How Women and Women Of Color Can Advocate For Themselves in the Workplace
In the late 1980s, a year or so before I entered high school, my father built me a desk and bought me a Commodore 64. I felt like the luckiest kid in Brooklyn. It was a generous act that sparked a lifelong obsession with computers and technology that has withstood my forays into other interests, including architecture, filmmaking and creative writing.
Ironically, all of those divergent paths in my early 20s eventually led me to a career in B2B technology journalism, beginning with residential audio and video integration in the early 2000s. Even back then, I was a bit of an anomaly at AV integration trade shows and conferences around the world: a Black woman with a pen and notepad asking manufacturers how their proprietary coding architecture set them apart from their automation competitors.
At the time, I didn’t think much about it, though I was acutely aware that I was often the only Black editor and writer at many of the magazines I worked for in that niche technology channel. At trade shows and press junkets, women of color were few and far between on both the press and vendor sides of the aisle. I didn’t feel like a pioneer. I felt confused and, eventually, angry; I realized that although I was doing a terrific job, not only was I not getting promoted, I was actively being told that I wasn’t ready for that next big career step even with years of experience under my belt.
“Not only was I not getting promoted, I was actively being told that I wasn’t ready for that next big career step even with years of experience under my belt.”
While the number of women in the U.S. workforce has steadily increased to 47 percent between 1990 and 2020, that number is significantly lower in the tech industry — about 34 percent representation in the big five tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft). For women of color, the numbers are even more devastating: Only three percent of African American women held computing-related jobs in 2020, with Asian women holding six percent and Hispanic women two percent of jobs in the field.
The barriers to entry and promotion for women across the technology and corporate landscapes include gender and racial discrimination, sexual harassment and the “broken rung” — the refusal of enterprises to promote women out of entry level jobs into managerial positions, effectively stymieing advancement of women into key decision-making roles.
Between the glass ceiling and the broken rung, it is difficult to stay on the corporate ladder as a woman. This is especially true for women of color, including me. In the nearly 20 years that I have devoted to tech journalism, it is only recently that I have been able to achieve real career advancement. The reasons for this are wrapped up in a mélange of personal, political, cultural and social changes that have shifted the career tide for me and any number of women in my inner circle.
While many organizations have tried to implement effective diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to combat workplace inequality in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 shook lose a national complacency on matters of race and gender, including in the workplace. The pledges of corporate giants to “do better” on matters of racial and gender equity were welcomed, but words without actions are meaningless.
“Between the glass ceiling and the broken rung, it is difficult to stay on the corporate ladder as a woman. This is especially true for women of color.”
In my own life, I found that speaking up and out about the ways that tech journalism outlets have actively ignored or refused to promote women of color has meant more meaningful conversations with and actions from my colleagues. I admit that this has not been easy for me because with some previous employers there have been reprisals (firing, career stall, bad employee reviews), but I take heart in the words of the activist Maggie Kuhn: “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”
In the past two years, I have seen changes big and small in how tech industry companies are approaching hiring, retaining and promoting women and women of color. Anecdotally, I have witnessed greater empathy and a willingness from executive decision-makers to listen when missteps have been made and have a swiftness in correcting them. There is still a tremendous amount of work to do in bringing true diversity, equity and inclusion to corporate and tech spaces, but I am fortunate to currently have a position that allows me to actively seek and promote the research and reporting of women of color working in tech journalism. It is a tremendous gift to witness change in action and an even greater privilege to be a part of it.