I work as a web developer at one of the oldest and largest organizations in the social entrepreneurship space. I’m relatively new to the crew, having moved in the last 18 months from the West Coast to the Washington DC area for this work.
I also make an effort to speak, write, and discuss about technology, women in tech, entrepreneurship, social justice, and the “triple bottom line.”
Me speaking at Philly Women in Tech 2015. I was tired of not seeing brown women on the panel, so I decided to join one.
My organization supports changemakers worldwide. Here in the United States some of the individuals we work with are focused on race, equality, justice, health, the eradication of societal ills, and other inspiring issues.
These last few months of discussion, action, and soul-searching about #blacklivesmatter (and more recently ideas about #diversityintech) have been weighing heavily on my mind, especially when thinking around the frame of “what can I do?”, especially within my position, within my organization.
I am one small person. Here are the questions I ask, of myself and others:
- What am I able to do in order to make a positive difference?
- What internal thinking do I need to get up-to-date with?
- Which unconscious biases do I have that I need to rid myself of?
- Where are my self-doubts, insecurities, and anxieties stemming from? 😫
- Which stories do I tell myself? Which do I believe?
- How many of my feelings are simply a product of me existing as a _________ (for me, it’s “brown woman in tech”)?
- Who are my allies and supporters in the work?
- Where am I, myself, perpetuating 😭 institutional racism?
Starting around January 2015, when a few teammates and I started informally discussing diversity in our hiring pipeline, and then broadened our resource-sharing through a #diversity channel in our Slack community, we have been on a learning journey with each other about how racism impacts our internal work, as changemakers within our own organization, as well as our external work, in sourcing and selecting social enterprise leaders.
Here’s where I’m at with my current level of understanding.
- All of us in the United States are impacted, in some way or another, by racial inequality. Anyone who claims they are “color blind” or they “don’t believe in racism” or believes in “reverse racism” has to first educate themselves on how racism has come about (hello American History) and how there are currently deep, systemic, biased, entrenched habits that perpetuate injustice, every single day, everywhere, within every single U.S. institution.
- White allies are strong allies. They will not share the same distinct sense of injustice, nor will they experience the same feelings of apartness as people of color regularly do; however, those that get beyond “white guilt” are powerful advocates.
- It is also up to each and every one of us to be part of the solution. This is a tough call, e.g. when administration believes that brown and black people have to do all the educating and policy change themselves. I believe we are all on a learning journey, together, on which steps we need to take, individually as well as collectively.
- Data is key. It’s easy to think “oh, we are so diverse” if you see many “different” types of faces in the office. Data broken out by leadership/management and mid- to junior-level staff will give you the power to understand where, exactly, your organization stands.
Thank you #WOCinTechChat https://www.flickr.com/photos/wocintechchat/22543250971/in/photostream/
- Storytelling is effective. So many of us carry stories within our heads, in our histories, and in our hearts. When we share our stories with others, we claim our space, own our right to speak, and feel a little less alone.
- Lean piloting works. It is very difficult to effectively institute systems change on a large scale. It is easier to “MVP” the process by focusing on one small area, or one sub-division, or one policy item first, testing and refining it, then rolling it out to the broader institution.
- Demographics are changing quickly. America is multiracial and will be even more so, before we know it.
- On a personal note, “Asian” or “Asian Pacific Islander” is a mish-mash of many different regional areas. I am Filipina and so am lumped into that “Asian” box; however, I challenge you to think about all the Filipinos in tech you know. I know two others (shout out James and Mario)! Maybe I missed someone? Holla.
Here’s how my allies and teammates within our organization are focusing our efforts:
A) We are doing demographic analysis of our United States clientele and internal staff at the DC office to understand how we are similar to, and different from, the overall U.S. population. When we develop a method to collect the data and analyze it, we’ll get a baseline of where we currently stand.
B) We are building internal mechanisms in order to capture information better: current ideas include an annual employee survey, anonymous and moderated feedback tools, internal “Yammer”-style channels to discuss focused areas like salary transparency, family workplace issues, and the hiring pipeline, and more accountability overall for collecting and analyzing data to help drive decision-making.
C) We continue meeting in small groups to discuss our own personal stories, around the lens of what we call “everyone a changemaker” thinking.
D) We are educating ourselves on population and political trends in the United States like #brownisthenewwhite.
E) We are developing training tools that our overall team may use to help understand and combat institutional bias in our own work and in the work of those we support. Facebook has published their own training. https://managingbias.fb.com/
F) We are researching effective ways to build new networks to help identify, support, and raise the platform of changemakers within schools, campuses, religious communities, and in communities where we are currently inactive. We are aware that if we “do what we’ve been doing, we’ll get what we’ve been getting” and we are extremely aware that we need new methodologies and fresh thinking in order to evolve with the 21st century.
G) We are collecting more stories of changemakers creating innovative, ground-breaking, systems-changing work at the local level. These are our role models in how they evaluate existing systems, then build new ones that deprecate the old versions.
H) We are seeking financial support for our diversity initiatives from funders who are dedicated to dismantling oppressive systems and elevating the voices of racially and geographically-diverse leaders.
I) We are seeking others who want to work on emancipation within the field of social enterprise. Our field needs voices to be heard, stories to be shared, data to be analyzed, and leadership to be raised.
Help me in this work! One day at a time, one step at a time, we keep moving forward — together. Onward!