Throughout history, Black women have been trailblazers in the tech industry, despite facing societal challenges and inequities. Inventing groundbreaking products and pushing the boundaries of what is possible has evolved. In the 21st century, this legacy of innovation continues as Black women continue to make their mark.
To celebrate Black History Month we are highlighting Black women who are making a huge impact on today’s society. Keep reading to hear their stories…
Black Women Inventors: A Legacy Of Innovation before the 21st Century
The history of Black women in tech is filled with remarkable stories. It’s been chock full of innovation and ingenuity. It’s hard to imagine the world today without the contributions of these historically marginalized women, especially in an industry that has traditionally excluded them. Despite the lack of representation, equal access to education, financial barriers, unconscious bias, and other forms of systemic racism–Black women will continue to reclaim their power.
From the first Black woman to receive a patent, Sarah E. Goode, who invented a cabinet bed in 1885, to the first Black woman computer programmer, Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville, who worked on NASA’s early space missions in the 1960s, Black women have always been innovators and inventors.
It is important to note that the lack of representation of Black women in technology is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, Black women have been denied access to education and resources, which has limited their presence as a community in the tech industry. Yet, these facts haven’t altered the magnitude of inventions made by Black women to better the economic circumstances in underresourced communities and improve the overall quality of life for Black people.
Going back to the 1970s when Dr. Shirley Jackson graduated from MIT, being the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. from the highly ranked institution. Dr. Jackson’s invention of fiber-optic cables aided in the development of numerous inventions, including the portable fax, the touch-tone phone, the solar cell, caller ID, and call-waiting technologies. Some would say the life of the honorable Dr. Jackson helped Apple become the big tech giant that they are today.
Technology evolves through time and without the planted seeds of innovation from Black women educators, changemakers, and leaders–how would new branches of invention grow?
Another remarkable inventor was Marie Van Brittan Brown, who in 1966 patented the first home security system. Her system consisted of peepholes, a camera, and a two-way microphone, which revolutionized the way people secure their homes and paved the way for modern home security systems.
The legacy of Black women inventors has profoundly impacted Black women in tech today. Their pioneering work and determination have paved the way for future generations of Black women to pursue careers in technology and make their own contributions to society. Today, Black women are making their mark in the tech industry by starting their own companies and creating new products and services that are changing the world.
These Black Women Inventors are Shifting the Narrative and Rewriting their Stories
By developing new technologies and promoting greater representation and opportunity for Black women in the tech sector, today’s Black women of innovators are carrying on the torch.
One of the most notable Black women tech inventors in modern history is Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code. Bryant recognized the lack of diversity in the technology industry and founded Black Girls Code to provide young girls of color with the skills they need to pursue careers in technology. The organization has reached over 15,000 girls in the United States and South Africa, helping to increase the number of black women in technology.
How Kimberly Shifted The Timeline
- Encouraging Diversity: Black Girls Code helps to increase diversity in the tech industry, which is historically dominated by men and particularly by white men. Encouraging young Black women to pursue careers in technology helps to bridge the gender and racial divide in the field.
- Closing the Skills Gap: The technology industry is growing rapidly, and there is a high demand for skilled workers. Black Girls Code helps to close the skills gap by teaching girls the coding and technology skills they need to succeed in this industry.
Lisa Gelobter, the inventor of the technology behind Shockwave, an animation software that was widely used in the early days of the internet, is another influential woman making strides in technology. Gelobter is the first Black woman to hold a patent for internet technology and has since gone on to work at companies such as BET and Huffington Post, where she has been able to help shape the future of the internet.
How Lisa Shifted The Timeline
- Creating Role Models: Lisa has consistently provided mentorship and support to Black women in tech, helping them develop the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the industry. Her support has encouraged other Black women to pursue careers in tech and entertainment, helping to shape the future of Black women leaders in tech today.
- Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Lisa’s rise to executive positions at companies such as BET, Hulu, and more helped dispel the myth that Black women cannot sit at the table in the tech and entertainment industry. Her success has opened doors for other Black women to step into aspirational leadership positions.
Black people are subjected to biases in many facets of life, including AI. Some algorithms could be reinforcing biases based on who’s developing the product. Angle Bush is the Founder of Black Women in AI. An organization whose purpose is to empower Black women in the field of artificial intelligence through education, engagement, and embodiment.
How Angle Shifted The Timeline
- Diversifying the Culture of AI: Angle’s focus on creating a community with the member needs in mind has helped bring new and rewarding experiences to Black women in AI. Such as global AI summits to gather and connect with like-minded leaders and the groups Beyond the Lab podcast.
- Ethical AI: Black-identifying researchers and developers can work towards creating ethical and unbiased AI systems with regulations to consider issues such as race, gender, and socio-economic status.
Jewel Burks Solomon
Jewel Burks, the Founder of Partpic, is making waves in the tech industry. Partpic is an artificial intelligence software that utilizes image recognition technology to identify and purchase parts for industrial equipment. The company was acquired by Amazon in 2017, making Burks Solomon the first Black woman to lead an Amazon Web Services team.
How Jewel Shifted The Timeline
- Empowerment Through Technology: Jewel has helped to bring technology to small and medium-sized businesses, empowering Black-owned businesses to grow and thrive.
- Investing in Black Futures: Jewel has mentored and supported Black entrepreneurs, providing them with the resources and guidance needed to succeed in the tech industry. As an angel investor, she has also invested in companies founded by Black entrepreneurs, helping to build the next generation of Black leaders in technology.
Dr. Danielle N. Lee
A prominent Black woman inventor is Dr. Danielle N. Lee. Dr. Lee is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She is most recognized for her outreach initiatives aimed at boosting minority participation in STEM fields as well as her science blogging.
How Danielle Shifted The Timeline
- Advocating for more Black Scientists: Dr. Lee is a well-known Biologist and Science Communicator who brings scientific concepts to a broader audience through her writing and speaking engagements. Through her work, she helps to increase understanding of the scientific world and inspires people from underrepresented communities to pursue careers in STEM.
- Merging The Art of Science and Technology: Firstly, she has used technology to reach a wider audience and communicate science in an accessible and engaging manner. For instance, Dr. Lee uses social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to share her scientific insights and connect with the black and brown community of scientists, science enthusiasts, and the general public. Moreover, she has also integrated technology into her research. For example, she has used remote cameras and GPS tracking devices to study the behavior of inner-city rodents and their impact on metropolitan ecosystems. In addition, Dr. Lee uses her artistic skills to illustrate and explain complex scientific concepts. She has created interactive animations and infographics that help explain the behavior of animals in urban environments and has also used her art to educate the public about the importance of science and technology.
These Black women inventors are not only making strides in their respective fields but also inspiring future generations of Black women to pursue careers in technology. They are proving that representation and diversity are crucial in the tech industry and that with the right resources and support, Black women can achieve great success.
Breaking Barriers and Making Herstory
These 21st-century inventors are breaking barriers and building on the ideas of those who came before them, all while making a significant impact on the industry and tech community as a whole, proving that representation and diversity are vital to the tech industry and that women can achieve great success in technology. Their contributions serve as a reminder of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, and their legacies serve as an inspiration for future generations of Black women in technology.
At General Assembly, we are building more equitable pathways to equip underserved communities that are often overlooked to break into tech and find careers they love.
If you’d like to join the ranks of these exceptional Black women we invite you to read our Land the Work you Love Ebook to learn more about what a career in tech might look like for you.