To celebrate Black History Month, Sherrell Dorsey shares her experience as a Black woman in tech, ways to combat racial biases in tech, and how to engage students in culturally relevant ways.
Please introduce yourself and tell me where you work and your position.
My name is Sherrell Dorsey, and I am a data journalist, media entrepreneur, and author. I founded and currently run The Plug—a news and insights platform covering Black startups, investors, and innovation hubs.
What or who inspires you?
My grandfather is my biggest inspiration. He left Detroit in his early 20s, moved to Seattle for a job where he had no family and no support system, built a life for himself, showed up for me and my cousin time and again, and introduced us to the world of technology.
Tell me about your journey to becoming CEO & Founder of The Plug.
While working in technology, I found the stories and features of technologists and CEOs to be limited. There were very few voices in tech being shared in media that looked like me or came from communities I came from. I initially created The Plug to help bridge that gap, and today we are a venture-backed platform with 5 employees helping to shape new narratives on who gets to create the future.
What impact has the underrepresentation of Blacks in tech had on your career? Have you had to navigate specific challenges or biases related to this?
Despite being underrepresented, I was raised and mentored by Black engineers, software developers, scientists, and others within tech as a teenager and well into my adulthood and journey as an entrepreneur. The tech space can be an emotional and psychologically challenging space for women, people of color, disabled, and gender-non-conforming people across the board. I've experienced a variety of hostile experiences within tech, which led me to launch my own company and create the type of workspace and environment that I can thrive in.
How can we engage more Black students in culturally relevant ways?
There is so much more opportunity and visible figures of success and representation compared to when I was a kid. From The OHUBs to AfroTech to Dev Color to the plethora of tech conferences and groups across social media run by Black-led organizations and companies, there are environments for students to find access to mentors and communities that want to see them win.
What can be done to combat racial bias in computing and tech?
People of color and other underrepresented people, now more than ever, must make learning technology skills and enter technology careers a key priority and discussion within our families and communities. As some of the fastest growing jobs in demand, we have the ability to be contributes to the existing and future technologies. Our data and insight will be vital to ensuring we have representation within tech.
Any words of advice for our youth or someone who's getting started in tech?
Look for opportunities to get certifications and develop a portfolio through online programs that can help you grow your tech skills. Many of these certifications can help you get a job in tech right out of school. For now, have fun learning and building and discovering and building your network.
Is there anything I didn't ask that you would like to discuss?
I wrote Upper Hand: The future of Work for the Rest of Us as a guide to help communities like the one I came from navigate and create a framework for the future. Part of reducing some of the barriers in tech are in changing access to the language.
Sherrell Dorsey is the founder and CEO of The Plug—a digital news and insights platform covering the Black innovation economy. Her work has been featured in VICE, The Washington Post, Seattle Times, The Information, and more. Sherrell has been a contributing writer for notable publications like Columbia Journalism Review, Fast Company, Black Enterprise, and others. In 2018, she was named an inspiring woman in tech by CNet, and most creative people in business by AdWeek in 2021.
Prior to launching The Plug, Dorsey served as a marketing manager for companies like Uber and Google Fiber. She holds a Master's degree in data journalism from Columbia University.
She is the author of Upper Hand: The Future of Work for the Rest of Us published by Wiley.