If you were at OSCON this past year, you probably heard about Kyla McMullen. The University of Florida professor was a keynote speaker, and notable for reasons beyond her talk (though it was a good one—watch it here). As the first African-American woman to graduate with a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan, she’s taken it upon herself to ensure that others follow in her footsteps.
We know there’s a diversity problem in tech. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s most recent report, women make up 36% of the workforce in the tech industry, compared to a 48% share of all private industry. When we look for the presence of African-Americans in tech, we see they only make up 7.4% of the field, compared to 14.4% in private industry. Overwhelmingly, tech is made up of white men.
That’s where Kyla has taken action. Aware of how she struggled in the past to imagine herself as an academic and researcher amidst a mostly white cohort, she is working to create visibility and connection for other minority women who are going into STEM fields.
As an assistant professor at the University of Florida, Kyla actively seeks out students to mentor and help succeed. On her website, she offers prospective students a place in her lab, as well as assistance in publishing papers, developing dissertation projects, and applying for research funding. This also allows her to model what it looks like for an African-American female scientist to conduct and present research, work in academia, and navigate systems and environments that have traditionally not included diverse voices.
“If they can see someone who looks like them doing something in a field that typically doesn’t have people who look like them, that gives them all the more encouragement,” she said. “That’s my story.”
To learn more about Kyla and her lab, check out her website. If you’d like to suggest or share the story of someone who #GoesBeyond in tech, tell us here.