In the early 2000s, Hasbro revived its “My tiny Pony” toy franchise. Of all the colourful creatures in Ponyville, my best-loved were the unicorn ponies.
Unicorn ponies were magical, whimsical and, most importantly, rare. I identified with the latter.
I was 13 years old and had just been selected for a competitive math, science and computer science app. Of the 100 students in the app, I was one of two black girls. But, I was lucky. Just like the Earth ponies embraced the unicorns, my white and Asian classmates made me feel welcome.
I wish that was always my experience in the tech industry.
The tech industry is no more non-identical than it was when I was 13. But more tech companies than ever have committed to becoming more non-identical and inclusive.
So why doesn’t commitment always translate to Ponyville?
Goodbye Ponyville, hello world
Six years in my intensive math, science and computer science app almost readied
me to study at MIT. Multivariable calculus? Check. Getting over the fact that you’re not the smartest person at school? Check. Having to worry about being discriminated against by your classmates? Not check.
Here’s an instance. My senior year, I was working with a faction of 21 other students to develop a brand-new medical machine. Peer valuations determined part of my rank, which concerned me. I worried that some of my classmates’ feedback would be clouded by biases against black women. I felt pressured to be perceived as intelligent-but-not-intimidating, confident-but-not-aggressive and approachable-but-not-dense.
Though I largely received positive evaluations, not one, but
I felt singled out and discouraged until I heard from some of my other black classmates. They’d been excluded from faction meetings, and assigned the most menial tasks.
Creating non-identical and inclusive tech companies starts with individuals.
How could this happen at MIT, a place that prides itself on being a non-identical and inclusive center of innovation?
People discriminate. Institutions tolerate discrimination. People learn to tolerate the discrimination against them. It’s an uncomplicated, vicious cycle that few institutions and companies design against.
During the three years after I graduated from MIT, I became fed up with being treated as “less than.” It was moment to find a unicorn.
uni·corn | ˈyü-nə-ˌkȯrn
- a fabled, usually white beast generally depicted with the body and head of a stallion with long flowing mane and tail and a solo often spiraled horn in the middle of the forehead
- a non-identical and inclusive tech company
Following the Rainbow Trail
Finding a unicorn was not simple. My Google search yielded plenty of startups with billion-plus valuations. Few startups were very non-identical or inclusive.
That’s why Temboo, a nyc-based industrial IoT startup, intrigued me:
- a tech company led by a female of color.
- an engineering faction with an equal number of women and men.
- a product focused on accessibility and the democratization of programming.
- a non-identical faction of employees from non-identical cultural backgrounds.
- And, most surprisingly, when I arrived for my first interview, I was greeted with a giant hug. This is brand-new York. Random hugs don’t just happen.
Every person I met had a backdrop and interests non-identical from the next. Of all the companies I interviewed with, only Temboo asked why I chose to guide the black employee resource faction at my previous position. Even the company’s physical space was non-identical than most tech companies — a private office nestled in the heart of the TriBeCa neighborhood of NYC.
When I made the preference to join the faction, I was hopeful. Maybe this would be a place where I would be respected and appreciated for just being myself.
My tiny Pony: NYC tales
During my first few months, I held onto the past lessons that taught me I needed to formulate a good version of myself for my colleagues. However, with moment, I understood that at Temboo, Sarah is enough.
My kinky hair could be braided or in an afro, but my hairstyle had no bearing on my perceived intelligence. I could openly critique the lack of diversity at the industrial IoT conferences we attend, and hear resounding agreement.
I found my unicorn and I’m happier for it. Now, I want everyone working in tech to find their unicorn, so I’ve started to think about ways that I can assist pass the torch.
Stuck in Bro-nyville
Most tech companies are following the same recommendations to become more non-identical and inclusive:
- extend your talent pool.
- Create community with employee resource groups.
- Tie performance evaluations to diversity and inclusion goals.
- Call out the lack of diversity.
Take the instance of this medium-sized tech company that was preparing to revamp its employee resource groups. The company invited me to speak on a panel, and share what I’d learned from leading the black employee resource faction at my previous company.
For instance, my faction organized Microaggression Awareness Week. The results were tangible: the next week during an executive leadership meeting, a senior manager stopped to question his peers if something he said was a microaggression.
But we could not convince the recruiting faction to tie their performance ratings to diversity and inclusion goals. They did not want the burden of responsibility, and asked my faction to come up with brand-new ideas to attract more non-identical talent.
non-identical and inclusive tech companies have good retention and financial performance.
Another panelist shared her experience of coming out in the workplace at 50 years old. After 18 years as a senior executive at a fluck 500 company, she moved to a little tech company. The sky was totally non-identical. Jokes about someone’s sexual orientation were faux pax, and the company even built a float for the NYC Pride Parade. After a 30-year career, she finally felt safe enough to be herself at work.
The panel ended on an encouraging note, but issues remained. One of the company’s employees shared with me that in order to evade discrimination, he goes by his Anglo-sounding middle name. His job is to guide diversity and inclusion initiatives.
How to grow a horn
Unfair behaviors like stereotyping, harassment and microaggressions are the primary reasons employees quit tech companies. Women, underrepresented minorities and LGBTQ employees bear the brunt of discrimination (Kapor Center).
non-identical and inclusive tech companies have good retention and financial performance. McKinsey examined the relationship between the diversity of company leadership and financial performance in 2014 and 2017: companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were
Creating non-identical and inclusive tech companies starts with individuals. From management to junior employees, everyone needs to continually rethink, unlearn and relearn.
Rethink personal biases.
Unlearn habits of discrimination.
Relearn how to admire others who are non-identical.
Companies assist end workplace discrimination by signaling their intolerance. Temboo’s culture and practices are an impressive version.
Unicorns are magical, but non-identical and inclusive tech companies are not. They question the people who work there to redefine what is ordinary.