Last week, I had the privilege of attending the virtual Pride Summit 2022: Lesbians Who Tech and Allies. This conference was a place for people of marginalized identities (queer folks, people of color, folks whose gender identities exist outside the binary, etc.) who are underrepresented in the tech industry to share our stories and lift each other up. I was thrilled at the opportunity to interact with other queer women from so many different backgrounds in the tech industry. And there seemed to be one central theme throughout all the seminars, regardless of topic: Community is everything.
Software engineer and founder of Queen Workx Sydnee Sampson opened her seminar with a quotation from Maya Angelou: “Nobody can make it out here alone.” She emphasized the critical role that having a team to support you plays when developing your personal brand as a techie, and credited her success to her refusal to do anything by herself when she started her founder journey. Sampson said there’s a tendency to try and prove yourself as an individual by refusing help, but urged us to swallow a bit of pride and ask for help when we need it. Nobody can make it out here alone, so why try?
In a later seminar, Vice President at JP Morgan Chase Chris Mossiah offered tips on how to elevate our emotional intelligence to improve our professional lives. They explained how emotional intelligence enhances our ability to build and manage relationships, motivate teams, and develop the qualities of an effective leader. Empathy is the name of the game here, according to Mossiah; one’s ability to meaningfully connect with and contribute to a community isn’t just a valuable life skill – it will propel you throughout your career, too.
My favorite seminar was entitled “Bridging the Gap between Actions Women of Color Find Meaningful and the Actions White Employees Prioritize.” Two employees from Palo Alto Networks – one of whom was white, one of whom came from a Native American background – shared their experiences and grievances with performative allyship and offered advice on how to best support colleagues of color.
The most impactful moment of this seminar was when the indigenous presenter, Sunny Myers, confronted her longtime friend and colleague, Kirsten Mitchell: “There have been times in our careers where you haven’t shown up for me the way I needed you to,” she said. “Or you simply haven’t shown up for me at all.” Obviously this confrontation was a planned part of the presentation, but it still made all of us a bit uncomfortable – in a good way.
The women went on to explain that these are the types of honest conversations colleagues must have with one another if we are to effect any positive change with respect to the treatment of marginalized employees. We must hold each other, and more importantly ourselves, accountable. Myers encouraged white attendees to listen in a way that inspires trust, do away with silent support, and advocate for colleagues of color even when they’re not in the room. She shared that when marginalized people have strong allies at work, we’re less likely to burn out and more likely to be happy.
Whether you’re building your personal brand, working on your leadership skills, or simply trying to be a good co-worker, community is everything. It could be your product team, your affinity group, or even your closest friends at work. So long as you have a team to fall back on and actively work to be a reliable, compassionate member of that team, you can weather any storm.