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Meet Charlene Hunter: Founder of Coding Black Females

Charlene Hunter, Black Women in Tech

ARTICLE SUMMARY

We are thrilled to share our latest Women in Tech interview with the formidable Charlene Hunter, Founder of Coding Black Females.

“Tech makes me feel excited on a daily basis” 

SheCanCode has long admired the work of Coding Black Females! So, we are thrilled to shine a light on Charlene Hunter, who has created and taken this nonprofit organisation from strength to strength in the last 3 years.   

Our own mission is all about helping women enter, remain and excel in the tech industry. We were keen to find out, firstly, how Charlene defines their own mission:  

“Coding Black Females’ mission is to provide opportunities for Black female developers to meet familiar faces, develop themselves, network, receive support and build relationships through having regular meetups.”  

When did you first know you loved tech?  

I wrote my first line of code at 10. When I was at school, I played on the computers during break times. My parents bought me books on computing and electronics… I just didn’t realise that what I was doing was coding! My Dad runs an IT Software company, so tech is very much in the family and I was exposed to it from a very young age.  

Did you study Computer Science at university?  

Actually, not at first. I studied Maths. I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I just knew I wanted a degree that gave me options. It was only in the later stages of my undergraduate degree that I started considering computer science. So, I took it as a Masters. I wanted to show employers an enthusiasm for learning and development.   

What made you create Coding Black Females? 

I got my first job straight after graduating. I quickly realised that I was hardly ever meeting black people at work. I personally never experienced overt racism, but certainly micro-aggressions. I noticed people often displayed unconscious bias and discriminatory views towards black people in the workplace.  

One evening I went to the cinema and watched Hidden Figures: the story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. Afterwards, I went straight home and created Coding Black Females! 

I wanted to be in spaces where I felt comfortable being myself and I wanted to feel less isolated. I started going to meet other black women in tech. I wanted to understand their experiences. The more I did, the more I realised we shared many experiences of being a black woman in tech.  

So, I started building a community and developing skills within it.   

What does Coding Black Females hope to achieve?  

  • We want black women to see and be inspired by other black women and provide them with role models.  
  • We want other black women to actually see themselves represented in an industry that they are, or want to be, a part of.  
  • We want to equip black women with all the requisite skills so that their capability can never be questioned.  

I was fortunately taught to never perceive my identity as a barrier to my success; my personal goal is to help remove barriers to the success of black women in the technology industry.  

Companies and hiring managers will often complain that there aren’t enough women or women of colour to hire. We know that just isn’t the case! Coding Black Females aims to ensure this excuse can no longer be used.   

Conde Nast Speakers including Charlene Hunter

What can companies do to ensure they hire black women? 

The best thing they can do is genuinely care about hiring diverse talent. If you start from the point of kindness and empathy, then caring about hiring a diverse range of people will naturally follow. And for the right reasons.   

  • Put the effort in: do the research, conduct outreach. The onus must be on the company, not the black community. 
  • Actively invite black women into their offices to show them they belong and are welcome  
  • Consider financially supporting organisations like Coding Black Females and UK Black Tech 
  • In marketing and communications, show black women actively doing tech roles in their business 
  • Be mindful of the wording used in job descriptions and ensure it is inclusive  

How do you think we can get more women into tech? 

Embrace remote working

We can all learn from lockdown. An emphasis on remote working in the future will make it easier for companies to hire anyone. Removing the physical barriers of office working can ensure greater access to the workforce for disabled people, for example.  Flexible working can also make it easier for women with children to remain in the workforce.  Working from home also gives greater opportunities to those who may wish to have a “city” job but continue to live outside of the city.   

Highlight the joys of tech 

I get so excited at being able to solve problems and make a difference with technology. However, lots of women have told me over the years “I couldn’t do this” or “it’s not for me”. But, by communicating to as many women as possible how exciting tech is and by showing a wide range of women’s journeys into tech, we start to debunk that it’s not for them. 

Provide greater representation 

Aim to convince other women that “if she can code, I can code”. Showcase the women already in tech and the great work they are doing! Anybody can change career. Make more women aware of the opportunities to transition into tech, at any point in their career. Simply put: show faces that look like the people you are trying to bring into the industry.  

What advice would you give to black women in tech? 

  • Don’t allow yourself to view your ethnicity, sex or gender as a barrier. I never thought of myself as different and it’s allowed me to focus on my skills and what I can offer to people
  • Find your people! A community you can lean on will be more important than you can realise  
  • Never be afraid to ask for the support  
  • Find yourself role model and mentors  
  • When you’re starting off, try and get as much experience of different projects, languages and roles as you can  

What’s been your career highlight so far? 

Unsurprisingly, Coding Black Females has absolutely been my career highlight. Being able to provide this community to other black women has been an absolute joy.  My day is made when I get emails from black women we’ve helped, who tell me:

“I’m on my route into tech now, and I didn’t know how to do that before”

Coding Black Females Logo

This is because of the support we offer. 

Some final advice: what 3 things would you say to women who are holding back from a career in tech?  

  1. You do not need to have done a degree in computer science or Maths… or even be naturally good at those things!  
  2. You can genuinely come into tech from any background.  
  3. There are no barriers, anymore! There are so many different types of learning opportunities out there now – there is genuinely something for everyone.  

Charlene’s Resource Recommendations 

Black CodHer – A 6 month Coding Bootcamp Programme in Birmingham for black women over 18, unemployed with a salary of under £20k, put together by Coding Black Females and Niyo Enterprise.   

UKBlackTech – an organisation on a mission to make the UK the most ethnically diverse tech ecosystem in the world.  

BlackDevsLondon – a group focused on networking, innovation, mentoring and collaboration for black developers who are a positive reflection of ourselves. 

CodeFirstGirls – an organisation on a mission to help women rewrite their future. 

 

 

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