Janelle Hinds, Founder of Helping Hands

 

Throughout #BlackHistoryMonth, our BE in Tech series highlights some of the experiences of Black women in the Canadian tech industry.

Share your own experiences using the hashtag #BeInTech and tag us @joinmovethedial!

Janelle Hinds is the Founder of Helping Hands, an organization that supports youth to gain skills for their future career through volunteering, early career exploration, and entrepreneurship. She is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant as well as a renowned public speaker.



As a black woman in tech, what has been your biggest obstacle/challenge to date?


Trying to navigate the technology ecosystem with intersectional identities is a challenge. As a young, Black woman, people like me are underrepresented in technology due to chronic underestimation. I have had people not believe that I am an engineer, despite having a degree in both Biomedical and Electrical Engineering until I make a point of showing them my Iron Engineering ring.

People often underestimate the skills of Black individuals and hold us up to a higher standard when trying to achieve success. I have had group interviews where, despite having a strong resume, my credentials were challenged more than others in the interview to the point that other participants made note of it later. 



Do you feel like Women of Colour are currently underrepresented in your workplace?

I am underrepresented in the two sectors I work in — technology and nonprofit leadership. However, as a founder, I have created a work environment that is diverse and inclusive. This has created a virtuous cycle where young people actively seek out and contact me to join the team as they have heard from others how accommodating we are to life circumstances and abilities. We have hired youth who are fully visually impaired, dealing with mental and physical health issues and more. 


If you could change one thing during your experience in tech and in the workplace what would it be?

I wish the sector would be better at sponsorship and supporting those not in management positions. When I go to conferences, it is quite usual to be one of the youngest or few people of colour there as most organizations do not invest enough in professional development for these individuals. At Helping Hands, from the day employees and volunteers join, they are asked about their goals which we use to find third party capacity-building support or they can suggest conferences they would like to attend and we support them. 

Moving the dial is an ongoing mission we strive to do, is there someone or something that has inspired you to #movethedial in your journey. 


For me, it’s always been, my parents. They instilled the values of giving back to the community and standing up for what I believe is right. I grew up with my mother telling me stories about the workforce believing things would be different by the time I entered. I realized during my various summer/co-op jobs and 16-month internship, this was not the case. My parents were an amazing support system for me through those tough times. 


I would also say it’s the group of Black women in tech/ entrepreneurship I currently have around me. I would like to give a shout out to Chioma Ifeanyi-Okor who I met years ago. We clicked over our shared experiences and now along with other Black women will support each other when facing struggles as well as being a familiar face to each other at events. 


What does being Black In Tech mean to you?

Being Black In Tech means using my skill set to ensure the services or products I build are inclusive and accessible to all people. I have been a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion advocate for over a decade now. For me, it started when I noticed the inequalities that existed in the system, not just for Black people but for women, newcomers, Indigenous people, those with disabilities and more. Being Black In Tech means being an ally to marginalized peoples so we can move the dial together. It’s about trying to create systemic change. Being Black In Tech meant stepping outside of my comfort zone and discussing issues with executives at companies, universities, and colleges as well as government officials. I have testified to the Senate when I was invited to speak about Women in Nontraditional fields but used my time to speak about other populations. When I was invited to speak with the Prime Minister of Netherlands, Mark Rutte, I spoke as a black woman about how we can move women, refugees and other marginalized people in the fields of STEM.


On a personal level, Being Black in Tech means opening doors for others. Whether it’s inside of my own organization or making introductions for those on the job hunt. I have worked with organizations to host ticket giveaways to conferences such as MoveTheDial and Black Professional Technology Network as well as exchanged my time as a public speaker in exchange for youth to attend events for free. 



How can the industry move the dial for black women in tech? (either at an individual level or company-wide)

At a company-wide level, it involves looking at the barrier to success from parental leave and elder care to equal pay to looking at how people are recognized and promoted within the company. How is the system set up that may allow bias? Do not complain about the lack of Black women in your pipeline, support non-profits and other organizations that run programs to help young talent or people looking to switch careers. Be a part of the solution to fix the pipeline. 


At an individual level, people can become sponsors and champions. When you see that a Black woman isn’t being taken seriously by other coworkers, showcase up the amazing work she’s doing. Pay attention to the unpaid labour Black women may be doing to support others within the institution. Support and advocate for company ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) and support 365 days a year, not just during Black History Month. 


 
Move the Dial