After 13 years working in big-city advertising, I completely switched careers and lifestyles. Managing Fortune 500 advertising clients in Los Angeles and New York City exhausted me, and I needed to find work that energized me in a place that also inspired me. I found both in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. After landing in Boulder, I managed marketing at tech startups and realized quickly that I did not understand the technology—at all. At this point, I didn’t even know HTML. My will to understand the technology and be a leader in the industry prompted me to dive right in, so in 2011 I learned to code the language of Ruby, using the framework Ruby on Rails.
I spent the next two years coding off and on as I struggled to find a full-time software development job. During those two years, I experienced and witnessed an industry that was homogenous and, frankly, odd. The year was 2012, and I would walk into software development firms and be the only woman in the building, one of the only ones over 35, and the only one of Hispanic heritage. It was strange to be the “only” on so many levels. And yet, the industry didn’t really see this as a problem. I, however, was watching and experiencing this through the lens of an experienced manager from another industry, and I knew there had to be serious, underlying problems if a homogeneous industry was the norm.
In 2014, Google published its diversity numbers, and they were surprisingly terrible (well, surprising to those not living it). The rest of the industry started to open up about their diversity numbers, as well. Across the board, it was clear that what I personally experienced was an industry-wide problem that was finally being talked about openly. Women might make up 53% of the workforce, but in tech, it’s in the teens. And gender disparity is only the tip of the iceberg.
Today, the industry is looking for answers to its diversity problem—and I believe I have them.
When I couldn’t find a job as a software developer, three important events occurred:
The software development industry may not have had a place for me, but it was clear I was meant to own my own business and help the industry change—one coding event at a time.
Rather than solely focusing on gender, Equili recognizes that tech has an all-around imbalance problem. Race is an issue. Age is an issue. Class is an issue. Religion, disabilities, the LGBTQ community—all are underrepresented in the tech community.
Take a review of StackOverflow’s annual survey; it absolutely supports my tongue-in-cheek hypothesis that the industry is made up of 27-year-old, upper-middle-class, white males.
Now, let’s have an uncomfortable discussion for a moment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with 27-year-old, upper-middle-class, white males. That also goes for all white males. They are not the problem. The problem is that they are the only game in town. And so, the entire industry caters to one demographic. And, catering to one demographic makes all the others feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
At its worst, catering to one demographic creates a dangerous culture of privilege. And, it creates a talent vacuum. There are only so many 27-year-old, upper-middle-class, white males in this world. And if no one else feels welcome, or is welcome, then you have to pull from the same talent pool, creating a culture of poaching, inflated egos and, again, privilege.
I firmly believe the industry is ready to fix this vicious cycle. First, they need more talent because the industry is booming, and second, the culture has become dangerous to the bottom line of moral responsibility and profitability.
I’ve taken my experience and hit the road. I speak regularly to companies and founders on what they can do to change and fix this cycle of poaching, privilege and uniformity. Beyond speaking, Equili consults with tech leadership, leads diversity and inclusion workshops, and provides content such as these infographics here and here, this class and a forthcoming video series.
And that’s just the beginning. I am committed to changing the face of tech. And, frankly, business in general. My plan is to build a content platform consisting of underrepresented leadership. There are many leaders between us and Oprah, and yet, one of the largest problems for women and minorities succeeding is lack of access to role models and mentorship. Having someone show you the way is invaluable, and lacking. And yet, through my four years as founder of LadyCoders, all I have met are inspiring leaders of all genders, ages, races, classes, etc. It’s time to amplify their voices and share the love. (More soon!)
LadyCoders has been an important part of advancing gender equality in tech and will continue on as an annual conference in January 2018. It will be a conference geared to helping software developers navigate their careers. If you are interested, add your name to this list, and we will contact you when the agenda is announced and registration is open.
My work on LadyCoders throughout the last four years has helped me see that our mission is much larger—and that’s why I am asking you to help support Equili.
In closing, here is my request and my gift: