THE EXEMPLARY LEADER.
When Kimberly Bryant first met computer programming as a freshman in an Electrical Engineering course at Vanderbilt she was excited.
But she also felt culturally isolated. “Few of my classmates looked like me,” she says. Though much has changed in the tech sector since her college days, the issue of representation has not.
In 2011, Kimberly, founded Black Girls Code after her daughter expressed an interest in learning computer programming, but the mom found none of the programs in the Bay Area were crafted to or for young African American girls. The entrepreneur and champion for change has cited lack of access and lack of exposure to STEM topics as likely culprits.
“By launching Black Girls Code,” she says, “I hope to provide young and pre-teen girls of color opportunities to learn in-demand skills in technology and computer programming at a time when they are naturally thinking about what they want to be when they grow up.”
That’s the mission of Black Girls Code. Their aim is to increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology, and to train 1 million girls by 2040.
It’s Kimberly’s Code of Honor, if you will.
More from Kimberly below.
Name: Kimberly Bryant
Instagram Handle: @6gems
Mostly male. Mostly white. That’s been the narrative. It’s been the picture. Many of our readers struggle with owning rooms like that. How were you able to find your voice and your power?
I come from a very strong matrilineal family. Both of my grandmothers were businesswomen and were able to create opportunities for themselves and their families at times in circumstances much more difficult and tenuous for Black women than what I’m faced with today as a professional woman of color in a male-dominated industry. This ancestral heritage has played a significant role in helping me to both find and owns my voice, my unique views, and my personal power. My wish is that my daughter will find the same light within herself by the example I hope to set for her. I want her to know that she is powerful beyond measure and has absolutely everything she needs to find her path and thrive in these spaces.
Do you remember feeling fear in any of your initial career moments and how did you push through?
I still have fear during certain career moments. One way I push through is preparation. I’ve found it helps to ease my tension when I know I’ve prepared for the “moment” to ensure I know my stuff and I’m ready for whatever outcome I can imagine. For those outcomes, I can’t foresee? Well, I lean on faith to conquer those fears. I honestly believe that every experience is meant to get you closer to where you’re supposed to be. So this pushes me through the fear.
Our children have immense power to shift our perspective. We are able to do for them what, at times, we’ve been unable to do for ourselves. How has being a mom made you a better entrepreneur?
Embarking on this entrepreneurial journey as a single mom has definitely been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done yet it has also been the most rewarding.
Where do your drive and passion come from?
This is a difficult question to answer because in some ways I feel this is just who I am. I’ve always been a rather intense and passionate person and I’m not quite sure where that comes from. I do know that I consider myself a fighter and a revolutionary and I’m driven to stand up to injustices and inequities whenever I see them manifest.
So many industries are shifting. You’re part of the movement that is doing the shifting. How does it feel to be a part of that seismic activity?
I’m very proud of the work that BGC has done to shift the narrative around who belongs in the field of technology and I’m very glad that this path found me. We still have much work to do and I’m reminded of a phrase from the musical Hamilton; “legacy is planting seeds in a garden you’ll never see”. I look at the work I’m doing now in this light. I may never see the true fruits of my work in this lifetime but I’m certain that the seeds we are planting now are creating a legacy that permanently transforms this industry for future generations. It better.
2040 you want to reach 1 million girls. What are some other benchmarks for Black Girls Code?
This year marks our seventh year in existence as a non-profit organization and what we are most excited about is seeing girls who have been involved with Black Girls CODE since they were 10 or 12 years old, graduate from high school and head off to college many in STEM and technical fields. We hope to focus a significant amount of our efforts this year on building a strong and active alumni network and connecting our BGC alumni to career and internship opportunities in some of the many companies we’ve worked with over the past seven years.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
What’s something you’d like people to know about your job that they probably don’t?
What about your career makes you feel the most complete?
The greatest sense of completeness in my work comes from seeing so many of our girls discover their passions and become empowered to follow their dreams. I am continually inspired by the girls who are such brilliant, creative, and strong leaders. When I see them shine I know my work and this path is exactly where I was meant to be.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Or your favorite piece of #realtalk?
Shortly after I graduated from high school one of the directors at a firm I was interning for during the summer took me to lunch and shared a crucial piece of advice with me—never go to lunch alone. His advice was to use the lunch hour as a time to network internally and build strong business relationships with my fellow co-workers and associates. Today in the age of self care I’m sure there are many folks who would disagree with this advice and I would certainly also encourage the art of disconnecting and resetting as a good practice, but his fundamental advice was really meant to emphasize the value of networking both within and outside of your work environment. Learning how to build a network very early in my career has yielded immense benefits for me both in my past corporate career and in my current entrepreneurial pursuits.
When you first when to raise, you were met with resistance, in part because of the name. But as you’ve said, words matter. How we chose to frame issues matters. You’ve shown that you can say no to dollars to don’t feel right (multiple times). How would you encourage other young women to walk away from money that’s not in their best interest? (It’s scary!)
As I’ve built BGC over the last seven years it’s been extremely important for me to lead with authenticity and to be willing to take a loss if it means we hold true to our values. I understand that making the hard decisions can be di cult and at times the seemingly impractical choice but I believe strongly that “values-driven leadership” is extremely important in mission driven organizations. The decisions we make at the top lter down and infect the work we do—it’s the fertilizer for the soil that we build in.
When you hit a big bump in the road, like a NO, how do you find a new road?
I’m a person that doesn’t take ‘NO’ for an answer. Perhaps it’s my training as an engineer but I always think there could be a better or different way to get around a no so I’ll actively look at the situation and try to figure out a way to reach my desired outcome. When I can’t figure out the answer on my own I ask for help. This is probably one of the most important skills (asking for help) I’ve had to embrace as a leader.
What song do you sing in the shower when you’ve had a bad day?
My current obsession is the Broadway musical Hamilton. I’m a late-comer to the Hamilton train but was completely blown away by the show and every single song in it. So I find myself humming the various melodies in the shower, during the day, and just about anytime I need a little extra boost of motivation and inspiration.
Photo Credit: @davisfactor