If you’re friends with Hana Hassan, you might know her by another name: Dope’rah (yes, it’s a combination of “dope” and “Oprah”). She was given the nickname because, as she puts it, she does her best to make sure “people feel seen and heard.” One way she does that is through her role as an ambassador for Women Techmakers, a Google group committed to providing resources, visibility and community to women in tech, in her town of Waterloo, Canada. “I’m focused on enabling diversity, inclusion and belonging.”
Hana is also the founder of Blackmaple.io. Blackmaple.io helps people gain access to equitable employment and networking opportunities, as well as supports tech companies that want to diversify their hiring and develop inclusive frameworks.
I recently had the chance to talk to Hana about this work, and why she feels it’s important to bridge the tech industry’s gender gap.
What impact has Women Techmakers had on you?
Seeing the various ways other Ambassadors around the world are tackling equality in tech has equipped me with so much insight and knowledge. It’s also provided me with a community of women in Waterloo that’s helped me navigate the tech scene here.
Kitchener-Waterloo is Canada’s top startup ecosystem, and home to Google Canada. Running a Women Techmakers chapter here allows us to provide visibility, community and resources for women in technology here. We want to make sure there’s gender equity in this booming tech ecosystem by supporting and celebrating the diverse women-identified techmakers here.
What problem are you hoping to solve with Blackmaple.io?
I founded Blackmaple.io five years ago to support tech companies in diversifying their talent pipeline and give them resources for becoming more inclusive. As a two-sided marketplace—meaning that our platform is for companies hiring as well as people looking for jobs—our talent platform helps people gain access to equitable employment opportunities and community, as well as address many challenges of diversity in tech.
Right now, our talent platform, which is available to those looking for work, is in closed beta. But the goal is to streamline the recruitment process and remove some of the barriers of entry to employment.
I also want to help tech companies gain competitive advantages through their workforce by understanding the value of employees as people first. With a diversity lens, I want to help pair the best tech companies with the most talented people across the globe.
What career obstacles did you have to overcome?
There’s a Nelson Mandela quote, "lead from the back and let others believe they are in front," that resonated with me when I founded Blackmaple.io. I was often referred to as a "CEO of one," which was dismissive, and to which I always responded, "but a champion of many."
Because I am one of the few women of color in the space, I often encounter and have had to overcome assumptions about me. People are surprised when they learn about my ability to build and solve things, the positions I hold, the spaces I take up and the people in my network.
What advice do you have for other women who want to start tech companies?
Trust your abilities, find your community and don’t give up, because what is meant for you will come to you.
What do you think are the barriers that exist in tech for women of color?
Access to resources and opportunities is definitely an issue, specifically for women of color.
These barriers persist because there’s a lack of representation in leadership. You can only solve for what you know so having a diverse leadership team is key.
Google's Black Founders fund is an example of moving in the right direction, especially given its global reach and impact. There’s also the Generation Google Scholarship, Google Lime Scholarship and Women Techmakers Scholars programs that drive equitable educational opportunities for underrepresented groups by removing some financial burdens. These are all opportunities I uplift so other underrepresented groups may learn more about them and apply.
What else would you like to share about being a woman in tech?
In Somali, we say: “Buundada waxaa la hagaajiyaa oo keliya kadib marka qof ku dhaco biyaha,” which means “the bridge is repaired only after someone falls into the water.”
2020 has been a year of firsts and “yet agains,” sadly. As a Black woman in tech, I’m expected to be the subject matter expert, I’m expected to be co-signed, I’m expected to justify the space I take up, I’m expected to explain myself, I’m expected to prove myself.
I build, drive and make change as well as celebrate all humans, everyday, in an industry not designed for us, but rather that’s adjusting to us.
Thankfully, though, I am one of many—and the industry is starting to notice.