Keep your receipts: when doing the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) work is still not enough

tl;dr My ask is at the very bottom.

Note: as a woman of color in tech I’m supposed to back the sh*t out of my claims, so this passage contains a number of links to Google spreadsheets and docs. Please excuse any delay in loading.

Hello! For those of you I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, my name is Lea Coligado, and I’m a software engineer at Google, Stanford Computer Science grad, and Rover dog-walker.

I’m also a public-facing Diversity & Inclusion advocate having founded Women of Silicon Valley (WoSV), a Humans of New York spin-off that features resilient women and gender queer folks in tech, particularly those of color.

I started WoSV as a coping mechanism, because the summer before my junior year at Stanford, I was sexually harassed while interning at a tech start-up. Rumor had it the then-VP of Marketing had been threatening to leave the company for years, so he was being paid in great excess of his role despite making off-color jokes. Rumor also had it he had a “thing” for Asian women, and by rumor, I mean he explicitly professed it. Gag.

This may or may not be an actual photo of my perpetrator.

So, the power dynamic between this insatiable VP, 15 years my senior, and I, a 19-year old intern, was not lost on anyone, especially him. He leveraged it to perpetrate my harassment, first online then more explicitly in-person, and he created a sense of doubt in my career that would take years of therapy to unpack. He also created a woman scorned, which like hell hath no fury.

I truly started Women of Silicon Valley with a vengeance. For those of you who are similarly versed in Shrek, this was my way of saying, “This is MY swamp!!!” And apparently a lot of people wanted to re-claim tech as their swamp too — since its humble beginnings, WoSV has interviewed hundreds of people, garnered 70K cross-platform followers, and received acclaim from people like Melinda Gates and publications like CNN.

Most recently, I’m proud to say I was recently named one of the BBC’s 100 Inspiring Women list of 2017 for my work on WoSV. I’m most proud to say we are now a team of ten amazing women who dedicate our time to WoSV through Google’s 20% program. The people I get to work with on WoSV are probably my favorite thing about Google.

By the time I’d joined Google full-time, WoSV had already featured a handful of Googlers, and I was told by various recruiters they used our platform to actually source engineers, so integrating WoSV into my job at Google and building a great team here only seemed natural — especially since WoSV seemed to play such a large role into why I was recruited in the first place.

What has felt unnatural is the amount of work I do. Given the constraints of the 80%[engineering]/20%[D&I] divide, I can allocate 1 business day out of 5 to my D&I work, and it’s not nearly enough. So I spend the majority of my nights and weekends (about ~10–15 business hours/week) on D&I, which includes managing the nine members of the Women of Silicon Valley team, mentoring younger femme students and students of color, and public speaking at various conferences, universities, and women-in-tech/first-gen organizations. Most recently, I delivered a 30-minute keynote for Google Women Engineers Summit, which was very well-received, and not out of coincidence. It took 6 weeks to write, edit, and rehearse.

Delivering my keynote at Google Women Engineers summit
“Lea was the keynote speaker at Google Women Engineers summit. The following day when one of the directors asked what our favorite part was, scattered audience members shouted “the keynote speaker” in unison. And I wholeheartedly agree, Lea’s speech was moving and inspiring and the openness with which she discussed the issues that faced women in tech was powerful. As the only girl on my team and one of the few on my floor, Lea’s speech and introduction to Women in Silicon Valley was a well-timed reminder that success has no one singular image and to reach for something bigger than myself.” ~Anonymous Google Intern

This work is not without rewards. The WoSV team has been collecting feedback on our value to the hiring & retention of women & gender queer technologists, and we’ve found:

Of 69 surveyed features, 99% agreed that having their story shared on WoSV contributed to their sense of belonging in tech. 84% agreed being featured on WoSV motivated them to stay at their current company.

Of 102 surveyed followers, 84% replied “yes” to “Women of Silicon Valley has motivated me to stay at my current job.” The other 16% noted they weren’t considering leaving their job in the first place.

From our Impact-at-a-Glance doc

Somewhere along the way, I realized that despite the large majority of my D&I work going towards Google’s benefit — whether it was featuring Googlers on WoSV, recruiting people to apply to Google, or representing Google on public media like the BBC — a small fraction of that work was actually getting factored into my career advancement. I went for promotion 1.5 years into my tenure, and despite having built a feature pipeline in a new stack, built and managed a team of ten people, and convinced hundreds of womxn to either apply to or stay at Google, I was rejected — in large part, due to volume of code.

