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Building the Largest Talent Pipeline of Black Women in STEM with BlackSiS Founder Diana Wilson

Building the Largest Talent Pipeline of Black Women in STEM with BlackSiS Founder Diana Wilson

Show Notes:

The core values Diana learned from her Ghanain community are integrity, education, and family. She learned early on that intersectionality in her identity was a major influence on the opportunities and barriers presented to her. The women around her were asked if they wanted to be nurses, not doctors. She has often been asked at an event she was attending if she was part of the cleaning staff, just because she is a black woman. As she began to intern at major financial companies, she saw the men around her getting opportunities that she was not organically offered. Her non-profit was born from her own experiences and the experiences of the women in her community. She saw the need as she studied the black woman experience in college, and her education fueled her to explain that her experience was different, and it wasn’t just her. It was a macro issue among black women. Focusing on black women is strategic because it gets to the root of the issues around discrimination. 

“The way my identity shows up brings a very specific set of issues, problems, good things, and if we don’t specifically build for that and to that, we will lose black women.”

At 20 years old, Diana went to Ghana for the first time and saw the reality of what her native homeland was like for women. She had a profound experience that hit her with a calling bigger than herself. She knew it was time for her to dedicate her efforts to lifting her fellow black women into opportunities that the world was not giving them. As she puts it, she knows she was built for this. Giving black women the opportunity to work in the STEM fields and letting them see what that could do for their life, not just their career, is Diana’s passion around this non-profit.

“Purpose and time collided in one moment for me.”

As Diana started to work with her team to build out an effective model for achieving their  mission, they took note of a few gaps in the current education platforms. Although digital learning platforms have become mainstream today, they leave students with certificates of completion and little else to help them make their next professional move. They decided to infuse their programs with theoretical knowledge through articles and workshops and then follow it with required hands on projects that require their students to collaborate and use AI to actually create useable skills. By adding community into their platform, they offer their students the opportunity to grow social capital and professional networks unlike anything black women across the world have been given before.

“When word of mouth led us to 4,000 women in 16 countries, that was it [we knew we hit product market fit.]”

Scaling from a couple hundred accelerator students to thousands around the world is what motivated Diana and her team to evolve their nonprofit into a tech company. Their alumni built the Black SiS online platform themselves and nothing else like it exists. They now track engagement on their platform, GPA, autonomy as a student progresses through the curriculum, and socio-economic status. Their goal to reach the most marginalized black women is one of the motivators to measure how much their programs help lift students economically. Black SiS works with HBCUs, tech companies, and local programs that are also trying to help marginalized black women. They are more interested in partnerships than solo work because they know the reach of their work can go so much further when their students have good access to the internet in their homes and the privilege of tech in their lives. This means that their future focus is making their platform mobile-centric so that they can support even more women and hit their goal of reaching 1 million women by 2026.

“I really pray for everyone in our organization. I trust and believe for the best of them. I really want this to be an organization that creates a community of Black women that the world has never seen.”

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Diana (00:00:03):

For Black Sisters in STEM, it's building the world's largest talent pipeline of black women in STEM careers who will utilize their grit and their technical capabilities to create generational change and decrease the wealth gap in the world.

Mike (00:00:26):

Welcome to Cause and Purpose startup edition, the show about the leaders, innovators and change agents, launching new initiatives and working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. I'm Mike Spear and today's guest is the founder and CEO of Black Sisters in STEM, Diana Wilson. As a first generation Ghanaian American growing up in a household where her single mother raised Diana and her five siblings on a single income. The values of hard work education and integrity were instilled at a very early age, as well as a desire to do better and help others do better than in previous generations going to college and entering the workforce. Diana began to experience the unique challenges that women of color and black women in particular faced when studying and pursuing careers in stem, Diana founded black sisters in stem or black to address this very problem from getting access to the right education and mentors to learning the ways black women in particular can succeed in interviews and career advancement. Black sisters in stem aims to be the place that black women can come to have their unique needs met and get the resources they need to pursue long and successful careers in stem. Our conversation spans a huge array of topics from Diana's personal life, life in the Gade community of New York and New Jersey to Diana's pivotal visit to the door of no return and include some real tangible takeaways from lessons learned in launching Hope you enjoy Diana. Thanks so much for joining the podcast this morning. I'm excited to talk to you about black stem.

Diana (00:01:50):

Thank you so much for having me. I'm so happy to be here. It's an honor.

Mike (00:01:54):

Tell me about how you got started, how you grew up and what set you on this path towards social impact.

Diana (00:01:59):

Absolutely. I believe that my mother has been grooming me towards social impact my entire life. You know, I come from a family of missionaries and pastors and evangelists. And so social impact has always been a huge thread in my family's life. We've always been going out, giving supplies, doing healthcare work and spreading the gospel, like in four continents since I was like 16, right? So I've always seen that as a thread and my mom being a single mother, she was truly a superhuman to me for all that she did, but most importantly, her kindness, not only towards her children, but towards everyone she met. My mother is truly like a beloved woman in the Ghanaian community in the Northeast because of that kindness. And so I always grew up seeing the effects of true kindness, not in a way to be opportunistic or to get something out of people, but just to really help people and make their day better.

Diana (00:03:11):

And that's the household I grew up in. I grew up in a household surrounded by love, surrounded by kindness, surrounded by an expectation of being a really good person and an expectation of doing more than the last generation. My grandma was a literate and my mother came here as a 19 year old young woman with $20 in a dream. As we like to say and forged a whole new reality for my entire family. My mother was the first person to come here and brought almost all of my family here and raised all my siblings and I, all six of us took us through college. Wow. And now we have lawyers, doctors, software engineers, myself, <laugh> all through her work. And that is how I grew up. And so I always felt a responsibility to take my family to the next level. And not only that, but take people like my mom who had to sacrifice and not choose her dreams so that we could choose our dreams to hopefully make sure that they don't have to do that.

