Note: Brazilian society has long deemed black women as only being appropriate for low skill and domestic labor, or gyrating to Carnaval’s driving samba rhythms. This stereotype of the “place” of black women is so widespread, that when they are found in places or positions in which they aren’t expected to occupy, people will automatically ask for the owner of the house or the manager of the company as it is simply beyond the imagination that a black Brazilian woman, regardless of whether she’s light or dark-skinned, could possibly be a lawyer, a dentist or the resident of middle-class apartment.
Needless to say, Brazilian society has long promoted the idea that beyond the bedroom or the kitchen, black women didn’t serve much purpose. And as such, there has been little or no investment into the actual social ascension of the black women or even the change of her image so that people can begin to imagine her in a different light. We see proof of this everywhere.
The controversy surrounding an ad by the beer company Devassa in 2011 that was forced to be removed due its depiction of black women’s sexuality. Then there was the protest that called for the end of the Globo network TV series Sexo e as Negas, again for stereotypes that played on sexuality. It’s also easy to note that black women are often used in advertisements in which they are depicted as cooks or connected to cleaning or caring for childen, a position that it seems many still have a sort of nostalgia about.
Needless to say, it’s new day. Today, black Brazilian women are entering colleges at much higher rates than just a few decades ago. Many are attaining graduate degrees and occupying positions that a a large percentage of Brazilians are still not accustomed to seeing them in. I guess these changes are better late than never, but as they have been so vastly under-represented in the ranks higher learning, there is a long way to go reach parity with their non-black counterparts. This also applies to the high tech industry.
With the importance, rise and dominance of the high tech industry, an unimaginable number of possibilities and opportunities have come to fore, but to take full advantage of what the high tech world has to offer, access as well as training will be necessary. The high tech world has also brought with it a segmentation and demographic that can also be noted in other industries in which race and gender seem to benefit some while penalizing others. And considering the facts I’ve laid out above, due to a number of factors, it shouldn’t be surprising that black Brazilian women are also at a disadvantage in this market and without incentives that can make this world more accessible, this significant demographic of the Brazilian population could miss the opportunities that this high speed technological train is offering.
Recognzing this fact, one initiative with the backing of a large, powerful private foundation (see note one) seeks to facilitate the entry of black Brazilian women into the high speed, high tech wave of the global economy.
It’s urgent to include more black women in the world of technology
By Liana Rego and Marta Araújo
When we speak of social inequality in Brazil, we have a topic of discussion for years of debate and discussion. This is precisely what we are pre-disposed to do with this article; not for years, but for a few minutes.
In the Brazilian panorama, this is a reality that leaves an overwhelming numerical trail: mulheres negras (black women) are the ones who have the highest unemployment rate, the lowest wages and the greatest difficulty in accessing higher education (which has risen, but not enough). To make matters worse, they still suffer the most from the criminalization of abortion, domestic violence and obstetric violence. Obviously, all these social indicators have consequences for the future of these women, such as the difficulty of entering the mercado de trabalho (labor market) and the permanence in positions of lesser prestige and compensation.
Regarding public positions, it’s not exactly shocking that representation is also scarce – in 2016, only 0.5% of the elected figures were black women (according to data from the Instituto Geledés and the Criola non-governmental organization). Given that black women account for 27% of Brazil’s population, we can quickly gather that something is wrong.
Within this whole cycle of discrimination, inequality, constant social barriers and unfounded prejudices, there is a very special and particular panorama: that of technology. So it’s time to ask the first question: have you ever stopped to think that the technological universe is completely dominated by the male sex? The (still) few women who struggle for affirmation in this world are mostly white. It is estimated that in the United States of America, 2% of the work done in the field of science and engineering is carried out by black women. When we speak of Brazil, this statistical survey doesn’t even exist.
Black women need to be part of the vertiginous technological changes that the global economy is going through.” – PretaLab Platform
It is true that all these constraints can’t only be interpreted as a problem that begins in the adult life of these women. All of them, black or white, are “pushed” to correspond to certain gender roles, which contemplate universes distant from Science and Technology. Social responsibility for issues such as this should be widely shared: between the institutions, the government, but also among all the parents who educate their sons and daughters so as to fit them into stereotypical “drawers”.
As a combative response to this scourge, Olabi, a Rio-based social organization whose main objective is the democratization of technological production, created PretaLab. If the name is not sufficiently enlightening – and perhaps it is not, because the theme is complex – so let’s figure out what this is all about. It was born as a campaign to collect the identities of black and indigenous women working in the technological sector and to stimulate their inclusion and acceptance in the environment. It all started with a simple form on the internet, in which these women were invited to leave their testimony about the paths and experiences they had lived up to then; later, still as part of the campaign, videos were collected with statements by inspiring protagonists, who could serve as an example for the younger generations and, specifically, for the meninas negras (black girls) who currently grow up in Brazil.
This inspiration came, of course, through representativeness: listening to a mulher negra, bem-sucedida (successful black woman) talking about how it is possible (and important) to reach digital activism or entrepreneurship, allows younger girls, who see themselves reflected in that figure, also black and female, to create a positive reference about themselves – and about the possibility of becoming professionals in the area of Science and Technology.
Technological theory of exclusion: is there room for diversity?
Are you wondering about the relevance of PretaLab? So let’s get back to the numbers: according to a survey conducted by Accenture Strategy, digital technology accounts for about 22.5 percent of the world economy, amounting to $19.5 trillion. The share is projected to rise to 25% by 2020, reaching $24.6 trillion. In the ideal world, is it not fair that the development of the technological universe could also be nurtured by black women?
