“My favourite colour is red, and every single colour has subconscious meaning,” says Flavilla Fongang, founder of 3 Colours Rule and the Global Tech Advocates Black Women in Tech group.
She always wears a “power colour” when she’s networking. “I realised how much colour has an impact in terms of how people perceive us,” she explains.
But how does this factor into Fongang being named this year’s most influential woman in UK technology? “We create brands, [and] if you look at brands, most of the time it’s a combination of three colours. Behind those colours, there’s also significance,” she says.
Most people think black is a good colour to wear, but according to Fongang it “drains” many people – red is passionate, white is transparent, black is professional.
“So what do colours say about your brand? Before you even read, you’ve already made a judgement about what you feel about a brand. That’s why colour is so important, and people often underestimate that.”
Diving into the tech sector
Fongang quit her job in events in the oil and gas industry before becoming an entrepreneur, first in fashion, where she notes the entire sector is driven by creativity.
“Before I got into tech, I was in fashion. What I love about the fashion industry is that every six months is a new season. So creativity is what the industry is about. You cannot work in the fashion industry if you’re not creative,” she says.
Fongang used this inspiration when she founded her creative agency, in how she approaches clients and trains team members. After starting to follow the advice the agency was giving clients – to have a single focus and do it well – Fongang decided 3 Colours Rule should be focused on helping the tech industry.
“I chose technology because technology not only has the power to make a scalable impact, but also because I love to work for disruptors and game-changers. Their ideas keep me on my toes, and I think that’s what we love as an agency,” she says.
“Karl Lagerfeld says the moment you stop surprising your clients or your audience, you lose them and they go somewhere else.”
Fongang is well known for networking and meeting people – and while acknowledging that being the only woman or the only black person in the room meant she was likely to be remembered by the people she met, she says the lack of diversity in the technology sector is just “not good enough”.
“I chose [to focus on] technology because technology not only has the power to make a scalable impact, but also because I love to work for disruptors and game-changers. Their ideas keep me on my toes”
Flavilla Fongang, 3 Colours Rule
People like her are also consumers of technology. Technology is everywhere, from Zoom for remote meetings, to Alexa for help around the house. “The black community, we want to buy. We’re consumers, but quite often the products are not designed to support us,” she says.
Fongang points out that since “technology is in everything we do”, a diverse group of people should be involved in its development.
“If we aren’t the people who are developing technology, then technology products are built with unconscious bias, and that’s very dangerous. We basically expand the disparity,” she says. “Also, from a business point of view, those companies are not tapping into opportunities in different types of audiences, different cultures, and so much more.”
Attending a Global Tech Advocates (GTA) event, Fongang noticed the lack of women, particularly black women, and started a campaign under the GTA banner to showcase some of the black female role models in the industry. She says this went against people’s misconceptions that there is no black female talent in the UK.
“Some [of the women showcased] say, ‘Wow, somebody is recognising me. Somebody’s paying attention to who I am… I’ve been in this job for so long [and] nobody actually made me feel the way you guys made me feel’. And I was like, ‘Wow, okay, we’re on to something here’,” she says.
After Covid-19 hit, the endeavour went digital, creating online events to allow women to comment on different tech-based subjects. The response left Fongang asking, “Where have you been?”.
Despite women making up 17% of the technology sector, Fongang found they are often not represented at conferences or events, or aren’t being put forward for opportunities.
A platform for role models
People, especially young people, often have outdated or misrepresentative ideas of the types of people who work in the technology sector or what tech jobs involve.
Fongang explains that, even now, when people ask children to think about the type of person who works in technology they think of the “IT guy”, “the BT guy outside”, or “white men in short sleeves”, but are less aware of technology roles that “haven’t been defined or don’t have a name yet”.
Showcasing the role models in the sector, explaining what they do in their roles and how they got there, can help encourage people to pursue technology careers.
Fongang says that’s how the book The voices in the shadow was born. In 2021, the Global Tech Advocates Black Women in Tech group launched The voices in the shadow, a book filled with the stories of 51 black women in the technology sector.
Hundreds of copies of the book were distributed free to schools in the UK and Ireland, alongside posters and digital copies, to make visible to young people the role models who may inspire them to seek a tech career.
“The book is not just created just for black girls to read, it’s for every kid to read, because we see a young boy read it [and] when he grows up and becomes a chief executive director, he can think differently about how you perceive a black woman,” says Fongang.
“The book is an evergreen piece. If you read it in 10 years, it will still be relevant. It really showcases that you can achieve success no matter your background, wherever you are.”
Global Tech Advocates Black Women in Tech also invited role models to speak in schools. Fongang says headteachers are keen to work with the not-for-profit and parents are using the resources to read to children at bedtime.
Also, the women who have been involved in the project have had more opportunities over the past year. Fongang says the women in tech community is a very supportive ecosystem, with those in the community regularly advocating for each other.
“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the support of black women, but also of white women. I say my two top supporters are a black woman and a white woman, who have been the biggest advocates of supporting and talking to their companies to take action, and I think that’s what’s beautiful.”
Leading for the future
While Fongang wishes more men would advocate for women in the sector, those who do are “the voice of us in the rooms that we can’t have access to”.
“Being influential means I share my success. As I’m doing this, I’m building stories and building superstars along the way.”
Some of the opportunities presented to the women in Fongang’s network have made them influential in the space too, and Fongang reminds them “what you do is not for you, it’s for the next generation”.
Flavilla Fongang, 3 Colours Rule
“Leaders should create other leaders… If you keep all your treasure for yourself, what’s the point of it?” she asks. “Nobody succeeds on their own.”
To progress, you can’t be afraid of things you don’t know, says Fongang. When making her own way into the tech sector, Fongang admits while she had things to learn, she considers herself an “ever-evolving” butterfly – she has “always been comfortable with getting uncomfortable”.
“I’m not afraid to go into territory I don’t understand. And it’s sad to say, but quite often, women and black women are often underestimated. I play with that in a positive manner.
“The first time I had a client in blockchain, I was like, ‘What the hell is blockchain?’. I had to study it. But by nature, I’ve always been a learner.”
Success is measured in many ways, but when it comes to management, Fongang advises people to listen more than they speak, to talk to employees and the people who are closest to the customers, have a strong vision, make sure people enjoy coming to work every day, and encourage them to be innovators.
Fongang’s advice harks back to her insistence on creativity and innovation, which she first learnt in the fashion sector.
“When I speak to very successful companies, I see the difference [in] what they’ve done and the way they empower every single employee to be a self-starter and so much more.
“But if you say, ‘This is what you do and nothing else’, and don’t allow them to be an innovator, it kills them.”