Diversity & Inclusion Tech Company Blues (Part 1)

I never thought I’d end up working in tech. But, of course, I didn’t just end up here. I made a choice. To choose to work at a tech company is a tremendous privilege. For one thing, most people don’t get to choose where they work. And then there’s the matter of the tech ethos, which you come to know once you’re in it; it’s all about privilege. High salaries, catered meals, cleaning crews, travel. These are the kind of amenities a tech employee comes to expect. I entered tech as someone with privilege, but also as someone who was naive to the system of which I was taking part. I was (and am) a queer identified, trans, boi. Of course, I wasn’t ready to tell my company that yet. I did my best to assimilate, smooth my edges, and fit in.

Let’s get a few obvious things out of the way. Tech companies are homogenous entities. Their workforce populations are mostly white, straight, and cis-male dominated. The people in power are usually all of the above and these powerful, privileged people often hire their friends and receive referrals for prospective employees through their personal and professional networks. This all adds up to a lot of homogeneity.

Sadly, diversity and inclusion is a concept that enters a tech company’s consciousness at a much later stage. And if a value and regard for diversity isn’t baked into a company’s culture from day one, how does a company retroactively and authentically advocate for diversity years later? Couldn’t these delayed diversity efforts be seen as self-serving and opportunistic if they’re managed incorrectly? There aren’t any easy answers here.

This is all to say that anyone who is “different” (POC’s, queers, women, folks with disabilities, etc.) exist in small numbers in tech. We’re a lean herd on the verge of extinction. When I started out in tech, I was always one of the only queers in the room. I could also always count on one hand the number of people of color around me. When you’re one of the only (insert minority group here)’s in the room, you become more than a person, you’re also an emblem. Often you’re called on to speak on behalf of the people you represent. You’re a patient educator, an advocate, a microphone, in addition to what your actual job responsibilites are. Any “other” in tech is expected to contain multitudes and this is a lot of responsibility to shoulder.

I contain a multitude of identities but not all of them. I am only an expert on my own experience. For example, I wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) speak about, on behalf of, or over the experiences of people of color. I strive to remain as much an ally as an advocate. But I’ll come back to allyship another time.

About a year into my tech tenure, I had to make a choice. Would I choose to tell my co-workers that I identified as genderqueer (an identity on the Trans spectrum) and that I wanted to be called by gender neutral pronouns (they/them)? This would make me the only (out) Trans person at the company. Would the benefit outweigh the cost of coming out again? It was getting to the point where being called “she” was feeling as uncomfortable as wearing a hair shirt to work everyday. So I made a choice. And I was privileged to be living in a time and place, and working at a job, in which I could make make such a choice. But the potential effects and repercussions of this choice terrified me.

Like many introverts before me, I made the choice to come out via email. Little did I know how much education, work, and coming out still lay ahead of me. This email wasn’t the end, it was just a preamble. I wrote a draft of my email, took a deep breath, and hit send.

To be continued…

Want to learn more before the next post? Listen to my interview with local radio station KALW here.