I was crushed. I’m the daughter of Filipino immigrants and Vietnamese refugees. If my parents taught me anything, it’s to get what’s mine. My family’s worked too hard for too little for me not to.

I just couldn’t understand how all the work I’d put into D&I seemed to have evaporated during performance review. I knew my manager had gone to bat for me, so I started researching the performance review system and criteria by which software engineers are evaluated. I found there was little to no mention of Diversity & Inclusion whatsoever in the criteria, let alone community work.

The irony was not lost on me that Google professes to hold Diversity & Inclusion as cherished cultural and business values. Tech companies throw hundreds of millions of dollars at D&I every year to “fix” predominantly [white + Asian +male] fields like software engineering, and execs will still wring their hands in despair pointing to the “pipeline.” And yet when I, a female software engineer of color, offer a pipeline in-house for sourcing and retaining womxn of color, there’s no place for it in my criteria. I can only thank God I have a manager who understands the value of my work.

To be fair, this is not a new or unique problem by any means. Leaders like EricaJoy and Ellen K. Pao have been calling this sh*t out for years — how marginalized engineers who already experience systemic equity are expected to do the volunteer (read: free) work mitigating that inequity for others. It’s slated to “civic duty.” And when you scale this to 100s of thousands of employees, racial and gender pay gaps get less and less “mysterious.”

As I sought help from anyone I could talk to, I ran into brick after brick wall. Instead of validating the impact of my work, people (even and especially other women) would devil’s advocate me. They’d ask why I didn’t just “dial down” the D&I work and “dial up” the engineering as if racism, sexism, and other issues inherent to D&I work are things to choose caring about. They didn’t understand that am a software engineer at Google, but I am a woman of color at Google first.

So much of my lived experience in Silicon Valley has been threats to my career trajectory, from all the cases of sexual harassment and fetishization I’ve had to weather and report, to the manifesto that rocked Google last summer, to all the emotional labor people expect of me, e.g. explaining Google-able things like “sexism.” The D&I work, and in turn the supportive community of femmes & people of color I’ve been able to carve out of predominantly white and male spaces, is what gets me out of bed on the days tech feels like an abusive boyfriend. Therefore, D&I is not just a “nice-to-have” in my career; it is a “must-have” for my retention.

Screenshot of the non-exhaustive spreadsheet, nearly 100 rows long

I began tabulating all the work I’ve done since joining Google in a non-exhaustive spreadsheet, which adds up to roughly 600 hours. I also created a sort-of D&I performance review, feedback I’ve collected from people I’ve worked with through my D&I work.

“Lea used her platform to help share my personal story in a very powerful way. As an immigrant from Mali who learned English in this country before becoming a tech founder in Silicon Valley, I often struggled to find my voice throughout my life. My interview with WoSV helped me talk about the challenges of being a Black Founder. Many investors, founders, future mentors and peers read my story on WoSV which ultimately helped to open many doors.” ~ Anonymous Start-up CEO (she/her)

If you’re a technologist of marginalized identity who feels like I do, I highly recommend you do this too. There are multiple dimensions of fucked-up in the premise that doing the D&I work isn’t enough, that the onus is further on the marginalized to keep the receipts. But this may just make a capitalist’s worst nightmare — it may codify, for you and others, just how much your time’s worth.

Clearly, I can’t continue constraining my D&I work to the after-hours anymore, so I’m appealing for a 50%[engineering]/50%[D&I] job before I burn out of Google. Prospects have been dismal as a VP recently rejected my appeal, so I’m asking for others’ support.

So here’s my ask:

If you support my work and want to see the aforementioned hiring & retention value I’ve helped create continue, I’d appreciate if you can sign my petition for a 50/50 job here: goo.gl/forms/lXEINLUqtrBG4RMy2

The hope is your words can give my argument structure in an arena that doesn’t have a lot of precedent. The greater hope is I can then use my case as a pivot for getting D&I paid for all software engineers.

Warmly & direly, a Woman Burning Out of Tech

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