Diana (00:04:23):

And unfortunately, so many black women across the world, especially in developing countries, like my Homeland of Ghana have to continuously sacrifice without a lot of support and help. And I really believe that black sisters in stem it's, it was created and it was formed through all of these life experiences I had and all of the beauty and the excellence and the, the amazingness that I saw in black women. But I felt like the world didn't see. And I wanted that to not only be seen and heard, but I wanted it to be supported. And that was like really the foundation of what I would start to do later on in my life.

Mike (00:05:08):

Tell me more about the Ghanaian community in New Jersey.

Diana (00:05:12):

I was just joking about this recently with my family. You know, the Ghanaian community were really in hubs. So one hub is the Northeast. So it's New Jersey, New York, Connecticut. Another hub is the DMV. Another hub is Chicago. Another hub is Texas. And that's where you find all the Ghanaians in the us. It's such a tight community because, you know, there were a couple of people who came and kind of set the foundation and everyone kind of followed. And so we all know each other really well. We've all likely gone to the same high schools or gone to the same functions, weddings, parties, different things of that nature, same churches. And so it's a really tight, beautiful community that I've been honored to be a part of something even that we do every year is like, um, Ghana picnic <laugh>. So every year in the summer, there's a Ghana picnic in New Jersey and literally thousands of Ghanaians across New Jersey and you know, their family members from other areas come.

Diana (00:06:14):

And we're literally just in the park, celebrating our culture, eating our food, having our local businesses, do their tabling and popups. And that is how I grew up. It's I it's been happening since I would believe I was five years old. And so I've been going to Ghana picnics ever since then. And that is just an example of how beautiful this community is. And I think that is another ex lived experience of mine that showed me the power of community. We literally have built people's businesses, photography, businesses, event planning businesses, because they first showed up at Ghana picnic. And those are the things that showed me the power of visibility in a community, the power of connectivity, the power of just sisterhood and brotherhood. And that's another experience that I would say probably led me to build something like this.

Mike (00:07:10):

What are some of the characteristics of that community? I'm curious about some of the values that came from your mother and your grandmother, but also the community itself.

Diana (00:07:19):

Integrity. Integrity is a huge aspect of the Ghanaian community. Ghana was the first independent nation from colonialism on the continent of Africa. And we really hold a lot of pride in that pride in standing firm on what you believe. If you've heard of something called the ARA symbols or something called Sankofa, that's a Ghanaian symbol and word. We have a lot of these value systems built into our culture that all focus on integrity, really living by your values, standing by your values and knowing your values. Number two would be education at all of these Ghana picnics. At all of these events, we celebrate our graduates. We celebrate who went to law school, who became a doctor who became an engineer. We celebrate these things so explicitly that even the children understand like I want to graduate too. I will graduate because I'm gonna be the person at the next com picnic with my cap and gown.

Diana (00:08:24):

So we're like inculcating them into this, this understanding that you must be educated. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and it's a beautiful thing. And then the last thing I would say is family. Mm family's a huge, huge thing. In our culture. We are very communal culture. Even in the way our communities are set up and built in Ghana. It's truly a village like EV your children are raised by the village of your community. And even though most of us have left Ghana, or some of us have left Ghana, it's still that same value system. When you go to these places, your uncles and aunties still feel like they have a responsibility to raise. You still feel like they have a responsibility to be influential in your life. And that just goes and flows from generation to generation. We are so focused on family and really loving your family, cherishing your family, understanding that friends and even spouses are great. But sometimes when those people leave, you'll always have your family. And that is something that has been ingrained in my head. Since I've been young,

Mike (00:09:36):

It feels from the way you're talking. Like you really were, you know, as individual and student very seen and heard by the community. But you also talk about folks who have similar backgrounds and experience to you not being seen in sort of the outside world. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

Diana (00:09:54):

That gets to the intersectionality of what it means to be a black woman and why I created this organization. Some people ask me, why are you so focused on black women? How come it it's not women of color. And I say, because the way my identity shows up brings a very specific set of issues, problems, good things. And if we don't specifically build for that and to that, we will lose black women. And the reason why I say this is that even in the Ghana community, how beautiful it was, you know, when we were graduating and they would ask us, oh, what are you gonna do next? Are you gonna become a nurse? Right? These are the questions we would get versus the men would get doctors, engineers, lawyers, years lawyers up till recently, most of the women I know in our community have been nurses or have been stay at home moms.

Diana (00:10:55):

And those are beautiful things. That's not to say that they're bad, but even in a community that's thriving and that's helpful. They're still the standard of being a woman that they look down upon you. And then when you get into the world and you start going into other communities, it's both your blackness and your womanhood. So I've had multiple times, I've been at interviews and people have asked me if I was a part of the cleaning staff, even though I'm dressed <laugh> and you, I would be surprised if a cleaning staff would come dressed like that. But the assumption is because I'm a black woman, especially a dark skinned black woman that I'm likely going to be a part of the staff cleaning instead of someone coming for an interview. And even for black men, it's different because there's a part of their identity that is still privileged.

Diana (00:11:52):

And that's their manhood. There's a certain projection of ability because they're men. And so even as I went to JP Morgan and McKinsey and PWC, the black men in my internships or cohorts still had a perceived ability that I didn't organically get. And so when we focus on black women, we can actually explicitly say that their experience is unique. And when we actually come to the realization that yes, their experience is unique. Now we can look at the root of the problem and actually start to solve for it. Instead of saying, oh, you know, all people of color have the same experiences. All women have the same experiences. That is the farthest from the truth. If you look at the women's rights movement, you can see how black women were treated in the women's rights movement. If you look at the civil rights movement, you can see how, even though black women led and were in leadership positions in both of these movements, how little visibility, how little recognition, how little supports they received in all of these movements that were still supposed to include them.

Diana (00:13:07):

And these are just historical stories that showcase the both macro and micro level of issues that black women face throughout history. And in almost every field, they go to my personal experiences. My lived experiences, the experiences of the most important and influential people in my life who happen to be black women, watching their experiences. And then also when I went to University of Virginia, I majored in sociology and women, gender, sexuality studies, but the focus on black women and I did my thesis on black women. And so I spent a good amount of my four years studying systemic issues, black women face writing about it, reading upon it, doing research upon it even going as far as, um, helping to establish the first black girl childhood conference in the us with one of my professors, all of that is what built me to this understanding that my experience was different.

