Redefining What It Means to Be a Latina in Tech

November 4, 2015

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I work in the heart of San Francisco in an open office with incredible engineers and talented designers. When you walk through our front door, the first thing you'll see is a big bright yellow painted wall. My desk is perfectly centered in the middle of the room, lightly covered in sticky notes with brand reminders, and displaying the latest issue of Bitch or Ms. magazines. While I was (and will always be) an East Coast queer feminist, advocate and organizer, I'm also now part of the three percent of Latinxs in the tech sector. This is an ongoing journal of my experience.

Before my 18th birthday, I was told I wouldn't graduate from high school or go to college and that my dreams for a successful future were far from my reality. As a young woman, I was navigating through a complex and negative environment that cheered for my failure. Yet I realized that I had to make a decision: Let those around me dictate my future or redefine it for myself. I chose the latter.

But what does being a queer Latina with a tough teenage life have anything to do with tech? Everything. Our mere presence is an act of revolution. So when I landed on this new path, I made a promise to never close a door behind me; that any obstacle I removed from my path would never be thrown onto someone else's. As someone who struggled a lot, I knew that my journey didn't have to be as hard as it was. And now that I find myself in the tech industry where young women of color are rare, I wonder how I can make the journey less difficult for others.

We know about the many factors that contribute to the stark reality of diversity in this field. Across the US, incompetent educational systems and lack of representation make many young people feel that landing a tech job is unrealistic.

Truthfully, it's also just really hard to aspire to join something that has distanced itself from people like you. Because when tech companies fail to ensure diversity within every layer of its thriving system, they replicate the very system that we so desperately need to dismantle and that's not exactly an enticing option for oppressed communities. But there are options.

After I accepted a position at a startup, I was relieved and honored to join because I knew I could offer something valuable to the work. I also quickly realized that I now play a role in a larger geographic and cultural community of underrepresented people in tech. And our presence is meaningful.

According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women hold 26 percent of positions within this sector, but Latinas hold only two percent of those positions. Realizing this made me feel like there was this incredibly heavy burden to ensure I do my part to continue bringing other Latinas into this space, but I also recognize that the burden to shift a system is not mine to carry alone.

My identity is an asset and the lack of diversity is not a reflection on our abilities, worth and value. Women of color are informed, creative, and tapped into the communities most likely to use so many of the services and products that companies are innovating or reinventing. So if you've been considering coming into this field, please know that you're needed. You don't need to code because startups need communications, public relations, marketing, legal, and administrative team members too. And over the next few months, I will be sharing my experience and learnings from the sector. What can I demystify for you?



This post previously appeared on Medium.

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