12 Black leaders in technology
Black tech employees are small in number, but there are a number -- past and present -- to celebrate.
The tech industry has a diversity problem, especially when it comes to Black employees -- and, in particular, Black women. Despite making innovative contributions to computer science fields, Black technologists as a group are a fraction of the total tech workforce.
Black tech workers make up 8% of the tech workforce, according to a study by Brookings Institution, a think tank dedicated to socioeconomic research and solutions. AnitaB.org, a nonprofit organization working to close the wage gap in tech, concluded in a 2021 study that, while women make up 26.7% of the tech workforce, only 1.7% of that same workforce are Black women -- less than one in 50.
Major corporations fail to live up to their promises to increase diversity. Black employees represent only 8.8%, 4.9% and 3.9% of the tech workforce at Google, Microsoft and Meta, respectively, according to a Zippia report published in November 2022. Despite slow and minor improvement, Black employees in Silicon Valley remain underrepresented in general.
However, there are numerous Black technologists -- past and present -- well worth celebrating.
In early 2022, Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit that analyzes job and education trends in the U.S., released a report, "Purpose-Built to Advance Equity: Expanding Opportunities in Tech for Black Americans." Several respondents to the survey pointed out that seeing tech professionals who looked like them would go a long way toward encouraging Black people to participate more actively in the tech world.
12 influential Black leaders in technology today
Here are 12 notable Black tech professionals changing how the industry recognizes and embraces the advantages of a more diverse workforce.
1. Ime Archibong -- Meta
A child of Nigerian immigrants who wanted him to become a doctor or lawyer, Ime Archibong disregarded his family's wishes and instead followed his passion for computer science.
Archibong attended both Yale and Stanford before going to work for IBM, where he focused on licensing rights for the company's storage research technology. In 2010, he joined Meta -- then Facebook -- as vice president of product partnerships. In 2019, he became the head of new product experimentation, making him the highest-ranking Black employee at the company. In these roles, Archibong has helped guide Meta through conceptualizing, designing and launching new services and technology.
2. Stacy Brown-Philpot -- TaskRabbit
Stacy Brown-Philpot is a Detroit native who began with a paper route and eventually graduated from the Wharton School of Business at Penn, as well as Stanford. She worked for Google for nearly a decade as the head of online sales and operations before joining TaskRabbit in 2012 as its CEO -- she left the company in 2020. Under her leadership, TaskRabbit expanded to 45 locations across three countries and enabled more than 140,000 "Taskers" to earn extra money by completing outsourced tasks in an increasingly gig-based economy. She is also on the board of directors at HP and Nordstrom.
Brown-Philpot has long been dedicated to addressing the lack of diversity in tech. While at Google, she created the Black Googler Network, a diverse internship program that recruited young technologists from historically Black colleges. She continued her efforts at TaskRabbit, where women now account for nearly 60% of the company's leadership. Hispanic, Black and Asian workers make up nearly half of the company's employees, and about one in six identify as LGBTQ+.
3. Kimberly Bryant -- Black Girls Code
Kimberly Bryant is founder of the nonprofit Black Girls Code. The organization provides financial and educational support to Black girls between the ages of 7 and 17 who are interested in computer science. The group aims to reduce both racial and gender inequality in the tech world by encouraging and supporting more Black female tech professionals.
An electrical engineer who spent more than 25 years in the biotech industry, Bryant turned her focus to the Black Girls Code initiative in 2011. The group now has 15 chapters across 12 states, as well as one in Johannesburg, South Africa. Business Insider recognized Bryant in 2012 as one of its "25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology." That same year, the White House named her one of its "Champions of Change for Tech Inclusion."
4. Jasmine Crowe-Houston -- Goodr
Jasmine Crowe-Houston, with a bachelor's in broadcast journalism and an MBA, had no plans to enter the field, but her startup, Goodr, is using technology to effect tremendous change. What began as a pop-up food kitchen operating out of her one-bedroom apartment has become an innovative tech startup dedicated to addressing hunger across the country.
Goodr uses a variety of technologies to help companies more efficiently donate unsold but still usable food items for distribution to food banks and hunger relief efforts. Goodr's tech aims to make it as easy as possible for companies to donate food by enabling them to schedule pickups, monitor delivery and optimize routes. Companies can also obtain real-time data to assess community and environmental effects, as well as tax deductions.
To date, Goodr has provided 30 million meals to people in need around the country, kept 4 million pounds of food out of landfills and provided $6.3 million in tax deductions for corporate partners.
5. Mark Dean -- IBM
Mark Dean knew from childhood that mathematics and computer science were his calling. He focused on electrical engineering in his programs at the University of Tennessee, Florida Atlantic University and Stanford. He began his career with IBM in 1980 and was chief engineer on the team responsible for the first IBM PC. Among his many contributions to the tech field are color PC monitors, plug-and-play printers and monitors, and the first gigahertz chip. He holds three of IBM's first nine PC patents and more than 20 patents in total.
Dean is now a professor at the University of Tennessee's Tickle College of Engineering.
6. Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins -- Promise
Soon after graduating from California State University, Northridge, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins dedicated her life to promoting social equality. She became a union organizer for home healthcare and low-income workers and helped establish the first program in the U.S. to provide universal healthcare to children. She became CEO of Green For All in 2009 and helped obtain equity-based amendments to the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The amendments provided funding for green job training for local, low-income workers and people of color.
Ellis-Lamkins co-founded Promise in 2017 to facilitate payment solutions for low-income individuals who struggle to pay bills in full or on time. The online platform saves government organizations money and resources, while also giving users flexible and interest-free payment plans to make utility payments. The platform also helps to democratize the criminal justice system by providing more accessible funding options for those seeking bail. In doing so, outdated government programs are also being updated to meet the demands of 21st century users in need of more convenient payment solutions.
7. Timnit Gebru – DAIR Institute and Black in AI
In December 2020, Timnit Gebru, co-leader of Google's ethical AI team, said she learned via email that she had resigned from her position. She said she was fired, and she said the reason was her refusal to retract a paper she co-authored. That paper explained how AI -- trained by usually white, male technologists -- was flawed by racism and sexism and could, in fact, reinforce those problems. A year later, she founded the DAIR -- the Distributed AI Research -- Institute, which aims to uncouple AI research from Big Tech initiatives and influence.
Prior to the DAIR Institute, Gebru also founded Black in AI in 2017. This community of Black researchers in the AI space aims to reduce bias in algorithmic training by bringing awareness to inherent biases of non-people-of-color programmers and by encouraging greater diversity in AI employment. Black in AI supports junior researchers in graduate programs and in the postgraduate market; advocates for increased Black representation and fairness in the AI industry; and provides financial assistance to AI professionals in the form of tuition, visa fees, and travel and registration costs for AI conferences.
8. Marc Regis Hannah -- Silicon Graphics Inc.
Marc Regis Hannah, an electrical engineer from Chicago who graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology and Stanford, helped found Silicon Graphics Inc. The team developed technology crucial to films that relied heavily on computer-generated imaging and visual effects. Among the many blockbusters Hannah's tech has touched are Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Jurassic Park (1993) and several productions from George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic studio.
Hannah is also dedicated to making a difference on a social level. In the 1990s, he co-founded Rondeau Bay, a construction firm based in Oakland, California, that replaces outdated sewer systems with more efficient, environmentally friendly alternatives. He also helped develop "Black Achievers in Science" in his hometown of Chicago to help the Museum of Science and Industry take a traveling exhibit of Black scientists on the road and inspire new generations.
9. Charley Moore -- Rocket Lawyer
As a business lawyer representing tech companies -- including Yahoo in its early stages -- Charley Moore saw a gap in the market that stemmed from his earliest memories. His father, attempting to navigate confusing business contracts on his own, lost a major career opportunity due in large part to a lack of affordable legal counsel.
Moore founded Rocket Lawyer in 2008 to address the same problems his father had faced: a lack of accessible legal advice and representation. The company experienced explosive growth nearly from the start, proving Moore's idea that justice could be better served once everyday people had access to the right tools. The company now operates worldwide with nearly 400 employees and $100 million in annual revenue. Rocket Lawyer has helped more than 30 million people access free legal templates and information that has helped them start businesses, understand lease agreements and create wills.
