Written by Chela White-Ramsey + Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
I came into tech by accident.
As an academic with a Ph.D. in Human Resource Development, one of my research interests lies in corporate training effectiveness. During my mid-graduate school job hunt, I happened upon a Technical Trainer position with the county IT department. I applied, received an offer, and before I knew it, was considered a “woman in tech.”
Working in a male-dominated industry has been challenging.
Because I’m not actually “tech” through-and-through, I’ve dealt with occasional condescension upon asking questions and trying to learn new concepts as I grow in the field. Add to that that I’m a Black woman and the only Black person in my particular work group, and you're met with a whole host of complications and communication missteps.
No one looks me in the eye when they speak to me, but my hair is a constant source of intrigue.
I’m not included in conversations about program development and system applications, but if something extra Black was on the news the night before, I’m everyone’s go-to.
Colleagues don’t offer to help me learn concepts, but if I make a mistake it’s a small tragedy.
I go through my days alternating between feeling like a piece of furniture, or the elephant in a very small room. Is it possible to feel both invisible and hyper-visible at the same damn time?
Intersectional invisibility, a term coined by Valerie Purdie-Vaughns and Richard Eibach (2008), is when people who have multiple subordinate-group identities (i.e., a queer, black woman) struggle to be recognized or represented because they don’t fit into a specific category (i.e., black OR queer OR a woman). It is human nature to compartmentalize identities and attempt to relate to people on the basis of shared similarities. For me, not sharing the technical background with my colleagues is challenging, and not being able to bond on the basis of shared physical characteristics doesn’t help.
I’ll expand on the intersectional invisibility definition with an addendum about hypervisibility. Oftentimes, differences are perceived as deviant, and as such, are subject to more scrutiny than they would be otherwise. Take for instance a study done by Cavounidis and Lang (2015), that shows that Black workers are more heavily scrutinized in the workplace, and because of it, are more likely to face reprimand for errors, regardless of how minimal the damage is. Black workers are thought to be less skilled because their work is so heavily dissected and monitored that they are more likely to be caught slipping. They are hypervisible in the workplace.
So where does that leave those of us in the tech industry who feel we can’t be our whole selves in the presence of our colleagues? It leaves us left to find our tribes and create our own industry-specific support spaces – be it online or in-person – where we can be ourselves. It leaves us to hone in and refine our own skills by speaking up to leaders in organizations for professional development opportunities. It leaves us to embrace our current situations and work to introduce our industry to younger generations of girls and other children of color.
Since joining this industry and doing this work, I’ve become a member of an organization that is dedicated to cultivating a community of women in the tech sector. Through this, I’ve volunteered with organizations that promote STEM occupations and interests toward minority children. These things make me feel like I’m contributing to something beyond myself, and making it easier for me to deal with the complications that arise from being an “other” in my workgroup. To those in similar situations who might internalize those feelings of (hyper)(in)visibility, I offer you this:
Take matters into your own hands, and create the industry that you want to see.
Chela is a womanist who lives, thinks, and breathes all Black-girl everything. She proudly serves as an advocate for underrepresented groups - using her role as an independent career consultant and freelancer to empower others to develop professionally and personally. She also teaches the technologically challenged in her role as a tech trainer.
She holds a Ph.D. in Human Resource Development from Louisiana State University, and her research interests include work-life balance, women in technology, diversity at work, and training effectiveness. A Louisiana native, Chela keeps it weird in Austin, TX with her husband, Will. She rants and raves @DrWhiteRamsey; she writes at chelawrites.com
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