Regina Gwynn, co-founder of Black Women Talk Tech, a collective of Black women tech entrepreneurs, didn’t get her start in the tech field but knew there was a demand for a space where Black women entrepreneurs could be seen, heard, and supported. In 2017, Black Women Talk Tech launched its first official Roadmap to Billions event, which works to provide education, inspiration, and access to investors for funding. But beyond that, Black Women Talk Tech also provides the opportunity for Black women to simply focus on themselves.
But the support doesn’t stop after the conference (the 6th annual Roadmap to Billions will be from June 15-17). “It’s really meant to continue the conversation around getting on that roadmap, providing that blueprint all year round,” says Regina. “We’ll continue to have discussions after the conference, replays of critical content, picking out special moments that we think that our entire community needs to see.” Read below for what Regina had to say on starting Black Women Talk Tech, where it’s heading, and how companies can support Black women tech entrepreneurs.
When did you decide to create Black Women Talk Tech? How did your experiences contribute to that decision?
The conversation started in 2015 when I first met Esosa Ighodaro and another co-founder, Lauren Washington. We had just started to get into the tech ecosystem and we were all starting our tech companies. I don’t have a traditional background in technology, but I knew I had a great idea. As I was, coming into the space I found myself being invited to conferences and private meetings, and oftentimes you’re the only person of color and woman there so when I actually met Esosa I was excited to see another Black woman.
And when we started to talk, our stories were so similar regarding the challenges we faced, in finding the right resources, the right people to talk to, the right mentors, etc. That’s when we decided to do our first conference in 2017 and soon realized there are actually other women that feel the exact same way. In our very first year, we had hundreds of people sign up for the event we put together in two weeks. It ended up being such an overwhelming groundswell of support, interest, and demand and that’s what fueled Black Women Talk Tech ever since.
Studies show that Black women only comprised 3% of the computing and mathematical workforce in 2019. What factors contribute to the low numbers of Black women in the tech field?
I’ll start off by saying what’s not a factor is capability, expertise, experience, and degrees. We’ve got tons of college graduates and graduate students completing degrees in computer science advanced computer science, engineering, biomedical engineering, and civil engineering, so there’s tons of talent in the marketplace. It’s not a pipeline issue, which I hear a lot from companies saying, ‘we can’t find them. They don’t exist.’ They exist. That’s not a factor. What is a factor is this idea of the cultural fit. People need to be better educated on how to navigate the recruiting process to land a successful candidate.
And let’s say you have successfully navigated the recruiting process and you’ve sent an offer, a huge challenge is making sure they stay. There’s a lot of turnover in the tech industry because there aren’t the right sponsors and mentors and support systems to help these technologists thrive and grow at these various tech companies. They’re often not welcome or not supported in being their full selves, and so the microaggressions are amplified when you are in a place that is a high-energy, fast-paced type of environment. There’s a lot of progress needed to really make sure that a diverse team is valued.
In what areas of the tech industry are you seeing the most progress?
We’ve seen over the past couple of years with the horrific murder of George Floyd that there were a lot of racial equity announcements, initiatives, contributions, and reckonings. We are seeing more Black and Brown founders get funding, but it’s still only resulting in .6% of the venture funding versus the .4% that it was prior to George Floyd. It’s still less than 1%, which is abysmal and that’s why it’s hard to say what’s growing or what’s the bright spot. But I will say that because we’re now starting to see some of this critical mass take fruit. Calendly is a company run by a Black man in Atlanta, Georgia. City Health is a biotech startup run by a Black woman. These are billion-dollar startups. We’re starting to see more unicorns — companies run by Black and Brown people than we’ve ever seen before. That is very encouraging.
What can tech companies do to make the industry more inclusive of Black women?
There needs to be real talk about what diversity, diverse teams, equity, and inclusion really mean? There’s a lot of lip service and until we’re able to be very blunt around what it truly means for your company and what teeth you’re really willing to give it i.e. performance reviews, KPIs, bonuses. Until it’s something everyone is accountable for within a department, I find it hard to see how solely top-level initiatives are really going to be meaningful to the day-to-day employee.
What can the education system do to encourage girls who want to learn more about tech?
I wish I would have started a career in tech entrepreneurship even earlier. I knew I wanted to run a business but I definitely did not see myself in technology. You always have these career days, which consist of a doctor and a lawyer or a teacher and an accountant so I would love to see more engineers and scientists incorporated into that. Seeing is believing and you really have to know them intimately in order to say ‘wow, this is my neighbor down the street, not someone that’s not accessible.’ When young people can see that reference early on and often, it makes an impact.
You’re 6th annual Roadmap to Billions Conference is coming up in June. How has it changed since when it first started?
We had no idea what the hell we were doing in the beginning [laughs]. It was so small compared to our size and scope now. We started off doing one day of content and now we do two. We started off solely focusing on founders and now we support the entire ecosystem of founders, investors, job seekers, and technologists. We also have Black Men Talk Tech now, which is a separate conference we host in October in Miami. Everything has grown a lot, which is good because we’ve grown as the demand has grown while staying true to the mission of providing an accurate experience, based off of our personal journeys. It’s very important that we are founders first because it’s that journey that prompted us to do this in the first place.
What do you envision for the future of Black Women Talk Tech?
There are lots coming up in the future. We have focused on the U.S. primarily, but the spirit of entrepreneurship is global in its impact. So, we will be heading to London for our first London edition of Roadmap to Billions in October. We have attendees for our conference that come from overseas, whether it’s from London, West Africa, South Africa, etc. We’ve seen an international demand here that we can fill so we’re going to start putting some resources against that.