Diana (00:14:21):

And it wasn't just me. It wasn't a micro issue. It was really a macro issue. And then I started to connect the dots between what I was reading and my experiences between what I was reading and my sister's experience between what I was reading and my mother's experience as a registered nurse for 30 years yet, how they treated her and talked to her at work. I started connecting all of these dots and I was like, ah, these things connect. And then, so when I went to Ghana on a study abroad with my university to study business, that was the aha moment because I thought, you know, maybe in a black nation, it would be different. And so I had this very naive and, you know, U utopian view of Ghana having not been there. And so when I came to Ghana, I came with that view and my lenses were so colored by this glorious country that I hoped my country would be for women like myself, from all the stories my mom told me and my cousins and everyone.

Diana (00:15:30):

And yet when I came to Ghana, that experience of what I hoped for was very interrupted very quickly. All of the companies we visited, there were only two women that we met and one of them was a secretary. And so going through all of this, I was like, wait, it's still the same <laugh>. And that surprised me. And that hurt me and I didn't know what to do with it. And then we went to the Cape Coast castle. So we got to the Cape Coast castle, and I'm literally smelling all the smells, feeling all the feels. And it's such a, you know, eye opening, yet traumatic experience.

Diana (00:16:13):

And that is where I truly remember it was like a trance. The tour guide after we walked out of the door of no return, took us up the stairs to the balcony. And he said, look to the seat. And we all looked as a group and he said, as beautiful as this view looks now, try to picture this view with ships coming in to take people away. And they're not just taking people away. They're taking dreams and legacies and innovations and hopes away. And in that moment being someone who's so visual, I literally remember seeing the entire view go black to me. And I felt so deeply in my spirit that there's something I had to do. There was like a call of action. It was a very dramatic moment. And in that moment I remembered a proverb. My mom has always told me what is lost to the sea.

Diana (00:17:18):

The waves will return. And when I heard that in my spirit, I realized that I was the wave. This organization could be that wave. And that's why I was so ready to build something and create something and see how I could change and impact lives. Because I realized in that moment that sometimes we think change will come externally and we remove ourself from the change. And we remove ourself from the ability to create that change. But when I heard that proverb that my mom has said to me all my life, and really didn't mean much to me before I finally realized that I was that change. And I was that wave. And that is what took all of my lived experience from a young girl, from being a rape survivor from being raised by a single mother, from being a low income student from being a U university of Virginia student, from being someone who focused on black women and wrote her thesis on black women, it took all of those experiences. And it led me to say, I can be that wave. And I'm going to be that wave. And this organization is going to be,

Mike (00:18:35):

You were brought to that moment, that, that time and place, and, you know, a lot of people would, would be there and be inspired and would say, Hey, there's something we have to change. This. There's an injustice here. You know, I hope it gets solved versus somebody who's like, I'm gonna become this wave. I'm gonna take this on.

Diana (00:18:50):

I think that everyone has a purpose. And for me, purpose and time collided in one moment for me. And I knew it wasn't an inspirational moment for me. It was like a call to action deep in my soul. And I knew that it had to be a calling and a purposeful moment for me, cuz it was so, um, it was so new. It was so different from any experience I've ever had. And it was so interesting that it was my first return to my Homeland, that all of this would happen. I don't believe in coincidences personally. And so I took all of that as this is really like, God calling me to tell me who I am and showing me where I should go and what he already created me to be. And now he wants me to start it. I was 20 when that happened.

Diana (00:19:52):

And so a lot has happened in the past six years or five years, but it has taught me that everyone's purpose is unique. And I really believe that everyone has the skill set already to manifest that purpose. There may be things you have to learn and develop, always been very outgoing. I've always been in leadership positions. I've always tried to be the voice of people. I used to literally cry when I would see people on the street, I would always ask my mom, like, let's do this. Let's do that. Let's do this. I always had this huge journeying to help people who I felt no one was helping. And that has been since I was young. And so when I asked my parents or I asked my siblings, tell me who you think I am the list of what they would say actually speaks really well to what a leader of a nonprofit or what of a leader for a kind of work like this would be.

Diana (00:20:55):

And so I wasn't connecting the dots back then, but when I started to think about it, it made sense that this is my purpose. This is my calling. And of course I have to grow into it more mm-hmm <affirmative>. But I really believe I was, I was built for this in all humility. I was built for this and I was built to help people see themselves as someone who struggled to see herself so much. I know exactly what it feels like. I know how debilitating it can be. I know how hard it could be to take yourself out of that pit. And so when I speak to my women, when I see my women or when my fellows look to me as this huge role model that they follow and literally copy so many of the things I do, I hold that responsibility, not in a position of, oh, I'm their leader. I hold that responsibility because I believe that every person has other people connected to their destiny and their destinies are connected to mine. And I live my life in a way that would hopefully be a benefit to their destiny and to them finding their own purpose, not just getting a job, but being able to be successful in stem and understanding what that purpose leads to for this world and for themselves,

Mike (00:22:15):

How did you go from this decisive moment in your life to defining what the organization should be?

Diana (00:22:20):

So I had amazing professors at the University of Virginia and I told them what was happening. I told them like, I need to work on this. And they told me to reflect, they told me, what do you think took you out of Newark, New Jersey? And I said, oh my guidance counselors and my teachers <laugh> I said that so quickly. And so they said, okay, so you probably wanna focus on education. And I was like, okay, but education is so broad. Like, what does that mean? They said, well, what do you think it means? What do you think was the intervention that helped you? Are you gonna start with children? Are you gonna do middle school? Are you gonna do high school? Are you gonna do college? What, what do you think is so important? And I didn't really have answers to those questions.

