Latinxs in Tech: The Minorities of Minorities?

Posted on September 8, 2016

I’ve been “...and Sam’ing” the Latinx* community. (What is “…and Sam’ing”? See March 2015 when I wrote about how diversity conversations were about “women in tech…and minorities.”)

“We’re the minorities of minorities here,” said an employee of a Silicon Valley tech company, referring to her Latinx employee affinity group, which was struggling to gain visibility. “Huh?” I not-so-eloquently said as that “aha” lightbulb burst in my brain.

Wait, I support CODE2040 – they create pathways to educational, professional, and entrepreneurial success in technology for underrepresented minorities with a specific focus on Blacks and Latinxs. I agree with Co-founder and CEO, Laura Wiedman Powers, when she says, “It’s one thing to talk about the tech companies that exist and it’s another thing to talk about the tech companies of tomorrow. And it’s the entrepreneurs of today founding those tech companies of tomorrow. So how do we make sure that pool is as diverse and inclusive as possible as well?” (Fortune, September 2, 2016)

And I support digitalundivided – they focus on career support and training for women of color. I see the inequality and bias when I hear “Black and Latino women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the US. They own 1.5 million businesses between them, up 322% since 1997. These businesses generate an amazing $44 billion plus a year in revenue. Yet, they aren’t getting the critical financial backing they need.” (Kathryn Finney, Fortune, August 3, 2016)

I support Blacks… and Latinxs.

It’s time to look in the mirror and say, “What am I doing, personally, to support Latinxs? Who is in my circle? What do I know about Latinx struggles? Who are my Latinx heroes?”

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Why Does It Matter?

Maybe you think it doesn’t matter. Many Latinos are assimilated into white society, having been here generations and learned the ways of the white male. I even had to ask one of my co-workers with a Latino last name, “Are you a Latino in Tech?” because he fit in so well with the good-old-boys network. But many more do not fit in, and Latinas definitely stand out. Women are disproportionately represented in tech, showing up as only 15-18% of the tech workforce in most companies. Latinas were only 1% of the tech workforce in 2012, according to NCWIT. The underrepresented of the underrepresented.

Also, in case you aren’t following American politics, the Latinx community is being viciously targeted by one of the presidential candidates, creating a devastating culture of fear. I had been doing my best to ignore this candidate…until I went to get my hair cut.

My hairdresser, Maria, has lived in town for 20 years. She immigrated from Spain. Her kids went to school here. When they started, she didn’t speak English. She learned quickly. She started a business. She is well-known and respected in town. And, she is afraid.

Recently, Maria’s business was “inspected” by a rough-talking, intimidating man who was clear he didn’t trust or respect her. He told her to make a phone call about some missing paperwork, and the woman who answered the phone called her “an illegal.” Maria is afraid that any day (especially if that candidate wins the election), the “authorities” can march in and take her away, no questions asked. I wanted to tell her that couldn’t happen. I realized I couldn’t be sure. It has in the past (yes, in this country, not just in Germany) and it could in the future. Which makes me afraid.

What can I do about it?

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White House LGBTQ Tech & Innovation Briefing (photo credit: Marisa Erin Photography)

Representation, Unity, and Proximity

Representation matters. The same week that I had both of these conversations (plus that mirror conversation with myself), I listened to Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez on Sooo Many White Guys with Phoebe Robinson. Rodriguez talked about how, as a kid, she never saw Latino/as on TV, and actually asked her mom, “When did Puerto Ricans come about?” Now Rodriguez is consciously representing on TV, accepting positive lead roles and turning down roles that negatively stereotype Latinas. I don’t have access to TV producers, but I can personally focus on shining a light on Latinxs in Tech in my community.

Unity matters. Blacks in Tech are 2%. Latinxs in Tech are 1%. It makes sense for Blacks and Latinxs to join forces, and to join with women and LGBTQs in tech. Not all issues overlap, certainly, but enough do that if we solve for inclusion and equity in one group, we’re solving for the other. We are stronger together, and I can work to bridge the groups I work with.

Proximity matters. It’s time for me to diversify my feed: to start following, learning from, and building authentic personal relationships with Latinxs. As a start, I met CJ Joulain, Chelsea Noriega, and Manuel Diaz at the White House LGBTQ Tech & Innovation Summit last month (where 50% of the attendees where people of color, thanks to Leanne Pittsford, my role model, who is seriously intentional about inclusion). I hope to build on those connections, learn more, and someday be an accomplice for the Latinx community.

If you are like me, hanging way outside on the fringes of the Latinx community, take a step in – create space in your community for Latinxs to shine, join forces with Latinx groups, and diversify your feed. Let’s do this, together.

*I’m using Latinx to be inclusive of all genders.


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