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Jenn Cartossa

Published at 11.06.2024

Company Culture

Building an Inclusive Tech Team

Building an Inclusive Tech Team & Guiding Underrepresented Talent

The tech industry is celebrated for its innovation and rapid evolution, yet it still faces significant challenges when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Particularly for LGBTQIA+ individuals and other underrepresented groups, the path into tech can seem daunting. Let’s look into actionable strategies that can help make the tech landscape more welcoming and supportive for everyone.

For LGBTQIA+ individuals and other underrepresented talents considering a career in tech, this post aims to be a beacon of encouragement and guidance. Whether you're just starting out or looking to pivot into a tech career, it offers practical advice and inspiration to help you navigate and succeed in this dynamic field straight from the mind of one of our very own developers with a passion for championing diversity.

We unpack these themes below with Jenn Cartossa, platform engineer at anynines, who aims not only to inspire action but also foster an inclusive, innovative, and equitable tech industry.

Q: How do you think the tech industry can become more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ people and other underrepresented groups?

Jenn: “There are a few things I’d like to see the tech industry do to become more inclusive. The first is shifting what skills we value in tech. I’ve often been the person in the room shaping ideas early on – I notice when an idea doesn’t align with our customers’ needs, see problems in the design process, and identify weird edge cases. However, none of these skills add up to me looking like a heads-down developer in a hoodie churning out code. I’ll never look like this version of a developer. Not only is it not who I am, but it’s also founded on the identity of a straight white man. The skills valued in developers are based on this image, and although I prevent bugs from ever happening, the tech industry doesn’t have a way of rewarding or even identifying these skills. It’s much easier to quantify the number of issues that someone fixes than the number of issues they prevent in the first place. Throughout my career, I’ve both had managers who found ways to prove my value, and others who just didn’t understand the skills I bring to the table. What a developer looks like has already changed, and the tech industry needs to catch up and start valuing a broader set of skills."

"I’d also like to see companies create more job opportunities specifically for LGBT+ people and other minorities. It’s much more challenging to teach leadership skills than technical skills, and I say this as someone who has done a lot of mentoring. Companies should create positions for people who already have leadership skills and want to develop tech skills. I hear from a lot of companies that they want more diversity in their work force. But I also hear “but there’s no diverse people in the industry, oh well”. Let’s challenge this mindset and get more diverse people in the industry, and let’s do it now. There are many LGBT+ people who have been denied opportunities because of who they are. Companies could create opportunities specifically for people that have been phased out of the industry in the past. I know I’d be happy to teach folks tech skills on the job, and I know this can work. How do I know? This is my story. I didn’t have any technical skills until a company took a chance on me. I learned how to be a developer on the job and happily I’ve had a successful career. All because they were struggling to hire developers and decided to train new talent."

"Lastly, the tech industry as a whole needs to become more inclusive–companies must make efforts to develop employees’ skills in diversity. Every company I’ve worked for encourages developers to invest in technical skill development; devs should also invest in their understanding of diversity and inclusion. It’s the only way to retain diverse individuals, and retention should be everyone’s goal. It’s been shown that companies with a more diverse workforce make more money (source and source). The investment in diversity and inclusion pays off. People around me having awareness of diversity makes a huge difference in my experience. One of the greatest challenges of being queer is that I have to constantly remind people. I’ve heard this phenomenon called a “constant coming out” and it definitely feels this way. It’s a regular occurrence that I have to manage someone else’s discomfort when I remind them again that my partner isn’t a man. Companies need to spend money on diversity training and make inclusion a pillar of their work environment instead of an afterthought.”

Q: What advice would you give to LGBTQIA+ and other underrepresented groups considering a career in tech? (Offering advice can be empowering and valuable guidance to the next gen of women in tech.)

Jenn: “The biggest piece of advice I can give is to build a network. I have been saved time and time again by being able to talk about professional problems with people who understand. Is it discrimination or is it a legitimate concern? They help me get perspective on this question. My network also helps me learn and develop skills because we as minorities need different skills to advance in our careers. We need these different skills not because we can’t do the work but because of the biases that exist in the field that we need to navigate. Use this network to get queer mentors, even if they aren’t in the exact same job family as you. I’m a developer and I’ve had mentors who are managers, Q&A testers, and solutions architects. I learned from each and every one of them. Also get a mentor who is in the role you’re trying to get promoted to. If you can find both in one person, even better. My network is my safe place, where I can vent my frustrations and be understood, and my source of strength. Don’t underestimate it."

"Use your strengths to make up for your weaknesses. Early on in my career, I struggled to get my ideas accepted within the team. As a result, I started asking people in my network to review my proposals before I presented them to my team. They helped me edit my designs and shape them, and suddenly my ideas started getting implemented more and more. My weakness was how I was communicating with the team, and my strength was the network I developed. There’s no shame in leveraging a strength to overcome a weakness. There’s power in identifying what you need help with and asking for support in that area. No one is strong in every area, so stop trying to be. You’ll see more gains in your career if you develop the areas you’re strong in, as long as you use those strengths to pick up the slack in your areas of weakness. People who aren’t minorities already do this, the difference is that they have the confidence to advocate for themselves and they’ve been told their whole lives that they deserve everything. We’ve been told our whole lives that there’s something wrong with us and we should go hide in the corner. Don’t."

"Interview companies about their diversity initiatives. When I was younger, I didn’t take advantage of the interview process and ended up in jobs that didn’t value inclusion. Now, I ask every company I interview with about what they do to promote diversity. Most places say they have individuals from a variety of countries and that diversity is important to them! That’s not enough. I always ask them to provide specific examples of their diversity initiatives within the company because the only way to create an inclusive culture is to work for it. If the company really cares about diversity and inclusion, they’ll have information about what their initiatives are and the diversity within the workforce."

"My last piece of advice is to trust your coworkers and let them in on your experience. Maybe not the person who talks down to you, but the others. So many of my coworkers have risen to meet me, and it’s rewarding to have the people around me make efforts to include me. In some of my past teams, my coworkers started going with me to diversity conferences, asking questions about any lack of inclusion in the team, and leading conversations about diversity. I didn’t have to carry the torch alone. I found people who helped me get my voice heard. They advocated for me and asked questions when I said things that other people couldn’t understand. Instead of assuming that I was confused, they started noticing that I was saying something unique, and they helped me bridge the gap to others who didn’t yet understand. When I started trusting my teams and spoke openly and vulnerably, they responded in kind. For a long time I hid my truth at work because I was afraid of not being accepted as a queer person. But when I started sharing who I am, other people also started opening up about unique parts of themselves. It changed the entire dynamic of the team at work and my team became a place that I felt not just tolerated but accepted as my whole self.”

All in all, fostering an inclusive environment in the tech industry is not just a moral imperative but a strategic one. By embracing diversity and actively supporting underrepresented talent, companies and organizations can better access innovative potential and drive greater success. To the LGBTQIA+ community and other underrepresented groups—remember that your unique perspectives are invaluable assets to the technological landscape. As we continue to challenge the status quo and push for inclusive practices, let’s work together to build a tech industry that reflects the diversity of the world it serves. Embrace your journey in tech with confidence, knowing that your contributions can and will make a difference!

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