As discussions over gender and racial inequality in the technology sector gather pace in Brazil, a group of entrepreneurs is working to address these issues by training black women in careers in user experience (UX) and connecting them with employers.
UX Para Minas Pretas (UXMP), which in Portuguese translates to “UX For Black Girls” was created by Karen Santos in 2019. The São Paulo-based company aims to provide technical and professional training to black women, as well as the community support required to develop a career in the field of UX, which focuses on how a user interacts with and experiences an product, system or service online.
Since the inception of the project, more than 1.000 women were equipped with the skills to star a career in UX. Companies such as cosmetics giant Natura & Co and Accenture hire the graduates from the company and sponsor the training activities, which are delivered online and in partnership with firms in the education space. With the support from corporates, students can received financial support to be able to complete the course, and access to a computer loan if required.
According to Santos, the idea for UXMP came from her observation that UX is a fast-developing space with plenty of opportunities, but these possibilities are mostly limited to a certain profile. According to a study by Accenture, the percentage of women working in IT in Brazil today is 32%; in 1984, women accounted for 35% of the tech workforce. Another study, by PretaLab and consulting firm ThoughtWorks, suggests the typical technology department in Brazil is composed of men (68.3%) and white people (58.3%).
“It didn’t make any sense to me to see an area that studies the experience of people in online platforms having no diversity at all”, said the CEO, who founded the initiative alongside her day job as a product designer at real estate unicorn QuintoAndar. She was part of Forbes Brazil’s Under 30 cohort last year for her efforts around enabling black women to participate in the digital economy jobs market.
Having started as an event aimed at increasing the presence of black female professionals in tech, UXMP became a network leading connection and empowerment actions that engages over 20.000 people nationwide. It has grown into a company and is managed by the CEO alongside three other directors. The quartet is supported by a pool of about a dozen volunteers, who “give back” to the community through activities ranging from events management and writing to social media management and community support to the new UX professionals.
“The impact of the actions that we promote is multiplied by the women within the community, who want to contribute with their experiences and the expertise they acquire to help others. We see the abundance of this community in action all the time, with women constantly giving and receiving”, Santos said.
According to Patricia Gonçalves, one of the directors working in the content and audience engagement aspects of UXMP, one of the most crucial areas of focus for the company is in demystifying the idea that IT careers are solely about coding. “We want to contribute towards making other professions accessible within technology, demonstrating that UX has a closer dialog with humanities careers”, she noted, adding that students also receive training in areas such as how to improve their personal branding and seek opportunities on LinkedIn.
However, Gonçalves argued that bringing black women into IT departments of Brazilian organizations to work in UX is just the start of a journey towards addressing the inequality in the sector. “We are creating a pipeline of [black female] professionals, but this is just the first chapter of a series of cultural changes that are needed within organizations if they want to be truly inclusive,” noted the UXMP director, a journalist by trade.
“Many companies come to us asking for UX professionals that are a lot more senior [than the UXMP graduates], which shows how immature they are in terms of diversity. They don’t realize that black people have a rather different type of trajectory and that they need to contribute to part of these training needs rather than wanting a professional that is ready to hit the ground running from day one”, she argued.
Germanna Rosa, another director of the project who acts as an interface with corporates, is also making the transition from her career as executive assistant to UX. According to Rosa, the professional shift alongside motherhood in the pandemic has been an important process of self-discovery and increasing maturity, something she shares with other fellow students. “UXMP enables black women like me to show they can be successful professionals in technology, and the possibilities beyond the ‘box’ society insists in placing us in”, she pointed out.
According to Aline Santos, who works in the corporate partnerships area of the company and is also part of the leadership team, the dynamics observed during the Covid-19 crisis stressed the importance of having a community that provides a safe space that enables the continuous development of its members, who know the issues experienced by black women firsthand.
“There are many different realities [within the UXMP community]: some women have a more structured life and the conditions to keep on studying, but others are financially vulnerable, or might be single mothers, older, with disabilities, or unemployed. Being aware of these multiple realities enables us to promote social change as a community”, she noted, adding that the mutual support provided by the group has been invaluable during the pandemic, as the directors focus on ramping up training and connections between new graduates and companies.
Goals for UXMP in 2021 include the enhancement of business processes, with the launch of products such as consulting services to companies who want to create more diverse UX and tech teams in the horizon. Additionally, the entrepreneurs want to reach out to more women beyond the urban centers of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, something that has become feasible with the digitalization of the training programs after the Covid-19 pandemic. The entrepreneurs aim to provide UX training to around 3.000 women this year.
“The impact of our work over the last couple of years has been really significant and we are now getting ready for the next step”, said Karen Santos, adding she is about to start UXMP’s first round of discussions with potential investors to boost the company’s technology and marketing set-up in the coming months. “I hope we can enhance our structure and increase our capability to continue to change lives.”