A Letter From A Tokenised Black Woman Engineer
A letter from me, 'The Tokenised', to you. 'The Tokeniser'.
How are you?
I hope you are doing well.
There is something I have had on my heart for a long time that I need to share with you. If my words cause offense, you will have to take the time to do some self-reflection to ask yourself why it does & do some independent research. I wanted to write this letter to you because your actions towards me, though what may seem innocent, have played a huge part in my experience in tech so far.. in many negative ways.
What I have experienced is nothing short of common for those that are underrepresented in the tech community. As I am a black woman, I will speak on my black experience. Since entering the tech space in March 2019, I've been called "inspirational" and "admirable"; I've been told that I have "an incredible story". Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful when genuine people say this to me but I hate when people tell me this, they know nothing about me and ask me to do things for them without any payment.
They'll ask me to speak about inclusion and not have a speaker budget, they'll ask me to speak about the Black Lives Matter movement and offer to pay me in exposure, they'll ask to feature me in a newsletter and send me an email with questions to answer & not be willing to pay me for what is essentially content creation. Why did I continue to allow this to happen? Honestly, I felt like I couldn't say "No". I was made to feel that I should be grateful that I had been asked. It's exposure, right? But no! They found my platform, my blog, my award nominations and wins so what exposure can do I need? If anything, my voice is what brings them value. I gain nothing. Actually, I gain mental exhaustion, investing hours after work preparing to contribute to someone else's platform just to be paraded, stress too, actually. They gain the image of an inclusive and diverse environment because of me. I am their token. This has been a pattern amongst many organizations that use black people to perform for them like a puppet on a show and it needs to stop.
Whether be Black History Month, International Women's Day, or Juneteenth, if you are going to contact an underrepresented person within your organization (who is normally your most recent non-white recruit and, highly likely, the most junior), I kindly ask that whoever you reach out to, you offer them a payment or a bonus for this work. Let them know they can say "No" to do this and make them feel safe in saying so. If you are not financially investing in the outside of their contractual obligations, you are contributing to the lack of inclusion within your organization because you are using someone to represent the unhealthy space you are a part of. You are also contributing to the gender pay gap because, like a lot of organizations, underrepresented people in tech are in junior roles and their salaries are never increased fairly or as frequently as their male counterparts. On top of this, is the black pay gap. I'll leave you to look into that because that, in itself, is an exhaust. frustrating topic.
Whether people are attending your event for free or paying to attend, make a speaker budget available and stop parading us to make your very-white companies look inclusive. After all, if you do manage to attract someone black to work for your organization and they walk in on their first day and they literally represent "diversity" in your organization, you'll only lose them in less than a year so it would defeat the purpose. Changes require money. Put your money where your mouth and make the right investments to make the changes right and real. Tokenising just highlights that the working environment in your company is the opposite of diverse & anything but inclusive. I'm an underpaid, multi-award-winning Engineer, blogger, speaker, and YouTuber. I have spoken at global companies. I have interviewed for many podcasts and featured in major newspaper publications. Stop using me to hide your problems and pay me to help make a difference. Stop contributing to the gender and black pay gaps, stop being so performative, and be genuine.
To conclude, every black person in your organizations and to those that are outside of your organizations that have a platform in the DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] space, have a speaker budget before you approach us. Pay us what we ask for, don't approach us to give you our time, time that we use to work in our full-time jobs, by the way, to work for you for free. Pay us what we know we're worth or don't approach us at all.
Thank you for reading.
I hope you learned something from yet another exhausting experience as a black, neurodivergent woman in tech.