Is Diversity and Inclusion in Tech a myth? I write this just days before I launch my second annual Wonder Women Tech conference, which main focus is to highlight, celebrate and educate women and diversity in tech. Over the course of two years, I have accumulated a lot of experiences while building a platform that is committed to providing a space to incubate solutions and to create dialogue towards building a diverse and inclusive community in the world of innovation.
After a grueling 24 months, I've come to the conclusion that the "burnout" one faces being an activist in this space is indeed real.
As a Social Innovator, I've always been passionate about all things equality, humanitarian, and focused on the Social Good. I have had my share of feeling discouraged with the projects and startups I have launched. I once created an entire global photo campaign to highlight equality and human rights that went largely unnoticed, and I tried to launch an internet TV network focused on Equality.
I've had startups tank and I've worked around the clock to produce hackathon events that were geared towards making mobile apps that would crea a positive impact on the world. I am no stranger to having to work hard and rally people around an idea to get a vision off the ground.
But I was wholly unprepared for the sheer exhaustion and numerous moments I have felt wanting to "give up" while crusading for diversity and inclusion in the tech space. I have often asked myself: "Why the heck am I doing this and who am I doing it for?"
You see--what I have encountered while reaching out to many of the large and small tech companies, and even other organizations who are passionate about diversity and inclusion, is that while there is a lot of public talk around initiatives being created to bridge the gender gap and build a diverse employee roster--there is only the bare minimum actually being done to move the needle towards accomplishing those goals.
The conclusion is; companies like to launch in-house programs to "prove to the world" that they care about diversity and inclusion. They set aside a bare bones budget that they allocate to the 'tried and true' programs and rarely entertain programs that detract from what they are comfortable with. On my journey towards fundraising and getting people to support my team's efforts, I have heard more "maybe next year's" than I have received actual financial support or resources.
As one fellow activist stated, "It's like there is a certain clique in the tech community. You're in if you are the Grace Hopper's of the world, but being the 'new kid on the block', you're lucky if you get a branded keychain thrown your way."
Every other week I'm forced to ask myself; "If not this year--when?"
Through this journey, I've also learned that starting a dialogue around collaborating with others who are focused on this work has netted me a one sided conversation. I am often left with unanswered emails, phone calls, and missed connections, and it has created a level of apathy that I fight against almost daily.
I've wondered if people and organizations are afraid that there is only one dollar out there, and they've got to be the ones to get it, which leaves little room for the opportunity to work together. A dollar stretches only so far; however, the synergistic magic of combined resources and like minds is unlimited.
This has led to the almost complete and total burnout of my efforts towards building a platform that will set the stage for great minds and companies to share ideas, collaborate, provide mentorship and education, and pave the way for building a real ecosystem for change.
I have another confession: The greatest roadblocks and challenges I have faced while being an activist for diversity and inclusion, is the bullying and lack of support I have received from other women and people of color.
I am currently being bullied by another woman who has publicly and privately criticized every event I have created in the last two years. I have had other women and men of color in executive level positions also bully, harass, and defame my work and my character. I have literally had to defend my projects and integrity to stay alive in the game.
Hundreds of emails sent to organizations who are making great strides for people of color and/or women, have largely been ignored. If I do receive a response it is usually to politely decline all invitations for collaboration and participation. My team and I have collectively sent thousands of emails to rally support for our efforts. They too, feel the effects of the burnout.
The hours spent getting people to "care" have netted some great victories, but often it feels like some great miracle has just occurred after days spent conducting research and outreach, and executing ideas and building relationships. I've spent my entire life savings working towards building a legacy that will ensure a future generation of innovators, and ignite a new world where people don't see color, race, or have to check boxes. I've come close to losing it all--even the drive to keep moving forward.
What has kept the fire burning is the three year commitment we have received from the City of Long Beach to provide a home for us at the Long Beach Convention Center to build the dream and mission that is the Wonder Women Tech Foundation. What keeps us alive, are the hundreds of "yes's" we have received from women and men who have flown from all over the world to be part of our vision. What pulls us back to our center is the exclamations of "We Need This!" that we hear daily from at least one person who has heeded our call. So while we may be on the cusp of burning out--somehow we find our spark to build a fire again.
My team and I have had our share of days spent feeling defeated. After a year of building our 2016 Wonder Women Tech Conference, we are on the cusp of seeing our hard work in real-time. We will get to witness the magic of inspiration we hope to see on the many faces that will be there. We've faced great challenges this past year as we have pressed forward to realize a dream that is bigger than all of us.
Collectively we have seen four deaths, endured five relocations, and experienced other challenges that are too extreme to be true. Through it all we have remained resilient--stoic almost, as though we had some magical pot of gold at the end of this crazy road, and that what we have worked hard for will somehow make the hardships and closed doors we faced--worth it.
In our hearts we understand that although it feels like an uphill battle, the aim for diversity and inclusion within tech and the workplace in general, is within reach. We are the pioneers who are brave enough to create the change we wish to see for our future. And although we have had to fight for every dollar, every speaker, and every ounce of programming that will culminate in our event on July 16th and 17th--we know that come what may--we have done our absolute best. We did not give up.
And that is enough.
Is Diversity and Inclusion in Tech Just a Myth? Not if Team Wonder Women Tech can help it.