Winnie Karanja recalls that years ago, when she was a high school student, she was one of only two women of color in one of her computer programming classes.
But Karanja, who earned her undergraduate degree in Childhood Education from the University of Aberystwyth in Wales and a Masters in Development and Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science, knew creativity and ideas that she and her peers from similar backgrounds could bring to the table. — where history has not always spared places. Karanja has also spent time as a freelancer in the tech industry.
Karanja went on to found Maydm, a Madison-based nonprofit that provides girls and youth of color in grades 6 through 12 with training to prepare them for the tech industry. She held this position for seven years until her next entrepreneurial endeavor – Represented Collective.
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Launching in 2021, media company Madison aims to create projects that not only highlight how women and people of color have contributed to the historically white and male-dominated fields of science, technology, of engineering and mathematics, but also increase inclusiveness and accessibility in STEM fields.
“In 2020, there was a lot of awareness of racial inequality in the community,” Karanja said of her reasoning for embarking on founding Represented Collective. “So many disparities have been brought to light. I thought, “I can go out and do something bigger”…what I was trying to do wasn’t done yet.
People of color, especially blacks and Hispanics, continued to be underrepresented in STEM fields compared to their white counterparts in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center. Across all STEM jobs, groups make up about 9% of the workforce, compared to 67% white. Women are also disproportionately represented in computer science and engineering, as they constitute 25% and 15% of these industries respectively.
Now, thanks in part to a $5 million UW-Madison grant to help fight racism in higher education, Represented Collective has launched a project called “Legendary” — some of the money funds an exhibit interactive at nine Dane County libraries that spotlights women who have made STEM history but have not been celebrated for their accomplishments as much as their male counterparts.
One figure is Alice Ball, a black chemist who developed the first successful treatment for people suffering from leprosy, a deadly skin disease, in the early 1900s.
The exhibit, in recognition of Women’s History Month and on view through April 9, features profiles of each of the 41 personalities and is based on a collection of 56 handcrafted illustrated portrait and biographical cards that highlight the achievements of each woman. People can purchase the card game from the Represented Collective website for $40.
At the Monona Public Library earlier this month, Represented Collective Project Manager Sarah Gamalinda tested the exhibit’s interactivity ahead of its March 11 launch.
It not only includes character profiles on display throughout the library, but also QR codes that visitors can scan to answer critical thinking questions and participate in polls. Exhibitors can also place flowers for their favorite historical figures, she said.
Answers to questions and polls will be included in a panel later this spring, Karanja said, where local STEM experts are expected to discuss how each industry can be fairer. Plans for the event are still being finalized, she said.
Going forward, Karanja envisions Represented Collective working with STEM companies to raise awareness of what equity looks like in each sector.
The company plans to launch a podcast series soon and is filming a documentary, she said.
A “leaky pipeline”
Karanja pointed to a recent report by the Lydia Foundation and the Geena Davis Institute on gender in media that notes a ‘leaky pipeline’ in STEM fields – girls and women are dropping out of STEM career paths at various points. social and educational development.
This is partly because of how the media portrays women in STEM, she said, and Represented Collective aims to help undo that.
According to the report, around 37.1% of women have appeared as STEM professionals in the media, compared to 62.9% of men.
In terms of race, 71.2% of workers were likely to be white, compared to 16.7% black, 5.6% Asian, 3.9% Hispanic and other groups.
Data from the Pew Research Center from 2021 further indicates that pay gaps continue to persist in STEM fields for women and people of color.
The median salary of women in STEM is 74% of the salary of men in the same discipline – $66,200 per year compared to $90,000. Black and Hispanic employees also earn 78% and 83% of typical white worker wages in STEM.
Photos: Office space in Madison