10. Angel Rich -- Wealth Factory and Black Tech Matters
After leaving her position as global market research analyst at Prudential Financial, Angel Rich founded Wealth Factory in 2014 to help improve financial literacy through technology and games. In doing so, Rich and Wealth Factory hope to reduce global poverty by promoting easy and affordable access to financial education through online games and adaptive testing. The platform currently has approximately 400,000 users and operates through 480 agencies in 60 countries and in 21 languages.
Rich also founded Black Tech Matters in 2016, a nonprofit dedicated to making STEM fields more diverse and inclusive. The organization nurtures relationships among companies, nonprofits, governments, K-12 schools and historically Black colleges.
11. Tristan Walker -- Code2040 and Walker & Co. Brands
Tristan Walker began with a simple concept: Razor bumps are annoying. His frustration grew when he noticed the lack of high-quality beauty products for Black people, which led him to create Walker & Co. Brands. Procter & Gamble (P&G) bought the company and operates Walker & Co. as a wholly owned subsidiary with Walker as its CEO. Walker is the first Black CEO in P&G's 180 years of operation.
In 2012, Walker co-founded Code2040, an organization dedicated to supporting young Black and Latinx technologists. The group helps new Black and Latinx graduates navigate the postgraduate world to find high-paying and fulfilling jobs in the tech sector. It also helps connect them to peers and mentors to ensure their success.
12. Christopher Young -- Microsoft
Christopher Young is a graduate of Harvard Business School and Princeton University and has served in some of the most prominent roles of the largest tech organizations. As CEO of McAfee, he led its spinoff from parent company Intel, where he was senior vice president and general manager.
In his current role as executive vice president at Microsoft, Young develops global business development strategies to establish the company in emerging markets and strengthen its existing relationships worldwide.
Historical Black leaders in technology
Here are seven Black historical tech leaders whose past endeavors continue to resonate in the industry and throughout society.
- Patricia Bath was the first Black female resident in ophthalmology and the first Black female surgeon at UCLA Medical Center.
- She co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.
- In 1988, she became the first Black woman to obtain a medical patent after she developed the Laserphaco Probe to treat patients with cataracts.
Roy Clay Sr.
- Roy Clay Sr., sometimes called the "Godfather of Silicon Valley," was one of the first Black men to attend Saint Louis University, where he studied computer programming.
- He helped develop HP's computer divisions and wrote the software used by HP's 2116A computer in 1966. He also became director of the first HP Research and Development Computer Group.
- After leaving HP, Clay created ROD-L Electronics, a global leader in electrical safety testing equipment. Among other applications, this equipment helps protect PCs from electrical surges.
- In 2003, the Silicon Valley Engineering Council inducted him into its hall of fame.
Clarence "Skip" Ellis
- Clarence Ellis was the first Black person to earn a Ph.D. in computer science, obtained in 1969 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While there, Ellis helped design and develop both hardware and software for the ILLIAC IV supercomputer. He later worked for tech giants Bell Telephone Laboratories, IBM and Xerox.
- While at the Palo Alto Research Center, he led a group responsible for OfficeTalk. The system was the first to enable long-distance collaborative work through icons and Ethernet, making Ellis a pioneer in the field of remote work and long-range networking.
- Katherine Johnson, whose story was popularized in Hidden Figures, attended college at age 15 then worked at Langley Research Center, where she calculated optimal flight paths for NASA's first space missions.
- She calculated the flight paths for Project Mercury and Apollo 11.
- When computers were brought into NASA, they were compared against her figures to make sure the computers' calculations were accurate.
- President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
- Thomas was a mathematical and data analyst for NASA, where she developed Landsat, a computer data system that enables control centers to monitor satellite operations in real time.
- Thomas also helped develop the first satellite to transmit images from space to Earth -- technology NASA still uses.
Marie Van Brittan Brown
- Brown created the first home security network, which consisted of a camera, monitors, an alarm button, peepholes and a two-way microphone.
- She received a patent for her system in 1969, and the principles she developed shape modern home security solutions.
- Nicknamed "Black Edison," Woods held 60 patents for inventions such as a telephone transmitter and an induction telegraph.
- Woods studied engineering and electricity before creating an electronics company that developed electric railway equipment still in use today.