In 2023, Black women represented only 2.2% of people in tech, a percentage that seems small yet is so significant in the world of science. Still, orgs like Rewriting the Code (RTC) want that number to grow, which is why they created Black Wings—a group built for Black women in STEM majors to share experiences and advice, have a community within the industry, and gain support from others with similar interests.

We got to chat with two of their members, affinity group leader Layke Jones (she/they) and student Emma Unuode (she/her) about how Black Wings works, the impact it’s had on their lives, and how we can help, too.

How did you get involved with Black Wings?
LAYKE: I first learned about Rewriting The Code in the fall of 2022 while searching for outlets as a minority navigating the technical space. I discovered RTC’s website and was particularly drawn to the initiatives led by Kristin Austin, RTC’s VP of I.D.E.A.S., and the student leaders, who were driving the Black Wings community forward to make transformative impacts in the world. Instantly, I felt a strong connection and knew that this was the perfect space for me.

EMMA: I’ve been an active member of RTC for about five months and I got involved with Black Wings through the RTC community. I was eager to join initiatives like Black Wings that bring together like-minded individuals to collaborate on innovative projects.

How is Black Wings helping Black girls and women enter the STEM industry?
LAYKE: As we know, the technical industry has long been notorious for its lack of inclusivity towards gender minorities, especially women of color. Black Wings isn’t just a community focused on creating “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities for Black women in tech; it’s a community dedicated to making these “rare” occurrences commonplace, ensuring that no Black girl will ever again wonder where she belongs in STEM.

EMMA: Black Wings showcases the achievements and contributions of Black girls and women in STEM fields, serving as role models and inspiring others to pursue similar paths. A big part of what Black Wings does which I particularly love and have benefited from are the mentorships series and office hours initiatives where members can connect with peers, mentors, and professionals in STEM, creating a sense of belonging. As someone who is transitioning careers from HR to product management, this has been a very helpful resource for me.

Also, through events like Hackathons, internship opportunities with partner companies, workshops, and coding camps, Black Wings provides hands-on learning experiences and skill-building opportunities, equipping Black girls with the technical and soft skills necessary for success in STEM fields.

Why do you think Black women still feel excluded from STEM careers?
LAYKE: Simply put, the media is highly selective about how they portray Black women. Whether it be painting us as angry, unattractive, unprofessional, or as being too little or too much, this has been the depiction of Black women in STEM since the beginning of time. We’ve been stripped of our confidence, our rights, and our dignity for so long that it leads us to question, “What gives us the authority to challenge this narrative?”

What are some ways for non-Black allies to help address the issues that affect Black women in STEM?
LAYKE: Show up and show out. Black women are here to make their mark on STEM, whether some like it or not. As allies, we simply ask that you be there and show your support whenever possible. When our voices are drowned out because of the color of our skin or genetic makeup, use yours to refocus the attention on what matters most: ensuring we feel heard.

EMMA: They can genuinely listen to and amplify the voices of Black women in STEM to ensure their experiences are valued. Advocating for increased representation through hiring practices and leadership opportunities is also very important. Actively combat bias, and support initiatives targeting Black girls and women in STEM to foster inclusivity and equity.

What’s your advice for those who are pursuing STEM careers, but often feel alone due to being one of the only Black women in the room?
LAYKE: Never give up. There will be times where you are the first and only. You walk this path because your will, your spirit, and your community push you to see beyond society’s expectations of what “you should be.” You are capable of achieving far more than you can even fathom. Don’t let that little voice in your head hold you back. This is something that other students, professionals, and I still grapple with. Remember, you are never alone.

EMMA: Never walk alone. Seek out supportive networks like Black Wings, Black Women in Tech, etc., where you can connect with peers facing similar challenges and receive support. Being part of Black women in STEM communities has been instrumental, especially as I transition my career from HR into tech. Do not try to figure everything out on your own—sometimes you need to seek mentors and allies who can offer advocacy, guidance, and speak on your behalf when you aren’t in the room. Even if you seek out mentors and allies, it’s important to stay focused on your goals and aspirations. Remember how and why you got into that room in the first place and don’t let feelings of isolation or imposter syndrome deter you from achieving success. Lastly, advocate for yourself and say: You belong in STEM, your voice matters in STEM, and your contributions are valuable. Wear your identity with pride.