Women Who Tech Are Dangerous — Lynette Barksdale

A Portrait Project by John Davidson

Lynette Barksdale

Job Title: Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion — Access (Google Fiber)

Years in the tech industry: 4

On her role at Access:

My role with Access, which is an entity of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is to develop an organizational strategy centered on sustaining an inclusive culture and grounded in ensuring that there are equitable outcomes for everyone. I am also responsible for the strategy to hire diverse talent, because it is important to us that we have an organization that mirrors our customer base.

Everyday is different. I could be working with our leadership team; partnering with our Employee Resource groups, such as the Black Googlers Network; working on finding the best tools and resources as we build out trainings; or collaborating with our human resources business partners to solve challenges that exist in the business.

Beginnings — on growing-up, recognizing barriers, and gathering the power to overcome them:

I was fortunate to be raised around a number of extremely strong female role models. They were the people who, to me, had really fun careers and were successful. So I never thought that my options were different than those who identify as male, but I did realize that as a woman — particularly a black woman — that there were barriers I may have to face and overcome. Think about “barriers to entry”. They don’t block you from opportunities (jobs, industries, etc.), but they are, instead, obstacles that prevent you from easily accessing the opportunity.

My parents taught me very early on about the world that I was growing up in. I was very aware of the struggles my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents had because of the color of their skin. I knew internally from a very young age that if I worked extremely hard, I could succeed. I knew that there was not a “level” playing field, but there was a field that could give me vast opportunities if I studied hard and was confident about my abilities.

On discovering DEI work as a career path:

DEI issues have been primal to my work life since I led a non-profit in college. I ran an after-school tutoring program for children ages 5–11. In doing this work, it became very clear to me that there were inequities that the children I worked with faced that their counterparts did not. My kids were 95% Latino and I remember having to go against multiple systems that kept my kids from achieving.

Working with kids and realizing how powerless they are and how much they depend on adults really helped me find my voice around equity. Once I found my voice, I never wanted to lose it. I think from that point forward, which was over 10 years ago, I have consistently found myself working in this area.

On gender bias across industries:

In my career, I have worked in the retail industry, non-profit education, and now in tech. I don’t see bias in the tech industry as any different than the bias I’ve seen in other industries, but it seems more prevalent and draws more attention because of the newness, size and reach of the industry. Tech drives so many aspects of our lives, so we can’t help but to pay attention to how far-reaching the implications of bias in this sector are.

On working for a company where the President or CEO was a woman:

Yes, I worked at Teach for America for more than four years and both CEOs I worked under were women. It was so amazing to see them in action.

On having to overcome gender/ethnic bias throughout her education and career:

Ethnic and gender stereotypes and bias are a very real thing — whether intentional or unintentional. For me, overcoming those stereotypes has been about being true to my authentic self. I don’t allow stereotypes to drive me to do something or not do something; I do the things that feel authentically true to me. I try not to really think about how that may be stereotypical or not.

And, on being passed over for career advancement due to gender/ethnic bias:

Absolutely. I am not naive to the fact that there is a lot of unconscious bias that exists in every industry. Whether it was being overlooked to take on a stretch project by a manager or not receiving the same coaching or development opportunities, I believe that unconscious bias has certainly led to me not being able to advance at the same rate as some of my peers.

Also, based on data available, it is hard to not suspect that I have been passed over for advancement in my career based on gender. In 2017, McKinsey reported that only 8% of women of color are Sr.Managers (McKinsey 2017), and the numbers decline as the seniority levels increase. It has been extremely frustrating to get passed on for opportunities and promotions even when my work results and impact has exceeded my peers.

On the value of mentors:

I started my career in HR because of a mentor I had very early on in college who challenged me to think about my skill set in a different way. She saw something in me that I had yet to identify and, because of that, I was able to begin my career in a role that not only was the right fit but also that shaped the trajectory of my career path.

That is just one example of an incredible woman who has mentored me. I have so many examples of women who have chosen to not only have a seat at the table but to also create space for other women coming behind them.

