Sinead Bovell didn't plan on becoming a model. "We weren’t allowed to read magazines until we were 18 in my house," she recalls. But when she was scouted by a modeling agency at a business event — and as the self-proclaimed futurist struggled to figure out her calling while working a management consulting job she didn't love — she saw the offer as an opportunity for a fresh start.
"I was finishing up the second year of my MBA, sneaking out of class to go to photo shoots, coming back to a finance class with a smoky eye and looking crazy," the Guelph, ON native lightheartedly recalls. "I didn’t know what I was doing, but decided to bet on myself and knew I would connect my old world to this new one."
She eventually quit her full-time consulting job to move from Canada to New York. "I saw [modeling] as a platform to build something different for myself and do it from scratch," she says. During that transition, she began to see how disconnected many creatives were from an understanding of how technology would impact their work and the future at large. So she created Weekly Advice For Young Entrepreneurs (WAYE) — and later WAYE Talks — to teach young entrepreneurs about "the intersection of business, technology, and the future."
"What they learn through WAYE Talks is that the changes that tech will bring are actually only one year or two years away," she shares. "We often think the big changes that are happening in the future will be in the form of a robot or a big new innovation. What surprises my community the most is that it’s often the tools they already have and own that are taking shape and showing that future already. "
Since founding WAYE, Bovell has educated 10,000+ young entrepreneurs. She's been a guest lecturer at prestigious universities such as Cornell. In 2018, she was appointed Director of Youth-led Innovation for Blockchain for Impact. And this year, she spoke at the United Nations and the U.S Chamber of Commerce on technology and the future.
As a Black woman, Bovell understands how the work she is doing is creating space in the tech world for both young people and women who look like her.
"Women of color, especially in tech, can almost guarantee that when you walk into a tech room you'll probably be the only female and definitely the only female of color," she says. "It takes a certain type of resilience and strength and courage to navigate," especially since women of color comprised about 11 percent of the computing and mathematical workforce last year, with Black women making up just 3 percent of that total.
Despite how intimidating that reality can be, Bovell — who has experienced her fair share of challenges and microagressions while navigating the tech industry — aims to be an example that Black women can thrive within the space regardless.
"[Black women] likely won't have anybody in our corner that looks like us that will be a one-on-one mentor for us — for now — until we get these barriers kicked over," she acknowledges. "But know that you are armed with your skillset and your toolbox. That will launch you further than any micro-intimidation that someones gonna try to throw your way."
Black Is The New Black is Refinery29’s celebration of Black women who are changing the game. Black women who are reminding the world that we are not a trend or “a moment.” We’re here — and we’ve been here. Check out the full list.