How to survive in tech — lessons of love learned from Tech Inclusion ’15

I sat in in my office going through doom-spirals in my mind about what my life was and how it’s changed. My phone vibrated and I checked out an email sent by Model View Culture (An inclusive technology print/web company). It read:

The Tech Inclusion Conference is coming up September 11th and 12th in San Francisco. It features an exciting and diverse lineup of venture capitalists, founders, CEOs, executives, diversity in tech advocates and more to talk about topics including accessing capital, repairing the STEM pipeline, becoming an ally, moms in tech and more.

Woah. People combining social justice in technology culture.

I remember going to a local tech start-up meeting in Eugene where the organizer made a very uncomfortable sexist joke. At the time I wasn’t sure how to navigate through my uncomfortableness — I was completely new to the space and he runs an innovative technology company. I was still working on my own identity issues I didn’t feel comfortable continuing to return to these meetings.

Now I’m out as a queer trans-woman entrepreneur working in tech (specifically the problem of digital literacy). Coming out as each of those three separately helped me regain power in my own life — to own the textures of my mind and find community (being queer, being trans, being an entrepreneur). Staring at the email I realized: I need to do something for myself — for my enjoyment, for my professional career and for my community. Two friends live in a student cooperative in Berkeley and invited me to stay with them (free housing — check!), Allegiant Air flies between Oakland and Eugene (around $100 both ways — check!) and the conference gave a discount (yay!). Things seemed to be aligning.

I’d never been to a professional conference and I’d never vacationed alone. Two HUGE life mile-stones I’ll never forget. My notebook began to fill with wonderful ideas from such powerful minds. Some take-aways via a semi-organized brain dump (Sorry… I was really bad at referencing who was saying what in my note-book… most of these are ideas of other speakers! Props go to the presenters).

  • ON DIVERSE TEAMS: Diverse teams are more innovative. Don’t waiver from diversity, bake it into your company structure. Invest in talent, not ‘minorities’ — diverse teams don’t “lower the bar.”
  • ON CAPITAL: The Golden rule is “those who have the gold make the rules” which means allowing marginalized groups to access capital is very important. Venture capitalists need to step-up to provide more funding to diverse companies in markets that a venture capitalist firm might not understand. Connect people you know with resources, no matter how small.
  • ON EDUCATION: Traditionally marginalized groups need both technical and psycho social training to thrive in technological ventures. Build empathy/concern for students and co-workers — figure out how to meet their needs. Rosie Torres said “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it” so become a mentor or figure for a younger version of you. Turn people from consumers of technology to innovators and creators of technology. Project-based learning instead of lecture/tests. It’s more about “figuring it out along the way instead of memorizing”
  • ON DIVERSITY ECO-SYSTEMS/ALLYSHIP: Our eco-systems can’t be about assimilation, need to be about ownership and inclusion. Bring difference to the table, no one should be silenced. Offer extended support and mentorship. Create a culture of feeling comfortable being our whole, authentic selves.
  • ON OTHER PROBLEMS: Legal assistance, trust, recruiting, boards of advisors, robust relationships with failure, contracts, growth, social marketing, am I working on the right problem?
  • ON CALL OUTS: NOT calling things out is the problems. Sometimes we need to “hold back” in tech spaces to heal, and that’s okay. Be vulnerable and confident at the same time, normalize being confident in my identity without apology. Find the line between call outs and shaming.
  • ON PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT: Don’t worry about the corporation or company — instead, become the CEO of your career. Fight the default of exclusivity (i.e. work to be more inclusive). Lean in to be uncomfortable and learn how to have uncomfortable conversations (people don’t like having uncomfortable conversations). Don’t sell yourself short. Sometimes corporate ladders feel more like rock-climbing.
  • ON TRUST: Trust is the oil and facilitator of value and relationships. The conduit for influence, medium through which ideas travel. Different people trust differently — some are more external/building/respecting (Do Trust) and others are more empathetic/creative/sharing vulnerability/internal. Understand how I trust, don’t assume others trust the same way, be curious/fascinated by people and work on your own trustworthiness.
  • ON LEADERSHIP: Self-reflect and have an awareness of your impact on others. Listen deeply. Coach and mentor others. Inspire and influence others to work collaboratively.
  • ON MENTAL HEALTH: Mental health shapes how we navigate through society. Study/work environments don’t often support mental health. Not talking about mental health perpetuates ignorance.
  • ON BIAS: Bias is a natural part of being human; it only is a problem if it prevents us from the right solution. Eliminate bias when it conflicts with inclusion, innovation, etc.
  • ON HUMAN RESOURCES: Measurement and accountability important. There’s a highly qualified untapped pool of applicants who don’t get referred to jobs. “Not a culture fit” isn’t inclusive.
  • ON INTERSECTIONALITY: Gender is a suffocating lens in technology; also intersects with race/ability/age/etc. “If you avoid who you are, then you will break as a person.” To survive — have a strong personality, speak up and don’t suppress yourself. Show empathy and understanding in other people (we are more than our frustrations), don’t wear a mask (see and be seen), be empathetic but you also don’t have to explain yourself.
  • ON MICRO-AGGRESSION: Address micro-aggressions and don’t let them slide. Practice self-care (sometimes its speaking out for yourself, sometimes its another survival technique). “I don’t owe anyone historical analysis.” Be goal oriented: if its not on your agenda to call it out, then don’t stress about it. No need to throw yourself under the bus. Their ignorance is not your responsibility — micro aggressions are used to distract (so don’t let those fools distract us).
  • ON RESPONSIBILITY IN COMMUNITY: Be a model/conduit for others. Open more doors with the keys we have. Say eachother’s names publicly. We have to be our own fan-clubs. Ask for help! Leverage partnerships and work together if your missions align. ALWAYS interview qualified minority candidates. Not the oppressed/marginalized groups job to accelerate diversity (Who do you write checks to? Who do you mentor?). Be Intentional with your energy.

Develop our own narratives of success and power. Build our own business. Mentor others.

Remember: talent recognizes talent.

A special shout-out to the Berkeley Student Cooperatives who housed me (making my trip possible), ChangeCatalyst for organizing and Galvanize for hosting the space. And everyone else who put in such great energy and effort into having hard, draining conversations about real issues in our community.

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