Why the Woman Who Inspired Black Girls Code Is Optimistic About the Future of Technology
As a child Kai Morton was the only black girl at her computer camp. Today, she’s a trailblazer.
When Kai Morton was a kid, she loved to play video games. In fact, she loved them so much, she wanted to make them. Her mother signed her up for a computer summer camp at Stanford, but both were surprised by the camp’s lack of diversity.
Kimberly Bryant, Morton’s mother, was particularly taken aback.
Bryant had studied engineering at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee where often felt isolated and alienated as a woman, especially one of color, in the sciences. And years later it seemed that little had changed for women and girls of color in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) field.
Morton was one of just a few girls and the only African American person at her camp.
Bryant wanted to help change that. So in 2011, she founded Black Girls Code, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering young girls of color to develop valuable technology and computer programming skills. The San Francisco-based organization runs after-school programs and summer camps — with financial and technology support from HP — and hosts field trips and weekend workshops for adolescent girls of color to learn about and build STEM skills in 13 cities across the US.
Morton, now a young woman and programmer, said it has been powerful to see the organization grow.
“Back when I was just coding, I didn’t know who to look up to. I didn’t have any peers who were interested in what I was interested in, so I was kind of worried about how I would go into an industry where I didn’t see people who look like me,” Morton told HP’s Chief Diversity Officer, Lesley Slaton Brown, in an interview. “But now, seeing the industry is becoming more and more diverse is powerful.”
Morton said she’s hopeful that as coding and programming skills become more ubiquitous, barriers in the industry will crumble.
“It’s a completely new frontier of possibilities,” she said. “Coding is so accessible. Little kids can do it. The earliest I’ve seen is like a five-year-old learn how to code.”
“I think that’s amazing because that brings in a whole new realm of diversity, not just on the racial standpoint, or gender, but age and generations,” she added.
As a young person starting out in her career, Morton is empowered by people like Brown ad her mother who have led by example and demonstrated that women of color can be successful in the STEM field.
“I think that’s beautiful to see people in high positions and people of power, and people who come from diverse experiences and have a lot of wisdom, help young people to share their voices,” Morton said.
Bryant aims to double the number of US chapters of Black Girls Code and further grow the organization internationally over the next three years to empower more girls like Morton. By 2040, Bryant hopes to have trained 1 million girls.
Though women still make up less than one third of the STEM workforce — and women of color account for just 10% of employed scientists and engineers in the US — Morton is optimistic about the future of technology and coding.
“I’m really excited to see what the future holds,” she told Brown. “I see a future of inclusion, where black girls are actually being included in the conversation and being able to bring what they have — all their background knowledge and everything — into what they work on, whether it be at a company or at their own company.”