Diana (00:23:01):

So I started doing a lot of research. I started trying to figure out where black women were in terms of when they dropped out, when they were struggling the most at different stages of the stem pipeline. Like what were the things that they said they struggle with? And so I started doing like surveys with 50 people from like universities in the us universities, across the continent. I was just tapping into my network. And I said, tell me your experience. Tell me your experience, tell me your experience. And then I was coupling that with research and I landed on college. And the reason why I landed on college students is because I know black women struggle at multiple stages of the stem pipeline. But for me, the defining moments of who I would be in terms of a career woman really came in college. And I still believe even if you don't think you can become a stem major or going to a stem career in college, you can actually shift because that's what happened to me.

Diana (00:24:03):

I started out in a stem major, totally believing I was gonna graduate as a finance major. I was doing so well. I was a star student. I was killing it, but I soon let my imposter syndrome destroy everything that I was working for. And so I shifted to sociology and women, gender studies, because I thought that's what I could do. Hmm. And so that mindset is actually what changed my whole college career. And so I really believe that this college is such a unique and like incubative time period, that if we really support and focus on intervention for black women, even if they didn't come to college with the hopes and belief that they could actually be a step major, we could turn it around because the power of a, a role model, the power of community, the power of constant moral support cannot be quantified.

Diana (00:25:14):

And that is the only reason why as a liberal arts major, I was still working at McKinsey and company. I was still at PWC. I was still at JP Morgan. People literally look at my LinkedIn and they're always confused. Like, how did you do that? How did you get into those roles? And it was because I had mentors when I came in my first year, a community of black women who were fourth year students and had gone through everything I had already gone through. They saw me when I didn't see myself. And so when I didn't think I could do it, they said, you're gonna do it. <laugh> and they helped me to do it. And that is why my trajectory seemed so unique. And if I can help another black woman do that, I'm, I'm gonna make sure I do.

Mike (00:25:58):

What was the elevator pitch for YAA.W and quickly the, the new one now that it's Black Sisters in STEM?

Diana (00:26:06):

Yeah, absolutely. They're actually not that different. It, the, YAA.W one was building the largest talent pipeline of African women in stem that would utilize their grit and their technical capabilities to change Africa and the world that was elevator pitch for YAA.W. For black sisters in stem, it's building the world's largest talent pipeline of black women in stem careers who will utilize their grits and their technical capabilities to create generational change and decrease the wealth gap in the world.

Mike (00:26:52):

You talk about the organization as beginning as, as very programmatic and moving to something that's more of a platform. Can you describe what the program is or, or was, and what inspired that change? Like what were you seeing that the program was not addressing that caused you to want to build the platform out?

Diana (00:27:10):

Yeah, so the programmatic aspect of our organization, we still run. It's just, now that we have a tech first focus. So the programs were, our girls are future talent accelerator, which is a 12 week program that really incubates women over the summer on all things they need to literally get a job. So we focused mostly on juniors and seniors in university. And then we had another program, our main flagship program, which was black women in machine learning, which was actually the first and the only black women in machine learning conference in the world. Hmm. And we started it with a hundred women in Ghana in 2019, I think. And it was a huge hit sponsored by Google and MTN. And so those were the two main flagship programs that we had. And then lastly, we had multiple events that were more on demand content, right?

Diana (00:28:17):

So we would record them and they would serve us on demand content for the future. So master classes ask me anything sessions with people at Goldman Sachs or meta or Twitter, all these different things. And then also we would utilize volunteers from companies to host like mock interviews, resume reviews, things of that nature. So that was the programs that we were doing. And we were focused on as an organization. And the reason why those were extremely successful was because we weren't yet reaching the most marginalized black women. So to be honest, we were reaching those women who were still pretty middle class or upper class across the continent of Africa. And I noticed that I noticed that in our surveys, I noticed that in our statistics, I noticed that even when I would meet them and you know, the gifts they would give me or the, you know, when they asked me to come meet their parents in their homes and things of that nature.

Diana (00:29:20):

And so I noticed that it was a pretty, you know, well off group. I wanted to understand how could I get to the women who were more lower income? And I realized that they were in college, but a lot of times they struggled in their classes. A lot of times they struggled a lot because they had very poor K through 12 training, and most of them dropped out. So we started doing surveys, targeting people who felt like they wanted be in stem, but they couldn't be in stem. And most of them said, oh, I don't have the money to support a career in stem, or I can't finish my classes. I'm not good enough to be in these classes. My university doesn't even have these classes. And so when we started understanding these things, we said, okay, if we give this person a mentor or we give them on demand content, they're still in a university that is super underdeveloped in their stem programs.

Diana (00:30:23):

And so they are going to be automatically at a disadvantage automatically trying to catch up with the theoretical knowledge, not even to think about the practical they knowledge, they need to actually contend on a global scale in this workforce. And so with that, and with other alumni saying, we wish we had a platform that would host all of the things you taught us that would host just us and slack. Wasn't really cutting it for us. You know, the community could be on slack, but there was a lot of things that couldn't be on slack. And so they kept pushing us to this. And we were like, we need to build our own proprietary platform. We need to have a place where at any time in any time zone, whenever you have internet, you can get on and you can learn, you can connect. It. Doesn't have to be based on where I am and where my time zone is or where my team's time zone is.

Diana (00:31:29):

You can watch on-demand contact at any time. And so that's what really propelled us to do this. Then lastly, our partners, our partners always asked for, you know, for us to showcase to them profiles and they always wanted profiles and they wanted it so quickly. And they wanted us to have certain points of that profile. For example, a company came to us once and was like, I want women in Morocco who are in university studying computer science. And it's like, okay, now I'm gonna manually go through all of our community members, see filter for Morocco in my Excel sheet, see where they are now. Um, see how many programs they have committed to where I actually feel like I could recommend them. It was so manual. And it was really becoming something that wasn't gonna be sustainable. It would really help if we had a platform to do that at scale and automate it.

Diana (00:32:25):

It was truly a manual process to deliver even 10 to 20 recruits to one company at a time. And we really wanted to automate and scale this process and even scale the way that we help our students, we were giving them manual projects, grading those projects, walking them through those projects, having set sessions for each of them to talk through their projects at a cohort level. And again, all of the things of time zone and, um, of making it a very event focused work and strategy was really limiting. And so we tried to change that by building this platform and allowing a lot of the work that myself and my team were doing to be done automatically through a computer <laugh> and then for us to focus on how to make our programs and our work more impactful and how to reach many more women and how to reach women across the diaspora as well. So that is what we knew to unlock the amount of impact we unwanted. We were gonna have to pivot to a tech first model.

