Who’s Who at Progress360: Meet Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President and CEO, AnitaB.org

Who’s Who at Progress360: Meet Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President and CEO, AnitaB.org

Posted on August 23, 2022 0 Comments

Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President and CEO of AnitaB.org, will serve as the featured guest for the Corporate Social Responsibility Celebration at Progress360.

Innovation wouldn’t be possible without diversity. When businesses and organizations hear the ideas and perspectives of different groups, that diversity of thought and experience leads to better decisions—and business outcomes. And that is what creates positive, lasting, meaningful change when it comes to fostering a society that’s inclusive and welcoming to all.

Employees, customers, partners and communities are always top of mind at Progress. We believe it is our responsibility to consider the social and environmental impact of everything we do today, as well as how our actions may impact the future.

This inclusive mindset has also guided our planning for Progress360, our multi-dimensional event showcasing the best in high-impact application development, deployment and management. The event will feature a Corporate Social Responsibility Celebration to recognize the importance of diversity and representation in the tech industry. We’ll be highlighting how far we’ve come, but also acknowledging how much more there is to do.

Our honored guest at the celebration, Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President and CEO of AnitaB.org, will discuss her work in expanding equality for women and non-binary technologists in business, academia and government. Learn more about Brenda and AnitaB.org in this Q&A below:

Progress: How did you start advocating for opportunities and social justice for women and underrepresented groups in technology?

Darden Wilkerson: Prior to college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, I prepared as a pre-med student by majoring in biomedical engineering. As luck would have it, all engineers had to take two programming classes and that’s how I learned about programming and computer science. Fast forward years later, and in 2017 I became the President and CEO of AnitaB.org, the global nonprofit focused on intersectional gender and pay parity in tech.

Progress: What trends were you noticing in this area, and what drew you to the field?

Darden Wilkerson: My experiences as a Black woman technologist really bring home how important it is for women and other members of intentionally marginalized and systematically under-resourced groups to gain exposure to opportunities in technology. Because of my gender and race, I’ve experienced challenges that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. The reality of existent barriers drives our work at AnitaB.org—to eliminate obstacles rooted in racism, misogyny, homophobia, classism, and more.

Progress: Since you started working in this area, have you seen any major changes or improvements?

Darden Wilkerson: Diversity in tech has only improved slightly, though the conversation around increased diversity in tech certainly looms large. But the fulfillment of those lofty promises has been woefully inadequate. Our 2021 Technical Equity Experience Survey (TechEES) report found that since 2019 and 2020, tech experiences have worsened for all marginalized genders and are increasingly worse when the data is disaggregated by intersectional identities. Women and non-binary technologists and people within the global majority fuel the industry, yet consistently receive the short end of the stick.

Progress: What are some of the exciting things currently going on at AnitaB.org?

Darden Wilkerson: Our team is currently preparing for our annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), the world’s largest gathering of women and non-binary technologists, which will be held September 20- 23, 2022 at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) in Orlando, Florida. This is the first time in three years that we have both in-person and virtual offerings for our attendees.

Our theme this year is Next is NOW and our featured speakers embody this. We’ll discuss ways we all can come together and use our experiences and expertise to create sustainable change in the tech industry. And, of course, it’s an opportunity to network with people from around the world.

It is hard to ignore current critical issues where basic human rights are threatened by hostile, damaging legislation and ideology, including the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade and the passing of over 300 new anti-LGBTQIA bills (including ‘Don’t Say Gay’ and Stop Woke Act in Florida). Our main priority with this celebration is not only to provide opportunities for women and non-binary technologists at all career levels in a safe, supportive environment, but also to further establish how we as a community can mobilize to combat these harmful policies.

Progress: Why is it so important to have more diversity in the technology field, or any field?

Darden Wilkerson: From algorithmic injustices to coded bias, racial and gender discrimination dictates our tech output. It’s impossible for technology to work well if the creators of technology don’t see you. We’re long overdue to have more representation and perspectives in tech to eliminate the perpetual historical divides. This means having more women, non-binary, gender and ethnic diversities of all kinds, at every level. Not only is it important to feel respected and have a sense of belonging in your workplace, it’s also necessary to reduce social injustice and reinforce social equality no matter the field.

Progress: What responsibility do tech companies have to broaden representation and create more opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM?

Darden Wilkerson: Technology is a tool that fuels innovation. Tech leaders wield an outsized level of power, and that power brings a level of accountability. Tech companies must institute change and prioritize inclusivity to ensure the multitude of cultures are fully represented, not only in the industry, but in the products produced.

Technology developed solely by one group, who demographically tend to be cisgender white and Asian men, is incapable of effectively identifying and addressing the needs of groups outside of their culture. We’ve seen this. And there is no need or excuse for poorly designed tech.

Employers and CEOs have an opportunity and responsibility to make the necessary policy, culture and procedural changes to spark change. Start by having those uncomfortable conversations, actively listen to your employee's feedback and enlist assistance from experts when tackling critical issues.

It’s no longer enough to make bold statements without genuine action to support your women and non-binary technologists. Set mutually agreed-upon goals with your employees and hold yourself, individuals, colleagues, vendors and institutions accountable until those goals are reached.

To hear more from Brenda Darden Wilkerson, register for Progress360, happening September 11-14 in Boston and join our celebration of women in tech on Monday, September 12.

To support the work of AnitaB.org, visit their website.

Jessica Kent of Progress

Jessica Kent

Jessica Kent is a writer and editor based in Boston. As a content specialist, she has the opportunity to write about the exciting things happening at Progress, as well as the amazing people behind it all. When she’s not working, you can find her reading, going for a run or attempting to learn the guitar.

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