Above: Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians Who Tech.
Hundreds of LGBTQ people, mostly women, flock to this event every year. No, it’s not the Dinah Shore; I’m referring to Lesbians Who Tech’s (LWT) annual summit in New York City, an event hosted by the world’s largest network of its kind for LGBTQ professionals and their allies. At 50,000 members and counting, LWT is a vital resource for LGBTQ women, people of color, and otherwise marginalized folks in a technical field that’s largely male-dominated even today.
Below, find five golden nuggets I took away from my first LWT summit experience.
Inclusive spaces aren’t created by accident
Plenty of “LGBTQ-centric” spaces are actually designed with cisgender white gay men in mind. LWT seeks to change that, and not just in theory, either. This year, some 64% of the summit’s speakers—after receiving speaking applications from mostly white queer women, mind you—are LGBTQ people of color, mostly Latinx, some black.
This type of inclusion requires intentional actions on behalf of event organizers, programmers, and panel moderators. Calling for diversity within LGBTQ spaces is important, sure, but deliberately seeking out queer people of color to serve as industry experts, mentors, and speakers—a.k.a. putting your time, energy, and money where your mouth is—actually effects change.
Your heroes? They’re wrestling with prejudice and insecurity just as much as you are.
Heard of Roxane Gay? Of course you have. She’s an incredibly accomplished writer, editor, and creator, and her books like Hunger and Difficult Women have become key works in the canon of contemporary feminist literature. But even living legends like Gay still struggle with insecurity and the lingering effects of being a queer woman—doubly so as a black queer woman, and triply so as a fat, black queer woman—in a heteronormative world.
“I say ’yes’ to everything,” Gay joked during the summit’s morning fireside chat. And when her partner Debbie Millman, who was interviewing her onstage, asked her to elaborate, Gay had this to say: “For all of us who are marginalized, we feel like we have to say ’yes’ to every opportunity that comes our way because every opportunity could be our last.”
Diversity at work is crucially important, at the top of the career ladder…
We all know having diverse employees in the workplace matters, especially in 2019, when the future of nondiscrimination protections for many marginalized Americans feel precarious. But Leanne Pittsford, founder and CEO of LWT, believes representation in leadership roles—managers, directors, even VPs and SVPs—is uniquely important, particularly when hiring managers attempt to recruit more diverse workers.
“Having strong queer representation on your teams—that’s what happens when you have strong queer leadership at the top,” Pittsford explains to NewNowNext. “You’re not going to attract [junior employees] unless their community is already reflected above them. You have to build that trust.”
…and in more junior positions, too.
Pittsford in 2017.
2019 marked Pittsford and her team’s fifth year organizing and hosting LWT summits in NYC and San Francisco. But the glaring gender inequity she first observed in tech is only just starting to shift, she says: “We’re still really siloed in our community. A lot of people at our summits are the only woman, only black woman, in their workplace. Especially within a technical team, you can easily be the ’only.’”
For LGBTQ professionals in more progressive or creative fields, where diversity is more commonly prioritized or celebrated, it’s easy to lose touch with just how othering being the “only” anything in a workplace is. Pittsford adds that this phenomenon is especially true outside of major metropolitan tech hubs like San Francisco and NYC. That’s why peer mentorship and financial support through programs like LWT’s Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship are crucial.
“A lot of people around the country are learning how to code remotely because of that,” she notes. “That’s what the most powerful thing for me is about tech…You can learn to code in three months and triple your salary.”
Being “#WokeAF” is an ongoing practice, not a final status you can reach
Danielle Moodie-Mills (L) with wife Aisha Moodie-Mills (R).
Even the brightest, most well-informed among us always stand to learn something new and expand our consciousness. Don’t take it from me. Take it from Danielle Moodie-Mills, political analyst and host of SiriusXM Progress’ #WokeAF radio show.
Speaking to LWT attendees, Moodie-Mills, who also emceed the NYC summit, got real about how she makes a deliberate, ongoing effort to consider her positionality, examine areas where she has privilege, and channel what power she does have into spurring progressive change. She had the perfect analogy, too: “Being woke is something that you practice on a day-to-day basis, like yoga.”