On the obstacles young women — and particularly young women of color — face in contemporary work culture:

I mentor some phenomenal women in tech. I find that the challenges they are facing in tech are the same challenges that you find in other male-dominated industries. These women are finding it hard to have a voice that is “satisfactory” to their male colleagues without being labeled as “angry” or “unfriendly” or worse. I don’t know how many stories I have heard in which a woman has shared that she was called angry during a conversation with her peers or manager.

Another common occurrence is that managers are passing over women of color for stretch projects, opportunities to take on more leadership, and promotions.

On the proliferation of DEI roles in Austin-based companies:

There are a ton of tech companies in Austin creating DEI roles. In terms of individual and company-wide buy-in and support, I think that there is a range, but I also think most companies understand that someone needs to lead this work to ensure that there is accountability. Most of the larger tech companies, for sure, have these roles, and the individuals in those roles range across the spectrum of race — but NOT gender. I know of only a small number of men who own this work for their companies.

On whether there has been a shift in the attitudes of male peers and colleagues in the era of #metoo:

I think that we would have to define shift very clearly in order for me to respond to this question. What I have seen from male peers and colleagues is a willingness to be an ally and vocally challenge injustices that they see. While I wish that this was a more prevalent practice, I do see some behaviors changing. This is not only happening at work, but I also see this happening within some of the non-profit organizations that I support.

On one book that every CEO, Senior Executive and entrepreneur should read:

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry.

This book is so important to anyone that leads teams or organizations. I believe that in order for us to have honest conversations about race and gender inequality, people must understand and practice empathy in a way that I don’t currently see from leaders. I believe that if we could all be more proficient in our own self awareness and emotional intelligence, we could begin to see a shift in how people treat one another, make decisions, and create a space that is inclusive for everyone.

One more thing — on the project title, Women Who Tech Are Dangerous:

The title ‘Women Who Tech are Dangerous’ really threw me off initially. I was really concerned that the title was playing to the stereotype that women in the tech space are adding an element of danger to the field or to the work.

When I thought a little deeper about the phrase, I started to think about the definition of “dangerous” and specifically the definition of dangerous as ‘likely to cause problems or to have adverse consequences’ — which is absolutely accurate. When women are given the opportunity to be innovative and creative, have a voice, be in position to make decisions at a high level, it will cause adverse consequences. Those adverse consequences are that we will push companies, products, and innovation to include the woman’s perspective. So in this case danger is a good thing!

*Quotes may have received minor editing for purposes of length and clarity only.

Women Who Tech Are Dangerous: A Portrait Project (author’s note)

Encouraged by the rising tide of women making their voices heard on the subject of gender bias in the tech and corporate world, I’ve embarked on a portrait project that seeks to feature women with a stake in the issue, and hopefully, provide a platform for them to share their experiences and express their views.

About the project’s title:

The first suggestion of this project came to me via a book on my wife’s bookshelf — Women Who Read Are Dangerous, by Stefan Bollmann. It’s a collection of paintings from throughout the centuries, each focused on a woman reading a book — the very act of which has, at various points in history, been considered ‘subversive.’

Are women who tech dangerous? To those in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere, who seek to perpetrate the hegemony that unquestionably exists in the upper echelons of tech at present, perhaps. One woman I asked referred to the project’s title as being, for her, about ‘the notion that I’m not supposed to be here because I’m a woman — but I am [here]…we are [here], and we’re not leaving.’ Still another women described the idea that women in tech are dangerous as being, ‘in this context, almost patronizing.’ Clearly there are a range of views and experiences to be expressed.

My goal is to put faces to some of these women, to compile a portrait of women at all career levels, to elevate their voices and contribute to the dialogue.

John Davidson

Thank you to all those who’ve expressed interest in taking part. No further portrait sessions will be scheduled until the project website is completed and launched. An announcement about the launch of the project website is expected by Sept 12 2018. For further information, you can contact me at: info@johndavidson-photography.com.