Jan 20, 2022

Breaking Barriers and Embracing Inclusivity in Tech

1. What made you interested in tech?

Leela:

I didn’t necessarily choose to be in tech. I have always had an affinity for computers and technology. In high school, I took a computer science class that I really enjoyed, but my academic career led me to psychology and behavioral economics. Through this route, I ended up as a UX researcher here at OCUS.

Coley:

I grew up in the Silicon Valley in California, so I saw firsthand the opportunities I could have. I have a bachelor's degree in linguistics, which helped me develop my language, writing, and organizational skills. My role in the tech world is a cool combination of techie stuff without being a developer and linguistic word stuff, so it's an excellent fit for someone like me.

2. How would you explain your field to young girls?

Coley:

When most people hear the word documentation, they often say, "I don't want to write instruction manuals," but it's so much more than that! Documentation creates a bridge between groups of people, especially: (1) people who have deep knowledge about something and (2) people who need to understand it. These groups often don't talk about and understand topics in the same way. We (folks who craft documentation) build that bridge through the written word. It's really bringing people together and creating shared understanding!

Leela:

My field is very broad and diverse! There are a lot of different profiles and people that end up in my role. You can come from a design background, a developer-specific engineer background, or many people enter it through academic research. My field is a mix of all of these different skills and specialties. In my role, I help the product team make decisions on feature developments based on user feedback.

3. What traits might a child possess that might indicate an interest in your job?

Leela:

Curiosity, empathy, and/or analytical thinking. A significant part of my job entails listening to people, hearing their needs, and formalizing that feedback so that the team can make informed decisions. I'm really lucky to work with many departments within OCUS and not just the product team. That's where having entrepreneurial or business backgrounds can be really helpful.

Coley:

Documentation is really broad as well. For girls interested in going into tech in general, you can really have skills from anywhere. For documentation, I would say that you might like puzzles; you might like being able to figure out solutions to things; you might like explaining things in an empathetic way, where you want your audience to really understand. These are skills that apply to documentation really naturally.

4. What inspirational message would you give to young girls to inspire them to pursue a path like this?

Coley:

One thing I always try to say is that it doesn't matter where you're coming from. It doesn't actually matter if you're good at math or not, which is what a lot of people like to say. And for being a writer, it doesn't actually matter if you're good at your language classes or not. What really matters is seeing yourself in these spaces and remembering that what you have to bring is needed. The tech world needs you. It needs more women and folks who identify outside of the gender binary. It needs people to come in and improve our technological world that was not built with a lot of diversity from the beginning. So bring your ideas and lived experiences here, and let's progress together.

Leela:

It's exciting. It's interesting. It's flexible. Over time I've discovered what I want my relationship with work to be like. The technical field is really special because so much of our work can be remote. It can be collaborative. It can be interdisciplinary. You can find people you work with who have a master's degree in a highly specialized field or have done a Bootcamp with a lot of hands-on training. There are a lot of ways to arrive here. In many ways, to do what we do, a specific skill set isn't necessary. Every skill set is being incorporated into technical development and because of that, anything that you bring to the table will have value. You just have to find where it fits.

5. Do you feel like you have equal opportunities?

Coley:

The long and short answer is yes and no!

I want to believe that most people in the tech world would choose for us to have equal opportunities, and I believe we are moving toward that, but I also know there's still work to do to create a diverse, accepting, and inclusive space. We're ready to do that work⁠—I'm here doing it; Leela's here doing it. It's tough, though; in theory, working in this field is competency-based. Theoretically, we have the same opportunities, but research has shown that where men have to be good, everyone else has to be excellent. There’s a lot of disparity there, and that's where we have a lot of work to do. It doesn't mean everyone shouldn't be excellent—we should—but we need to have the same expectations regardless of gender identity.

Leela:

It reminds me of an expression I recently heard in terms of including diversity: "One is a token, two is a minority, and with three, you have a seat at the table." I think that's kind of an interesting way to look at it. There are women in these spaces, but it will be a transition over time to be the voice at the table.

6. Have you faced any prejudices?

Coley:

Some of the hardest things I've faced are being in groups where I'm primarily with men (mostly white) and we're talking about diversity efforts. They're saying, "but we don't get the applicants," or, "it's about competency." It's uncomfortable to realize that you're the one in a position of privilege. As a white person, I recognize the privilege that comes with the color of my skin. I am also a queer, disabled woman and experience various difficulties based on those intersections. We desperately need to improve the education around intersectionality and diversity at work so that people realize it's not an attack on anyone; it's actually an attempt to raise everybody up. Diversity helps everybody involved, so we need to keep having these challenging conversations.

7. How could more industries consider the implications of gender messaging?

Leela:

I recently presented a research article regarding the uptake across genders on stay-at-home versus return to work messaging. I know that companies don't desire to have disparity in gender uptake with Human Resource messaging, but there are subtle impacts. The messaging we use can have unforeseen and sometimes unintended psychological consequences. Being conscious of this and even tracking the impact we create can help ensure that we don't replicate these effects.

Coley:

This is something I think about a lot, actually. Let's focus on adding diversity to what we're doing. Let me share an example I had recently. I saw an advertisement for something that would usually feature a cis-gender, heteronormative couple. Those are big words but essentially straight: I expected to see a couple with one male-presenting person and one female-presenting person in this advertisement. Instead, I saw two male-presenting people. As a queer person, seeing my identity represented somewhere that typically stays heteronormative impacted me in a way I didn't expect. Quite literally, an advertisement for jewelry or chocolate (I don't remember) brought tears to my eyes.

We need to take these experiences and realize that more people will feel seen and represented when we intentionally make our messaging diverse (in terms of the type of bodies, race, ability, sexuality, even socioeconomic status). It's not going to happen by accident. We must do this intentionally, and that's where our focus needs to be—helping people feel valid in who they are.