The tech industry has a reputation for being dominated by men, particularly white men. According to statistics from the National Center for Women and Information Technology, in 2019, women of color represented just 11 percent of the mathematical and computing workforce, with black women comprising just 3 percent in total.
Although these figures are changing for the better, many would argue that progress has been slow, and has not gone far enough. To really change the face of Silicon Valley and make it more representative of the markets it serves, the tech industry needs to become more inclusive.
In this article, we look at three of the most inspiring black women in tech, exploring their impact and accomplishments.
1. Olabisi (Bisi) Boyle, Vice President of the Internet of Things at Visa
Growing up, Bisi Boyle wanted to combine math with imagination to work as an engineer, making items that were not just functional, but also beautiful. Boyle studied at Colombia University, earning a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering as well as a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. She also attended Fordham University, earning a bachelor of science in physics.
Bisi Boyle started her career as an entry-level engineer at GTE, the precursor to Verizon. She also worked at IBM before joining the auto industry. She soon developed a passion for auto manufacturing. Boyle was employed by the Ford Motor Company for eight years, followed by Fiat Chrysler Automotive for another 12 years, where she worked as chief engineer for their minivan platform.
After joining Visa in 2017, Bisi Boyle was tasked with overseeing Internet of Things verticals across a variety of sectors, including automotive, retail, home, and cities. Her role involves managing teams around the world as they develop future payment experiences connected to the devices that we use every day, from smart mirrors, TVs, and refrigerators to cars and kiosks.
Boyle indicates that tech companies need to have empathy for people from under-represented minorities who lack representation in a world that caters to the majority. She highlights the need for industry leaders to be at the forefront of change in terms of driving diversity and inclusion, creating a pipeline for minorities from the entry-level to senior leadership. She says that to win, we need to achieve mutual empathy, creating a climate where everyone feels they belong.
2. Michee Smith, Security and Privacy Product Manager at Google
With plans to be a lawyer, Smith joined a mock trial team as a high school freshman to see what it would be like. While Smith enjoyed the experience, she soon came to realize that the role would not be a good fit for her.
Having excelled in science and math since elementary school, Smith had always harbored an interest in computers. Through her studies at Rochester Institute of Technology, Michee Smith earned a degree in computer science, majoring in AI.
As security and privacy product manager at Google, Michee Smith found work in the area that sparked her interest in tech. Prior to joining Google, Smith spent 11 years at Microsoft, where she discovered a passion for privacy, becoming privacy chairman for her team. As part of Google Cloud, Smith’s current team builds products that that safeguard privacy, ensuring the Cloud is a secure place for clients to store data.
In a recent interview with Moguldom Nation, Smith indicated she was not there because she was necessarily special, but because she refused to allow rejection to stand in her way. She underlined the importance of individuals from underrepresented communities believing in themselves and persevering, pursuing their aspirations until the right opportunity comes along.
3. Payton Iheme, US Public Policy Manager at Facebook
Growing up, Payton Iheme was drawn to animals, particularly how their environments influence their behavior. She originally planned to be a biologist or zoologist. While studying at the University of Texas, Iheme majored in communication technology and public relations. She subsequently studied at the George Washington University, graduating with a master’s degree in government policy.
As US public policy manager for Facebook, Iheme focuses on policy issues across a broad range of topics. She works closely on issues related to the internet, cybersecurity, data privacy, small business, digital economy and counter terrorism.
Prior to joining Facebook, Iheme worked at the White House Office under the Obama Administration. She held various roles in Congress, acting as a legislative liaison, focusing on intelligence, defense, and special access programs for members of the Armed Services, Senate Intelligence, and Foreign Relations Committees.
With broad experience with public/private partnerships, the national security sector, and international relations, Iheme started her career with the US Army. She spent more than 15 years on active duty, serving as a commissioned officer in the humanitarian assistance and special operations elements, supporting the Department of Defense. In her role at Facebook, Payton Iheme points out that diversity is critical, not just to the company’s success, but also in creating a more diverse, inclusive, and balanced world in which everyone is better off.