Mike (00:33:44):

Tell me a little bit about the platform. How'd you go about building it and then, you know, how does it sort of occupy a unique space, unique functionality within the overall marketplace?

Diana (00:33:53):

Yeah, we really believe that the marketplace in the past 10 years has really been focused on digitizing content. And so you see the likes of Coursera and Udemy, which have been powerful in creating education technology to serve the world, but it has left many people with certificates and very few practical skills because completing a course, doesn't actually equal to practical knowledge. And when it comes to black women, especially in underdeveloped countries who think that Coursera will be their way to getting a job or really standing tall in the global marketplace, it just hasn't been the truth for them. They still need connections. They still need that social capital. They still need practical skill. And our platform is an infusion of all of these things. Not only are we taking them through theoretical knowledge with videos and blog posts and what we call wikis or how to articles on different aspects of stem we're also in them were also ensuring that they showcased their demonstrated ability through tech projects and uploading their own solution or solution.

Diana (00:35:19):

They collaborated on with another sister onto our platform. And we've gamified it through AI to ensure that it is done by stages. When you go on Coursera or you go on Udemy, the catalog of stuff can make you feel like you can start at level three. And many of them do start at level three, and they're not at level one <laugh>, but with us, we have, we've made sure that based off of your profile and early testing and early surveys, when you start on our platform, we know exactly where you are. And we actually curate the pathway to where you are, whether you're beginner, intermediate, or advanced. And so we're solving for this skills gap that is so pervasive in this world today, almost 90% of stem managers and companies say that they get college graduates who don't meet the requirements of actual skills that they need for the job.

Diana (00:36:28):

And so we solve that at scale. Then when you add the community aspect to it, where we have a very Facebook like interface, a community forum, DM functionability, it allows them to not only grow professionally or in a quantitative way, but it helps them to build social capital across continents. So from Nairobi Kenya to Brooklyn, New York, they're connecting with other black women and creating this sisterhood that this world has never seen before yet, and has never really been able to map out before. And then lastly, on demand content, we are creating what we believe will be the largest library for black women in stem, all online that they can come to at any given time, whenever they have internet, whenever they're up, whenever they wanna learn. And this allows them to go through content from interview strategies, to professional styles for their natural hair, that I can guarantee you, you will not find anywhere else. And so this is the beauty of our platform that makes us so unique. So we compliment on things like Corsera and you Demi. And we also compliment universities. We're not saying that universities are null and void, but we're here to say that we're so specific and holistic for black women. We make sure that they actually have the opportunity to have the social capital they need. We make sure they have the opportunity to showcase their skills. And we do that at scale in a way that no under company right now is doing it.

Mike (00:38:12):

Yeah, I can't, I mean, I can't think of another technology based solution that also has an emphasis on some of these soft skills. And you mentioned natural hairstyles, things like that, that you wouldn't find <laugh> in a course like this, but is part of the package, right?

Diana (00:38:26):

Exactly. <laugh> where would you find natural styles, natural hairstyles for interviews on Quero or UW or any of these places? Cuz it's just, it's not their focus. Right? But that's our focus. And so many people don't understand how much anxiety comes with your hair as a black woman, how much anxiety comes from professional or business casual as a black woman, I literally am so happy that people compliment my suits today, but there was a time where I remember crying in Macy's because it was either too tight and I didn't want that to be something that I wore to an office. And so I just used to wear size 12 suits and I'm nowhere near size 12, but that's what I just wore because I felt like, you know, cool, this is just a very, you know, cut and dry outfit. No one will focus on anything that I don't want them to focus on. And so many black women or women in general have that problem. And who's talking about that.

Mike (00:39:28):

Hey, I think you mentioned the platform itself was actually built by alumni.

Diana (00:39:31):

It's built for us by us. And that just brings so much joy to me because one, it showcases the power of what we started with the impact of what we were doing and how our alumni were just so grateful and how it changed their lives so much to the point that they took their time on a volunt, a volunteer basis. Most of them, some of them were on a part-time basis while they're working at bank of America while they're working at Goldman Sachs while they're working at, um, uh, MEA while they're at UC Berkeley to literally sit there and build out this platform with us, infusing all of our lived experiences, infusing what we know has worked in the past and infusing what we hope will work in the future. It's honestly a dream that our alumni would be that involved. And I really believe that showcases the, the value of the organization.

Mike (00:40:32):

What did you see or start seeing that made you think that you'd hit product market fit and sort of validated that shift

Diana (00:40:39):

When word of mouth led us to 4,000 women in 16 countries? <laugh>

Mike (00:40:44):


Diana (00:40:45):

That was it.

Mike (00:40:48):

Not a lot of paid advertising, I guess. No,

Diana (00:40:52):

Not at all. We didn't have a budget for that. So that was even an option. And I come from the paid advertising world, you know, I, I was a PMM on Google cloud and Google ads. So that's my world. I know how effective it is. I know how impactful it is. I know how much billions of dollars are used in that industry. And honestly, we just didn't have the budget for it. And so I did not know how we would effectively scale outside of like partnerships we were building. But I started to just see in our data that as many partnerships we were building with these universities get our career centers. We were sending them emails that were doing email blast still over 85% of our community was coming from word of mouth. Mm. And I was just like this validates what we're doing when you love something, you talk about it.

Diana (00:41:40):

Yeah. And they, our alumni truly love each other. <laugh> like truly, there's been bridesmaids out of our organization. There's been co-founders out of our organization. They truly love each other. And they truly, um, appreciate, and I, I believe love our organization. And when that took us, I believe in 2020, when we opened it up for more people to join our organization, we weren't just doing the accelerator program anymore. In the conference we wanted to like have this like slack community and 4,000 women showed up on thes SL community. And we were working with like a couple hundred at first. Mm. I was just like, where did 4,000, 4,000 women come from? And it was like Canada, you UK, South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Algeria. And I was like, we have never sent an email to anyone in Algeria, Canada, the UK. I could not even tell you possibly more than two schools in those countries.