Everybody has already (probably) seen that technology has become part of urban dynamics; it is present in almost everything. Every day we use mobile applications for all sorts of things and forget that these – in addition to their functionalities – bring with them a gigantic package of contraindications: political, economic and cultural visions; prejudices; stereotypes; etc. The great majority was created by upper middle class and upper class white, heterosexual men. Any surprises?
According to data released by the World Economic Forum, there is still a predominance of men in the biotechnology sector. In addition, the figures show that, because of increased labor automation, women are the first to lose their jobs: it seems that the machine replaces the female, but not the male. The picture also differs when we approach the data of homens negros bem-sucedidos (successful black men) or black women in the technological world. The latter are part of the minority of the minorities.
Continuing from the point of view of the studies, the Algorithmic Justice League has sought to denounce the racism that is implicit in artificial intelligence programs. According to the data revealed, in programs of artificial recognition, a great difficulty in identifying the traces of black faces was detected. The lack of ethnic diversity within the teams that created such programs was the main reason. If the series of faces that are created and inserted in the computer are not diverse enough, any feature that deviate from the standard will not be recognized. FBI documents have been consulted which revealed that “facial recognition is less accurate in blacks.” Despite these findings, there are as yet no independent studies with tests for racist bias. (How come?)
“It is urgent to work so that the technological applications that the society consumes are, increasingly, produced by diverse groups” – PretaLab Platform
As long as statistics, scientific analysis, and public policy ignore the importance of black women in the world of technology, they will remain outside the sphere of decision-making. It’s not difficult to perceive the consequence: social and labor segregation.
According to an economic survey released by Glassdoor, jobs in the area of Technology, Engineering and Science were the highest paid in 2017. The technological sector, as we have previously found, is a means of global economic emancipation. However, it continues to be powered by the standard. The unequal access to education and the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudices insist on removing black women from the world of education, thus nullifying the possibility of creating a professional career in these areas.
In order to analyze the presence of women – in the branches of Science, Technology and Engineering – in Brazil, China, the USA and India, the American study Athena Factor 2.0 concluded that women leave the technology industry because they are treated unequally and receive lower wages than men, admitting that the chances of career progression are very low. In Brazil, 29% of women surveyed admitted that they feel stagnant in their jobs; 22% said they thought they would give up their career at mid-term. According to the Centro de Inovação e Talento (Center for Innovation and Talent), 77% of black women in high-tech companies said they feel extremely “pressured” because they need to prove their competence more than their peers. As is common sense, the above average job requirement can generate anxiety and cause serious health problems.
As revealed by the study Why so Few? , conducted in 2010, 27,576 black women obtained degrees in Engineering, Science and Technology, representing 10.7% of academic certificates geared toward women in the United States of America. However, only 1% of those who get jobs in these industries are black. Conclusion: Even if black women’s access to higher education is significantly higher in countries such as the US – when compared to countries such as Brazil – racism and sexism continue to prevent them from entering the labor market, according to PretaLab data.
The organized fight: black women in the front row
Fortunately, in countries where the debate on multiculturalism is a constant – as is the case in the United States – a number of initiatives have been created to unlock the importance of this issue on the political agenda, encouraging debate and discussion about it. Hire More Women In Tech, Black Girls Code, Black Tech Women, are just a few of the names that exemplify them.
In the Brazilian scenario, the data that exist on the panorama of black women in the technology and innovation sector are yet to be determined. The absence of ethnic diversity can be linked to two factors: difficulties to access and lack of references. Most of the studies on technology and science are written in English and the existence of policies – public or private – that encourage a wager in these areas are very few, as shown in the survey conducted by PretaLab. Moreover, the lack of reference of successful cases of black and indigenous Brazilian women, in the technological and scientific contexts, is also presented as one of the main factors that contribute to the demotivation rate.
Let’s go to the good news: it looks like PretaLab is here to stay. With the immense involvement the campaign received, the expansion to something more lasting and comprehensive was inevitable. As can be read on the platform, there were “570 women between the ages of 17 and 67, with various insertions and interests, mostly focused on innovation (29.1%) and social transformation (14.6%)” that responded to the initiative, “of the five regions of the country and of almost all the states”. Thus, PretaLab had the margin it needed to become what it is today: a truly innovative platform for the technology sector in Brazil, highlighting the urgency of bringing more black and indigenous women into the world of science, so that the medium is no longer associated with something exclusive for the “masculine” (whatever that may be) and for the “white.”
“Technology is the language of the 21st century. It is politics, it is power, it is human rights, it is citizenship. It is the end and it is the means. It has to go hand in hand with all other causes and agendas, otherwise we will always be one step behind.” – Silvana Bahia, director of Olabi and creator of the PretaLab platform
It is no secret that women represent, globally, a highly discriminated social cluster, but intersectionality – or intersectional theory, which presents social inequality as a systematic logic based on a multidimensional basis – allows us to look at this problem in an even scarier, but also more informed manner. This logic highlights the overlapping of unfavorable conditions regarding access to social justice and equality, which means that being a woman is difficult, being a woman and being black presents even greater challenges.
It is true that the global landscape has been changing. Discussing, questioning, intervening, investigating, unraveling are just a few of the verbs that mark the path toward equality. Even in Brazil, women have invested in unity, creating networks and support initiatives that can minimize social and professional disparities, giving voice to women in the world of technology. We must not forget that all women, regardless of creed, religion, skin color or ethnicity, have the right (and duty) to leave an indelible mark in the battle for their emancipation.
- Made feasible from the support of the Ford Foundation, the initiative emerged as a campaign in search of mapping and understanding who are the black girls and women and indigenous women that work in this area.