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Are you willing to take a risk as leader and an ally?
Last week, we had the chance to celebrate Pride month by listening and learning from three outstanding leaders across the tech industry: Roz Francuz Harris; Director of Technology Recruiting at Zillow, Rafael Williams; Manager of Emerging Talent & Inclusive programs at Redfin and Cha-Cha Figueroa; Chief of Staff for Gusto’s Employee Engagement Team.
The themes of risk taking and true allyship rang throughout the discussion as our panelists stressed the importance of advocating with not only words on posters but with bold, action-oriented policies and practices. Below are the biggest takeaways from our discussion.
Too often, intersectional employees in tech are tasked with the role of organizing D&I events or being the resident expert on all things DEI. This is an unfair assumption and especially exhausting for your employees. One example of this is the Black tax. Figueroa said that members who identify with multiple minority groups don’t always want to be the ones who have to carry the flag. Furthermore, your intersectional employees may even be wondering which flag they are supposed to be carrying. Is it the pride flag today and the Black Lives Matter flag tomorrow? Instead, building an inclusive work environment is the responsibility of everyone at your company.
For leaders, understanding the needs of your marginalized employees is a critical first step to actively use your privilege and positioning. For example, the pandemic showed that flexible work was critical for Black employees. According to a Slack Think Tank Future Forum survey, 97% of Black employees said they preferred working from home. Black women were at the top of that list as working from home has helped reduce the microaggressions they face on a daily basis in the office. Now is the time for company leaders to ask, learn, and implement changes that will benefit marginalized employees. Those who don’t will see even higher employee churn as people look to companies that create more inclusive, blended work cultures.
Oftentimes, underrepresented communities in the tech industry are guilted into thinking they should be grateful to have a “seat at the table.” When Williams first began his career in tech, he was told to just “go with the flow, and not create any waves.” Figueroa chimed in with her own experiences of being a queer LatinX tech professional and how she used to think she should just be “grateful” to have a career in tech.
“However, when I started talking to cisgender White men who had been in tech for a while, I realized they were playing this whole game of chess that I wasn’t even taught,” she said. Once Figueroa stopped being “grateful” and began verbalizing her expectations, and stating things that she was not comfortable with at the company, things began to shift. As she reflected, “grateful never got me anything in a performance review.”
Williams also realized that his company should be grateful for his expertise and lived experiences and the ways that he can use strategies to help them grow their team.
The panelists also noted how imposter syndrome is often used as a scapegoat to push under-represented employees towards gratitude at the expense of opportunity. Figueroa believes that it actually doesn’t exist. “Is it imposter syndrome or is it a term that people have created so that you don’t call out what’s really happening?” she asked. Check out this highlight below:
Francuz-Harris spoke about the relationship of allyship and proximity as she’s seen the most support for marginalized folks when someone has a degree of connection to those communities. The question was posed: can we have true allyship to queer, Black, and LatinX communities without proximity to them?
“I think people need to change what proximity means to them,” said Figeroua. She said that you should be actively seeking out opportunities to meet those from marginalized communities so you can listen to their experiences. That way, you can begin to lead with understanding.
If you’re a decision maker at your company, it is imperative that you are taking risks and are willing to change the way your company operates to better serve ALL your employees.
“If you’re not willing to bring people from the top to the bottom into a room to surface Black transgender rights or AAPI violence, if you’re not willing to go there and talk about it, and you’re just going to send an email, I don’t think that’s real allyship,” she said.
True allies will continue to innovate, take risks, and center their employees in order to cultivate and retain an inclusive culture. Ask yourself, what are you doing to champion your Black, queer and LatinX employees? Are you actively recruiting from marginalized communities? What risks are you taking as a leader to ensure that these communities are being treated fairly and equitably at work?
Interested in hearing more? Watch the full “Real Talk: Diversity in Tech – Pride Edition” here.
We extend a huge thank you to our amazing moderator, panelists, and our host Portia Kibble Smith! We will be back in the Fall with more leaders across the tech industry for some more “Real Talk.”
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