Diana (00:42:44):

I was like, okay, yeah, this isn't gonna work. We can't keep doing this manually for these people or basically what we'll do and become, which is like something that really is a pet peeve of mine is organizations that talk about numbers with no real impact. And unfortunately being a founder for the past four years, I've seen a lot of that. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, I've seen a lot of it a whole lot. And I always used to always make me so angry because you are just, I don't know what you're doing it for, but it's like the whole purpose of your organization. Isn't real because the impact isn't there, you're saying you're doing all these hours of training, but who has a job whose life has changed, whose socioeconomic status has changed? What is the difference? And if anything <laugh>, this organization will never be that. And so I didn't want us to be that.

Diana (00:43:38):

And I knew if we didn't scale that we were gonna be that, cuz there's no way we could have done that for 4,000 people. Yeah. There was no way we were reviewing and sending projects to 4,000 people. There was no way it was going to work. There was no way we could even create our, we could U utilize our programmatic events and make them fit for 4,000 people. They were serving at max 200 people per cohort. So 200 to 4,000, like it's just not gonna work. So it was kind of like do or die. <laugh>

Mike (00:44:08):

How does Black Sisters in STEM think about and measure impact?

Diana (00:44:12):

Yes. So when we came out the gate, we just wanted people to have jobs. We wanted to change the socioeconomic status of our women. Um, and really believing that in generations succumb, that's going to start changing the cycle of poverty that most African women especially face, um, but black women at large. And so we were just tracking that outcomes. We were tracking outcomes with jobs. Did you get an internship? Did you get a, a full time job? Did you get a fellowship? Are you going to your master's program? Is it fully sponsored? That's what we tracked. We track all of those things now, but we, we now have gotten a bit more sophisticated in the focus on them, investing in themselves as well. So we track your engagement on our platform. We track, um, the amount of modules you complete, the amount of projects you complete.

Diana (00:45:07):

And in our platform, we've actually created a ranking system that is not meant to say someone's better than another, but it's to show who is more engaged. Right. And I think that's important when an employer comes on to see who is the most engaged on this platform, um, because it is completely for free. And when something's for free, sometimes you can take it for granted. And so we track engagement, um, more effectively, we also track, uh, things like GPA. We believe that our program should lift up your GPA and we're tracking things like that. We also track, um, what's it called their performance throughout the levels of the different stages. So ideally you should be increasing as you go through the different modules and you should, um, hopefully start doing more projects by yourself instead of collaborating with others. And so, uh, we have already included in the system that there's a set amount of projects you have to do by yourself because we just want it to be something that, you know, that you can really do.

Diana (00:46:16):

And hopefully collaboration just inspires you and makes you even happier to do it. But yeah, you have to know how to do it yourself. And so some, these are some of the things that we track more. We also track their socioeconomic status. Like I said before. Um, we were, there's always an issue with nonprofits when you, you know, you wanna reach, well, at least some you wanna reach the most marginalized and that's was always my dream and my vision. And, um, you know, black women in general are very marginalized, but there's even layers to that. And so I wanted to track how effective we're being for, um, women who are even at a lower socioeconomic status and what interventions can we do to really help them. Um, we have a lot of team members and alumni who are from the north part of Ghana. And that is a very historically very, very, very poor and very, very traditional part of Ghana.

Diana (00:47:17):

We' most women by 16 are married already and they don't go to college, anything like that. We are working with them and understanding like, okay, well, how did you get to us? And how did you get through us? And how can we get more women like you? Um, especially from the Northern areas of Ghana or dis different areas of D parts of countries that are known to be a bit more hectic for women. And even like in the us, the south is definitely from what we've seen, um, a bit tougher on black women in terms of their socioeconomic status. And so we're really saying a lot of these HPCU are in the south. How can we work with HBCUs? How can we work with organizations like the U N CF to get to these HPCUs and show them that we're here to help and get a lot of these women in HBCUs in the south, who a lot of them have children that they're taking care of while going to school.

Diana (00:48:20):

A lot of them don't even have internet access in their homes. How can we figure out how to be effective for them and not by ourselves, but with partners. So another thing that we've been looking at is internet access. Many people think this is an African thing, but there's so many people in the us that we're seeing don't have internet access. And so we're trying to forge partnerships with people like Comcast. Uh, I mean companies like Comcast and companies like MTN Vodafone on the continent that run internet in these areas. And we're saying like, you have all of this racial equity funds that you're creating, uh, initiatives that you're creating. We need your support and your literal business model to help these women because we cannot act like they will have access to our platform if we don't get them the support mm-hmm <affirmative>. So, yeah, cause stuck is a privilege. Tech is a privilege. People don't really say that as much, but it is a privilege. It is a privilege. It is a privilege and not everyone has the ability to be tech enabled.

Mike (00:49:32):

There are definitely areas even here in the States with like, just really lack of some of these resources that many of us would consider very basic,

Diana (00:49:40):

Especially in the U.S. Like I think almost all of us think wifi is basic. You know, you go to Starbucks, if there's wifi, you can go anywhere. Yeah. There's still great amount of people who do not have wifi enabled homes. We are raising $750,000 to enter into the next phase of our growth by transitioning from a web based platform to a mobile and web enabled platform for all of our users who are only mobile enabled,

Mike (00:50:08):

How do you navigate your own founder syndrome? If you even have it, as you grow in scale,

Diana (00:50:12):

I know the importance of role models. And I have lit literally been so surprised at how much they take for me. Like I will see posts about me and then they'll make the same outfit and then work <laugh> in like two weeks. And I'm like, oh my God, oh my goodness. Like there's levels to role models. Like I had role models, but I wasn't doing, you know, that. And so I, I always wanna stay really close to them as much as I can. And we do it through like town halls. We do it through me personally, doing some per on demand content. So I love talking about interviewing. I've helped so many people outside of my organization get into top fortune 500 companies. That's like my thing, interviewing and networking. I've always loved that. And so those content pieces I like to do myself, I like to make sure that I'm on as many events as possible, just talking, I like to present and just say hello in the beginning, always tell them the founding story, tell them about the 10 girls who started tell them about the fact that I believe and love each and every one of them.

