Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week in Kansas City featured many enterprising events and networking activities for aspiring entrepreneurs of all ages. It also served as a speaking platform for local entrepreneurs to share their expertise on topics that might usually get no play at such events.
One such topic was STEM equity for under-engaged populations, primarily girls and women in the industry. GEW proved to be the perfect mix of timing and tone for confronting this topic.
Earlier this year, I was introduced to Maleika “Mimi” Robinson, founder of the Kansas City Black Coworking Community. We politely exchanged business cards, struck up a brief “meeting of the minds” dialogue, and ended our conversation vowing to “stay woke” and keep in touch.
Fast forward to GEW.
It always starts with a late night text or IM to get an idea flowing, right? Well, this time I received a message from Tammy Buckner, chief technology strategist of Techquity Digital, challenging me to submit a proposal for the GEW. So though my schedule was packed with “Mommy to-do lists,” speaking engagements, and too many RSVPs, I vowed to consider her offer.
Now, I’m a sucker for accepting requests to moderate a panel discussion, especially if it’s focused on STEM (see my previous column in which I discussed moderating the Tech on Tap: Cybersecurity panel). So, when presented with the novel idea to moderate a panel featuring local women of color who are “slaying it” in STEM careers, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
After collaborating with Mimi and Tammy, the end result involved three unique, thought-provoking events at GEW: “Defining the Path of Diversity and Inclusion in Technology” (Tammy); Collisions, Collaborations, and Community: How Coworking Benefits Women of Color” (Mimi); and “An Open Letter to My Daughter: How to Flip the Script on Sexism in STEM” (my take on an ongoing problem).
My panel discussion featured three phenomenal women of color in Kansas City whose expertise ranged from STEM entrepreneurship in user experience (UX), minority youth advocacy and coding, and an ed tech company. Here are a few takeaways from the panelists for girls pursuing a STEM career and local advocates committed to their cause:
- Janelle James, founder of 99 Prospect, a consulting firm that helps organizations implement user-centered design practices and build flexible workplace culture: “Don’t dim your light for anyone. Build a strong circle of women mentors. Don’t get in your own way (make sure your inner talk in positive).”
- Lyn Cook, founder of Youth Powered, an ed tech company that sponsors Business Allied Scholars, a program that enables local high school students to partner with local businesses though STEM-related internships for skill transference: “You [girls] can do whatever you want (in STEM). Only do the things that resonate with your core.” She encouraged aspiring STEM technologists to “occupy everywhere” and to not be afraid to spread your wings in unchartered territories. Her daily affirmation being, “I can, I will, I must!” She challenges STEM advocates to “suspend your own personal biases” in order to “be an ally” to provide future opportunities. We must “create a space to enable the next gen to see opportunities and be empowered.”
- Tammy Buckner, chief technology strategist at Techquity Digital, a firm specializing in business strategy, project management, and web applications: “Stay the course. Don’t pivot from your dream … it’s the vehicle that’ll keep you going and focused.”
The women on my panel are true pioneers in their own right. I was honored to moderate a panel at GEW highlighting their continued collaborative efforts of diversity and inclusion for girls (and women) of color in the Kansas City area. These ladies and others are the epitome of “The Color of Her STEM in KC.”
Do you know of other women (and men) of color who are paving the way for minorities in STEM in Kansas City? Let me know.
April Boyd-Noronha is the STEM parent advocate, diversity thought lecturer and author behind Lee’s Summit-based The STEM Broker, a boutique training and consulting firm focused on empowering girls, women, and minorities to succeed and advance in STEM careers. Email her at email@example.com or connect on twitter at @thestembroker