She Designs: Trailblazing for Diversity in Design

She Designs is paving the way for a more inclusive design industry. Read more on how they are reshaping the world of tech.

Jay Perlman

Sharae Gibbs is no stranger to the New York subway system. Quite the opposite, she grew up taking the trains in and around the city on such a regular basis that the sites, sounds, and most importantly the energy, became a familiar feeling to her. What she noticed most was that this energy was created from a cultural melting pot of people going about their lives. It was an energy that was diverse and even inclusive.

Sharae Gibbs, Founder and CEO of She Designs and Interaction Designer at Google

Years later, Sharae Gibbs found herself attending an event in San Francisco called Young Black in SF. Here she looked to connect with other people of color who were working in the tech industry. While she met many talented people, she realized there was still something missing from the tech scene: that energy of inclusiveness and diversity that she felt while riding the subways in NYC.

As a trailblazer, innovator, creator, founder, and all-around tech superstar, Sharae Gibbs has had many lightbulb moments. But this epiphany that she had while attending Young Black in SF spawned an idea that would turn into a groundbreaking endeavor: She Designs, a community that offers UX courses, mentorship, and career coaching to underrepresented women of color and non-binary people.

a beige banner with Shedesigns script logo

The Beginning Days of She Designs

Because of a lack of diversity and inclusion, Sharae Gibbs moved to a small design firm in Los Angeles. Once again, she found herself again as the only Black employee in her company.

This spurred that moment where thought turns into action, and Sharae did not sit idly by. She began cultivating an online community through the connections she made with professional people of color in the Bay area and hosting UX Design workshops in Los Angeles. After that, in her own words "The rest was history!"

Alumni working on a project in her studio.

Indeed, history is being made at She Designs. What started as an online community is now a verifiable force within the tech industry.

Creating Opportunities and Removing Barriers

Providing mentorship and top-tier UX courses is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of She Designs impact on tech and underrepresented communities. Much of the true power in this company is that they are equipping women of color with tools to be the next generation of design leaders, while simultaneously dismantling barriers that are preventing a more inclusive tech community.

She Designs meeting with alumni

Of course, giving students the abilities they need to dismantle systemic and racial barriers takes hard work. A quick look at these statistics shows the hurdles that underrepresented people face:

  • Women of color comprise only around 4% of technical roles in tech companies and are almost completely absent at the senior leadership level, with zero black or Latina women CEOs of Fortune 500 tech companies. - McKinsey, 2018
  • 19% computer and information sciences degrees held by women - McKinsey, 2018
  • 4%  computer and information sciences degrees held by women of color - McKinsey, 2018

Yet, despite these staggering numbers that show how stacked the deck is against women of color, the She Design team is able to educate students so they can design for a difference.

Katasi Kulubya, Shedesigns intructor and Sr. Interaction Designer at Google

Katasi Kulubya – a Sr. Interaction Designer at Google and a She Designs instructor – sums up how She Design alumni are able to take what they learn into the real world, "As a designer you have the opportunity to work in any industry doing projects that can have a direct impact on people's lives, which is so exciting."

But just exactly how do they equip their students with the tools to create opportunities? And how are they able to dismantle these barriers and start impacting different industries? The secret is in the courses.

Equipping the Next Generation of Designers

She Designs has three courses that are curated and instructed by industry leaders. While the courses are billed as the basic concepts of User Experience Design, the broader picture shows that these are more than just intro-level classes.

These programs are where the foundations of design skills are made, and they also act as a springboard into real-world opportunities where impactful change can be made. That being said, here's more on the courses that have already produced alumni that are shaping industries with their knowledge.

Intro to UX Course

This robust class is packed full of material and knowledge that can be used at all levels of design. It consists of a full 6 weeks of focused learning that covers the essentials needed establish a UX base plus other lessons on how to design with inclusion in mind:

  • Intro to UX
  • Design thinking
  • Personas and Empathy maps
  • Design 101
  • How to Prototype
  • Design for Diversity

The proof of success in this course can be found in the numerous alumni reviews.

Take Kaiser Permanente UX Designer and She Designs alumni Vanvisa Musigapala's testimonial for example, "I learned about the importance of self-advocacy, being curious, and having a growth mindset. I realized how much I was able to accomplish because I had a community of women, women of color, Black women, and non-binary mentors that truly believed in me".

Vanvisa Musigapala says "I had a community of women, women of color, Black women, and non-binary mentors that truly believed in me"

This blend of elite education and professional support to build confidence is partly why She Designs is able to produce highly accomplished industry professionals.

The Women of Color UX Mentorship Program

Agent of change Erin Haywood had some alarming data to share, "When it comes to women of color, only 3% of computing-related jobs are held by African American women, 6% by Asian women, and 2% of Latinx."

Erin Haywood says "Only 3% of computing-reated jobs are held by African American women, 6% by Asian women, and 2% of Latnix."

Looking at statistics like this highlights the importance of having quality mentors who can navigate students into a historically exclusive workforce. The Women of Color UX Mentorship Program does this and more to bolster the academic side of She Designs.

Here's a quick rundown of what is presented in the mentorship program:

  • Live calls, and check-ins
  • A curated list of templates, books, articles, and videos to supplement coaching
  • Weekly one-on-one mentorship and support
  • Access to our online community to network with professionals in tech
  • Feedback on your work from your Mentor
  • 1 Career Coaching session per month (i.e. resume review, cover letter writing, interview prep, and more)

Creative Director and mentor April Ryde describes her mentorship like this, "I aim to act as a guide, helping designers and students tap into their potential, and learn to trust their design decisions."

What April is saying isn't just talk either. Alumni like Natalia Arias back up these words with a glowing description of what students get, "Any mentor I had the pleasure of working with was a creative powerhouse. They gave me masterful tips and tricks of the UX space – whether it was plugin resources, kits, new techniques."

Natalia Arias quote "Any mentor I had the pleasure of working with was a creative powerhouse."

It's reviews like these that show just how committed the She Designs team is to creating the ultimate opportunities for their students.

UX Immersive Course

For the students who are looking to get even deeper into the study of UX design, She Designs offers the 10-week course that includes working on an app for a startup company. Going further, students who complete this course will also walk away with a newly made UX portfolio that highlights the skills and abilities they've developed.

The Immersive UX course is much about application of skills that are learned, which is a critical element for those who are actively working to break into a complex industry. As Monet Marshall puts it, "It can be overwhelming trying to keep up with how quickly trends come and go. She Designs mentors and instructors truly challenge each student to think outside the box when designing for inclusion."

Monet Marshall says "Shedesigns mentors and instructors truly challenge each student to think outside the box when designing for inclusion"

Being able to see the skills working in real-time gives students a perspective on how they can have a direct impact on the projects they work on, which is why this course is constantly fully booked.

Changing UX Design with She Designs

The team at She Designs has accomplished goals that are truly remarkable, and as the team will tell you, their mission is just getting started. With big plans and new milestones to hit, the future of She Designs continues to look bright.

Are you a She Designs alumni or student? Or have you worked with this impressive squad? Let us know by tweeting at us!

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