Diana (00:51:28):

And yeah, that is really how I try to be as visually present as possible. But behind the scenes, I'm a very spiritual pre person. And so I really pray for everyone in our organization. I really trust and believe for the best of them. I, you know, really want this to be an organization that creates a, a community of black women that the world has never seen. That is my goal. And when I have seen that in its manifestation at scale, is when I know, okay, we're actually going towards the vision. And so 4,000 women is great, but like, I, it needs to be hundreds of thousands, millions of women. And that is my goal. And I know that out of this organization, the next noble peace prize winner is coming. The next unicorn startup by a black woman is coming the next, you know, managing director at Goldman Sachs is coming.

Diana (00:52:29):

And so these are the north stars that I'm looking for and I'm praying towards. And I'm, you know, constantly remind I say this to them. I say it explicitly. I'm like, you guys are the next noble peace prize winners. You guys are the next managing directors of these fortune five hundreds. There's only, I believe two black women CEOs of fortune five hundreds today. It might be three, but either way, my point is still at my point. <laugh> yeah, you guys have to be the next ones, the amount of black women who, I don't think there's any black women, who've created a unicorn startup. I might be wrong in that, but my point is you are going to be it right? And so I say these things and I believe words have power. And I know that as I continue to repeat it, hopefully it drills down to the bottom of their soul and they believe it <laugh>.

Diana (00:53:21):

And that also starts becoming their north star. Cuz some people are on the research side a little bit, one of our testimonials that we always talk about, she's going to John Hopkins in the fall for her, um, masters in engineering. She wants to be more of a professor instead of a corporate woman in stem. That's fine. Great. So I want you to be the head of John Hopkins, computer science department as a black woman. And everyone's gonna be like, wow. You know, and that is what we're building for. And so that's how I, I try to stay engaged. I try to uplift them and I try to let them know that I'm just, you know, the proud mom in the back, you know, <laugh>

Mike (00:54:01):

How do they respond when you start throwing words at them like fortune 500 and Nobel prize and unicorn.

Diana (00:54:08):

Yeah. It's actually still all of them. I would say almost all of them are still surprised by it because even as, you know, privileged as they could be, most of them still don't think that far. So like, oh yeah. I could be like a doctor, like my dad or my mom, but owning my own hospitals across Africa and treating millions of people and being the CEO. I don't think about that or, oh yeah. I could probably be, you know, a software engineer. My dad was a software engineer. My mom was a software engineer. My goal is to work at Google. Right. A lot of them, I see their goal is Google mm-hmm <affirmative>, which is a good goal, but that shouldn't be your north star. How is your north star? Just to be an engineer at Google, not even a senior engineer, not even a manager, just an engineer. You just wanna get in so badly that you cannot even see that when you come with a certain level of value, you are valuable to Google, right. They don't just hire you because you know, they bring value to you. It's because you are value to them. And so things like that is always constantly shifting their mind, like yes, meta, Google, all these spaces. Amazing. Mm they're amazing too. And you're valuable to them too. Let's make sure that's clear.

Mike (00:55:29):

How are you funded? I mean, is it nonprofit? Like, you know, you can accept donations and all, you know, all the traditional means, but I I'm, I feel like there's a social enterprise component in here someplace.

Diana (00:55:38):

We are funded mostly. I would probably say 90% by corporations and that's what keeps us for free. Um, so we love all of our corporate partners <laugh> um, yes, because they are support allows us to have this, uh, platform for free, allows us to have employees allows us to continue to scale our impact and their belief in us is really critical. But what I love about our business model is unlike, you know, a traditional donor relationship. There's a lot of value they get right after George Floyd, almost every major corporation created a racial equity fund. They have a lot of high targets that, you know, they have to have now a plan to figure out how they're gonna get there. Right? A lot of them have said, you know, a 2% or 4% increase in a black employees at their firm. That's a lot, especially if your numbers haven't changed us in the past, you know, five or 10 years, like what's the plan to make sure that changes.

Diana (00:56:47):

So we, we provide a lot of value. We provide a lot of opportunities for employee engagement. Uh, we provide a lot of areas for them to say they actually have a direct impact and influencing the diversity in stem and in tech. And I think that is a really great deal for them. And so we get the benefit, they get the benefit and it's like a really effective business model for us. And so, yeah, and then of course our donors, we love them as well. And they sustained our organization in the beginning and it has been phenomenal to see, we have donors from four continents who all believe in tapping into the global brilliance of black women. And I think that it's beautiful to see different races, different genders, all coming together to say, I truly believe in black women. That's what you're saying. When you give us a dollar, you believe in black women, that has been super amazing. And we're so grateful for our donors because even as a, even in our first year, we were able to raise like $35,000, which is pretty a lot. It's pretty good. Yeah. For a new nonprofit. Yeah. And all of that was donors. Mm. Yeah. And so we're, we're super grateful for them.

Mike (00:58:08):

Do you have a recurring program or membership program?

Diana (00:58:10):

We call 'em friends of blacks and it's a monthly program. So it's like a subscription, just like a Netflix subscription. Um, and you can do 20, 35 or $50 a month and you become a part of that cohort. And so we have had a lot of people do that. And so every month we have reoccurring donations, which is super helpful. And then we have some pretty larger donors, individual donors who have also every year given us, you know, like a one time large amount. And that has been such a blessing.

Mike (00:58:44):

What's next for BlackSis, like, where do you go from here?

