The Power of Intersectionality: Understanding Black History Month and Women’s History Month in Tech

8 min readFeb 29, 2024

From Trailblazer to Changemaker: CSforALL and NCWIT Interview Sharmaine Jackson, Researcher and Advocate for Diversity and Women in Tech

CSforALL and NCWIT Interview, Sharmaine Jackson, a Researcher and Advocate for Diversity and Women in Tech

Both Black History Month and Women’s History Month illustrate the importance of diversity, inclusiveness, and equality. They provide platforms to learn about the often overlooked or untold stories of marginalized groups, fostering a deeper understanding of our society. As Black History Month comes to a close and Women’s History Month begins, CSforALL aims to recognize and celebrate the amazing contributions and achievements of Black and women individuals throughout the tech industry including professionals, students, educators, and more.

CSforALL Member and national nonprofit organization, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), have collaborated for the second time to highlight women and girls across tech. Gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in computer science remain a focus for both organizations as they work to close the equity gap in computing.

CSforALL and NCWIT had the opportunity to speak with Sharmaine Jackson, NCWIT’s Racial Equity Director, about her experience as a researcher and advocate for diversity and women in tech.

Read CSforALL’s and NCWIT’s interview with her below:

Question One From CSforALL and NCWIT

Sharmaine Jackson (SJ): Observations such as Black History Month and Women’s History Month, are vital for recognizing the contributions, struggles, and achievements of Black individuals and/or women throughout history. They play a significant role in educating the public, promoting reflection and awareness, encouraging inclusivity and equity, and inspiring future generations. These observations are not just about looking back but also about moving forward, as they help pave the way for a society that truly values and celebrates diversity, inclusivity, and equality.

By commemorating the achievements and recognizing the challenges faced by Black people and women, society is prompted to engage in critical discussions about equality, justice, and how to address systemic barriers that persist. This reflective process is vital for fostering empathy, understanding, and a commitment to social change.

One of the primary benefits of Black History Month and Women’s History Month is their educational impact. These observations provide an opportunity to highlight significant figures, events, and contributions that may have gone unrecognized in our shared historical narratives. By bringing these stories to the forefront, educators can offer a more comprehensive and inclusive portrayal of history that acknowledges the diversity of human experience. This education is essential not only for members of these groups to see themselves reflected in their nation’s history, but also for others to understand and appreciate the richness of our shared history and diversity.

While each month celebrates distinct histories and achievements, Black History Month and Women’s History Month are united in their celebration of resilience against the backdrop of systemic inequalities. They highlight the power of community, the significance of strategic alliances, and the shared struggles for rights and recognition. Both months also offer an opportunity to explore the intersectionality within these groups, acknowledging that individuals often navigate multiple identities simultaneously. For example, Women of color face both racial and gender discrimination, embodying the complexities of intersectionality in their daily lives and struggles.

Black History Month and Women’s History Month share important themes in celebrating resilience, advocating for equality, and highlighting the struggles and achievements of marginalized populations. While they address similar issues, challenges, and solutions, it is vital to recognize and honor the unique value and specific contributions of each observation. Together, these months encourage a deeper understanding of the diverse experiences that shape our society, promoting a more inclusive, equitable, and just world.

Question Two From CSforALL and NCWIT

SJ: Sociologists prioritize the understanding of social contexts and structures. Unlike education researchers, who might focus primarily on pedagogical methods, learning outcomes, and educational policies, sociologists are keenly interested in how societal norms, values, inequalities, and social interactions influence and are influenced by the educational system.

This broader lens allows sociologists to question and challenge existing social arrangements and unpack power dynamics to uncover the intricate ways in which education intersects with other societal dimensions, such as class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, and nationality. While an education researcher might explore how technology can enhance learning, and a computer scientist might develop the technology itself, a sociologist would critically examine how technology reproduces or challenges social inequalities.

Question Three From CSforALL and NCWIT

SJ: In the rapidly evolving field of Computer Science (CS), the focus often gravitates toward technical skills, innovation, and computational thinking. However, there is a growing recognition of the importance of non-technical skills that are crucial for success in CS and beyond. One such skill is resiliency, the ability to bounce back from challenges, failures, and setbacks. In the context of CS, where problem-solving is central and trial and error is part of the learning process, developing resiliency is especially important. This skill enables students to persist in the face of difficulties, adapt to new challenges, and continue striving toward their goals.

Students from marginalized, underserved, or underrepresented backgrounds in CS may encounter unique challenges, including limited access to resources, isolation, and bias. These challenges can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and discouragement. Developing resiliency skills can empower these students to navigate and overcome such obstacles, fostering a sense of belonging and determination. By cultivating a resilient mindset, students are better equipped to face and surmount the barriers that social disadvantages may impose.

