On helping generations of women of color reach their full potential

Years ago, on a train ride to her tech job in San Francisco, Nicole Jackson witnessed a black man steal a white woman's phone.

“She immediately gets off the train [and] goes to the cops,” Jackson said. “Then she pointed to me, and they asked me if I knew him. I'm like, ‘Black people don't have telepathy. I don't know that man.'”

Jackson went into work feeling angry and alone. “When I walked into my office, there was literally no one for me to talk to,” she said. “No one there would actually understand what I was saying.”

That is a common experience for black women in the tech industry, which Jackson entered as a business analyst. She currently works as a director of product delivery and program management for a Columbus-based software products company.

“Women of color get into the industry and no one looks like us,” she said. “There are also micro-aggressions, constantly.”

As a woman, Jackson said she has also had to work on her confidence and stop apologizing for being right.

“I've walked into the meetings [where] I've been the most senior person in that meeting and everyone looks at someone else at the table when they walk in, like, ‘So who's going to kick this off?'” she said. “It's been difficult to navigate. I think that there is a lack of minority [and] female resources.”

In response, Jackson dedicates much of her time to mentoring young women of color who are interested in tech. Zora's House has proven to be an ideal location, where Jackson can speak freely, and her students can be themselves in a black-owned space, surrounded by black art and books.

“It's very calming,” said Jackson, who started a youth membership program at Zora's House. “It's not the library. One thing I didn't want them to worry about is if you don't know something. That's OK. We'll figure it out together.”

Jackson said she is interested in changing the mentality that people of color need to compete among each other for a few opportunities.

“We all need to be at the top. We all need to be pulling each other up,” she said. “If we actually want to aggressively participate in this economy, if we want to aggressively fix our schools, we are going to have to aggressively pursue salaries and degrees that allow us to do so. … And that's not one person. That's hundreds of thousands.”

Though Jackson will leave the city next year to pursue a PhD at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, she hopes she has planted a seed of generational membership at Zora's House. Referencing one of her students, she said, “I want to know she still has a membership [in the future], and when she comes in town, she comes here,” she said. “I want to see girls like her bring other high school girls.”