grow businesses and take it to the next level, and "The Blow Up" to help pitch business ideas to investors for funding. Attendees had full access to Dellinger, who took her hair care line that she's owned for 17 years to a seven-figure company in four years. This event gives women the ability to have coaching and personal time with Dellinger, who was able to mentor other women founders like The Furlough Cheesecake Sisters, who turned a government shutdown viral moment into a sustainable business.The next Black Girls Making Millions is hosting smaller events in different cities to reach founders. The next event will be held in New York City this spring. The April 2020 event will be a group dinner with guest presenters and a session that will cost $150, which includes a presentation from Dellinger on her entrepreneurial journey and insight into her tactics for becoming a millionaire. (An announcement via their marketing channels will provide a link to register. Women who are interested should follow the CURLS Instagram page or website.)4. HUE Tech SummitNot everyone is a founder or works as a tech professional in New York City or Silicon Valley. That's why the HUE Tech Summit, entering its third year, caters to Delaware Valley black women professionals. This conference allows black women in tech from Delaware, Pennsylvania, and South New Jersey region to gather for a day of education and empowerment."I saw a need to create an experience for women of color who are technologists," said HUE Tech Summit founder Jumoke Dada. "I attend a lot of conferences, and I notice that most were focused on startups. I didn't find many options for women like myself who have technical skills and are entrepreneurs, particularly in Philadelphia."In 2018, Dada brought together 300 women of color in tech to discuss how they could stay marketable while growing and navigating the industry through speakers, panels, and workshops that specifically met the needs of black female professionals.In its second year, the HUE Summit hosted Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital and Hulu veteran Lisa Gelobter as keynote speakers. For its 2020 program, Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code and tech-life expert Stephanie Humphrey will give keynotes on May 1 in Philadelphia. The summit will help kick off Philly Tech Week. General admission is $225; a special student price ticket will give attendees access to recruiters, panels, breakout sessions, lunch, headshots, swag bags, and a Hidden Figures Awards reception.5. Mavens I/O Black Women in Tech ConferenceDevin Jackson and Aditi Green of We Build Black, a nonprofit focused on increasing diversity in tech with development programs for developers, engineers, and designers, wanted to create a conference that would provide support, resources, and empowerment for black women working as tech professionals. That became Mavens I/O Black Women in Tech Conference."We created the conference because we felt there wasn't a platform that specifically highlighted the black women sitting behind the computer, actually creating the tech that we all use daily," shared Green. Once We Build Black saw the positive impact of the community building that took place at the first conference, a subsidiary group, She Builds Black, was created in 2018 to foster the networking and organizing created.In 2019, the free Mavens I/O Black Women in Tech Conference took place in New York City at Google with educational workshops for over 100 black women in tech fields as developers, engineers, and designers, as well as offered opportunities for attendees to meet with HR professionals at various companies for guidance on career transitions and jobs within their organizations. Attendees registered for the free event until the event was at capacity. The next event will take place in May 2020, and the conference is currently looking for speakers and workshop facilitators."The one thing I hope attendees leave with is an understanding of their own power, how to use and strengthen their communities for not only themselves, but the ones that come after them," Green added.SEE ALSO:Less than 10% of decision makers in venture capital are women. Here's a managing partner's advice for shattering the glass ceiling.READ MORE:6 important tips for interviewers looking to hire top talent from diverse backgrounds, according to HR and D&I leadersJoin the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: Taylor Swift is the world's highest-paid celebrity. Here's how she makes and spends her $360 million.
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