Addressing and mitigating the impacts of inequality can be achieved through creating inclusive and supportive educational environments that validate and celebrate diverse experiences and perspectives. Strategies to foster such environments might include: integrating culturally responsive teaching practices, providing mentorship opportunities, and establishing support networks. These efforts aid in the holistic development of resiliency, contributing significantly to a more equitable and accessible CS field.

Additionally, the cultivation of soft skills such as, adaptability, empathy, and collaborative problem-solving are particularly valuable. These skills are essential for success in both academic and professional settings, as they empower students to effectively navigate interpersonal relationships and team dynamics. Moreover, improving a student’s communication and empathy skills is vital for their ability to collaborate within diverse teams and settings. Developing these competencies equips students to lead projects and initiatives in a way that is inclusive and considers a broad spectrum of perspectives.

Question Four From CSforALL and NCWIT

*In its simplest form, intersectionality is the concept of linked oppression; or in a more complex way, intersectionality refers to the ways an individual can experience discrimination based on a combination of overlapping or “intersecting” factors; these may include a person’s gender identity, race, sexual orientation, economic status, and more.

SJ: The concept of intersectionality provides a crucial framework for understanding how various forms of social identity and power dynamics intersect to shape individual and collective experiences. Often, I find that the dynamics of privilege within intersectional analyses are sometimes underexplored. That is, how an individual may simultaneously hold privileged statuses in some contexts, while being marginalized in others, is essential in addressing the complex ways in which power operates and is distributed across different social locations.

How individuals navigate and resist intersecting forms of oppression, while also potentially reproducing certain aspects of these structures in their own lives, deserves more attention. These perspectives encourage a more nuanced and comprehensive analysis of the ways in which various forms of identity and power intersect, shaping experiences of oppression and privilege. Addressing these aspects can lead to more equitable and effective strategies for social change, reflecting the complexity and diversity of human experiences.

Using an intersectionality approach in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work is helpful for developing a deeper understanding of the complexities of human diversity. It aids in generating DEI initiatives that effectively promote justice, equity, and inclusion that reflect the rich tapestry of the lived experience in our communities, schools, and workplaces.

By understanding the specific challenges and barriers faced by individuals at the intersections of multiple social identities (e.g., race, class, gender, sexuality), DEI practitioners can develop more tailored and effective strategies. This means moving beyond generalizations that may exclude some people, to create initiatives that acknowledge, and address the varied experiences of discrimination and privilege in a given system.

Finally, by using an intersectionality approach, it encourages empathy and solidarity in a community by highlighting the interconnectedness of different forms of oppression. By recognizing how various systems of power intersect, intersectionality approaches can foster a deeper understanding of the struggles others face, even if they differ from our own, through a shared understanding of power and oppression. This can lead to stronger alliances and a more cohesive effort to create inclusivity and belonging across different communities.

Question Five From CSforALL and NCWIT

SJ: Below, I have provided three (3) strategies that the CSED community can adopt to foster a more empowering and collaborative environment:

1. Valuing Diverse Forms of Knowledge

The CSED community should consider expanding its understanding of what constitutes valid and valuable knowledge. This includes recognizing and integrating the lived experiences, cultural practices, and indigenous knowledge systems of diverse communities into the curriculum and research. By valuing these forms of knowledge, we can expand and acknowledge the richness and complexity of different ways of understanding the world, to enrich CS education and research.

2. Participatory Design and Research

Adopting participatory design and research methodologies can significantly empower communities by involving them directly in the creation, development, and assessment of CS education initiatives. This approach ensures that educational tools, programs, and policies are not only reflective of the needs and aspirations of the communities they aim to serve but also co-created with their active input and leadership. It shifts the paradigm from doing for to doing with, fostering a sense of ownership and agency among participants.

3. Providing Platforms for Youth Leadership

Empowering communities and youth requires providing platforms and opportunities for them to lead and innovate. This could involve supporting youth-led technology projects, community initiatives, and forums where young people can express their ideas, concerns, and visions for the future of technology and education. By elevating youth voices and leadership, the CSED community can better align its efforts with the interests and needs of the next generation.

Understanding how diverse identities impact tech is crucial for creating a more inclusive field. This knowledge empowers organizations, companies, educators, and individuals to better support students from all backgrounds. It also helps build a tech industry that welcomes and values people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups.

In this dynamic intersection of Black and Women’s History Months, CSforALL and NCWIT celebrate the achievements and contributions of these populations in tech spaces and call on the entire tech industry and computer science education community to foster inclusivity and work towards a future where everyone has a more equitable future.

Thank you to Sharmaine Jackson and NCWIT for their time, energy, cooperation, and ongoing efforts in advancing computer science education for ALL.

Follow @CSforALL and @NCWIT this WHM as they highlight women and girls across tech.




The national hub for the Computer Science for All movement, making high-quality computer science education an integral part of K-12 education in the US.