Diana (00:58:47):

Our target is by 2026, we wanna reach 1 million people. And so we're really focused on building partnerships with organizations that have contact or influence in universities and can basically give us a pipeline. We tried other ways where we think that's probably gonna be the most effective way outside of traditional marketing. Of course the second one on the platform is creating more pathways. So right now we only have cloud data science and front end and backend engineering. And so we want to create things like UX, UI design, U Y U I and different areas within stem that we wanna support our women on. And how can people help? We are always accepting more donors. If you believe in black women donate and join us, we are always accepting pro bono volunteers. People ask me all the time, can I be an interviewer? If I'm not a black woman?

Diana (00:59:41):

Can I be, I'm like, yes, absolutely. We're always accepting people who wanna do like one hour community service with us, whether it's mock interviewing resume reviews or just speed mentoring. And if you are a corporation or have influence in corporations or work on the social impact team, always looking to build our partnership portfolio with corporations globally. And so that is how we're seeking support and help. Oh, and lastly, if you are someone who is in media, we are always looking to tell our story <laugh> and want to tell our story. So, so many more black women can join or even, you know, someone's grandpa or uncle or sister can see it and be like, Hey girl, you need to join black SIS. I just saw it used an article about that. I'm always trying to be on podcast and, you know, podcast blog, anything like, I just always wanna tell our story, cuz I believe it's a beautiful story. And it's, it's one that is of true impact

Mike (01:00:40):

Outside of creating this stem pipeline for black women, what do you think the most important causes humanity could be tackling right now and why?

Diana (01:00:49):

I think poverty at scale. I personally believe, you know, there's an adage. My mom has always said poverty is a disease and I just believe poverty is truly horrible. And I think if we wanted to, as an, as a world, especially with, you know, some of the companies and the money we have in this world, we could truly solve poverty if we took our time with it. So I think that's the most important thing for me. Cause I think a lot of times poverty affects so much. If we really tackled it, we could really start to see a lot of outcomes in our arenas.

Mike (01:01:20):

You know, when you're ready to move on from BlackSiS, what would you like to look back? Having it accomplished? What would be some signposts that you're like this? We really did something here.

Diana (01:01:30):

I would like to see the percentage of black women in stem go up to 10% currently tattoo. That would be great. I would love to have impacted at least 5 million lives. I would want to see 90% or greater of all of our alum having received a job, internship, fellowship, whatever the path is for them, hopefully a hundred percent, but definitely 90 minimum. And I, like I said before, I would wanna see some of those indicators, um, of achievements recognize achievements, um, whether it's via promotions, um, or it's some larger scale achievements that we know as a society, like, you know, noble priest prize, or like becoming a unicorn, even becoming a Dean or a professor at some of these top schools or creating your own schools. Got it. That's what I would like to see.

Mike (01:02:29):

What's next for you and for BlackSiS?

Diana (01:02:32):

We're gonna continue <laugh> to listen to our users, to build out a platform that is so effective for black women, that it really is the one stop shop for black women in the world. And from Switzerland to the us to, you know, even Argentina for women who identify as black there, we hope to be the place where everyone knows they should come, because I believe some brands have been able to do that. Well, like Google or even Uber, that they've kind of become an action where they've become a, they've become a verb, right? Yeah. Right. So whether you're using Uber or not in Ghana, we say, oh, just get an Uber, you know, catch an Uber, take an Uber. Right. And so when it comes to professional development, I want to always be join blacks. Are you in blacks? Get to blacksmith. Have you heard of Blais? Da, da. So that is what I would want it to be.

Mike (01:03:29):

How can people listening to this reach out contact you support the work that you're doing with BlackSiS?

Diana (01:03:35):

Yeah. So they can reach out at info, All of our, um, social media is black sisters in stem. And they can support us through donating, becoming a volunteer with their expertise, connecting us with their employers. If they work at a company that is hiring people in stem and they can also just share any time, go on our pages, share, tell your little sisters, your nieces, your friends, your girlfriends, everybody tell everybody <laugh> who, you know, in your community that would identify as a black woman and could join

Mike (01:04:13):

Us. I've always been a fan of Leonard DaVinci, but I'd never heard this quote for some reason. And I actually found that on LinkedIn, but the quote is, uh, it has long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things. And as you've been sharing, you went out and you, you happened to fast forward to get yourself into the program with that shotgun blasted messages you you're happening to, uh, this, the stem sector and, and to business in general. So I just wanna say thank you for your time for sharing your insights. I've learned so much from talking to you and I'm inspired by the work you're doing. So, uh, Diana, Anna, thank you very much.

Diana (01:04:48):

Thank you so much. That's beautiful.

Mike (01:04:53):

That's our show for this week. Please check out and see how you can get involved or refer a friend who might benefit from their platform as always, there's more information in the show notes, please check them out at And thanks for listening. We have a great episode coming up for you next week. As we speak with nonprofit tech, innovator, digital consultant, speaker, and author, and certified fundraising, executive Jason Shim. Jason has worked on some amazing in his career as a social impact professional, and even served on the board of intent. For five years, we cover a lot of ground in that episode. Hope you can join us until next time cause and purposes of production of on behalf of myself, Diana and our entire team. Thank you so much for listening. And we look forward to speaking with you again soon.

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Cause & Purpose is a production of Altruous, an impact discovery and management platform for the next generation of philanthropists. Learn more about our work by visiting

This episode was edited by Worthfull Media. Original music composed by Justin Klump of Podcast Music and Sound.

Copyright 2024, all rights reserved.

People in this episode

Mike Spear

Social entrepreneur, consultant, and podcast producer, Spear has been a member and critic of the impact sector since 2006. His work spans product, innovation, impact advising, storytelling, and go-to-market strategies. Part of the founding team at, specializing in helping social good organizations build amazing products, increase their impact, and scale.

Nyamekye "Diana" Wilson

Diana Wilson is very proud to be the Founder & CEO of Yielding Accomplished African Women (Yaa.W) and Black Sisters in STEM (Black SiS). They are a globally recognized nonprofit whose work has been featured by MTV, Google, The Malala Fund, Face2Face Africa, Blavity, The Late Afternoon Show with Berla Mundi and many more. Black Sisters in STEM is building the largest talent marketplace of Black college women in STEM and training the next Fortune 500 CEOs, innovators and world class leaders.


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