Often times working in tech has seemed like I stumbled into a boarding school for white boys with the odd tyrannical headmaster. But it wasn’t always so.
I left Nigeria in my early twenties to pursue a dream of becoming a holistic designer in the UK. All I wanted to do was apply my skills for the benefit of mankind. I did not think there would be other things to consider other than doing my work well. I also never planned to work in the UK, much less work in technology.
So when I finished with design school and began working, believing the system was at least 80% meritocratic, I threw myself into it.
I discovered systematic racism and sexism at the same time I discovered the realities of work in the UK and my struggle with anxiety disorders.
It started with simple statements, the admission of my boss that a man had applied for my role demanding double my salary, the audacity, I had thought. (In my next role I asked for double my previous salary and got it). To another boss telling me in very clear terms that he couldn’t give me more responsibility when I asked for it because it was not expected. They also seemed to think my work was great but thought I needed to be more social, which meant I had to show up at the pub at least 3 times every week. I got to learn that cultural fit generally meant you had to fit in the pub.
The reality was, I was a minority of minorities, a woman, black, Nigerian, expat “Your accent might make people think you are backward” someone told me recently. Still, I’ve managed to find work but I never understood I had to work 4-6 times as hard as a white man with the same qualifications and experience ( I never did this extra work though lol).
Now, I find that it’s easy for me to recognise sexism, because I’ve always been a woman, but I haven’t always been black.
In my last permanent role where I was chastised for wearing headphones and my white male colleagues weren’t amongst other nonsense, I experienced my first clear cut racist experience and sought legal advice advice afterwards. Once, I was sat in a room with a team of 8, working, and one of them makes a statement “Africans do this terrible XYZ thing”, being one who is unable to shut up when I see things that are wrong and the only African, I told him to be careful of his statements. He had asked the silly question of whether I spoke African some days before this, which I shrugged off. It certainly didn’t make me popular and I resigned shortly after.
Having learned all this, I began to see how much of a distraction racism, sexism and most -isms are. I talked to some other black women and their stories made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this but also made me want to help others much more. These points below helped me navigate the workplace and I hope it helps too.
Faith – You need to believe in something greater than yourself. You cannot place your core identity in something that changes like a job or career, it will kill you. Your core identity which is where you will draw strength from especially in times of hardship must be in something that is unchangeable and unshakable and that’s only God. That I am loved no matter beyond measure is enough for me.
Do the Work – Keep your head down, hone your skills and do your work, please see Serena Williams as reference. I cannot stress the importance of this, please don’t get distracted, the technology industry changes very fast, keep your skills up to date and just keep moving.
- Find a mentor
- Find a support system
- Learn to speak up
It is important that we don’t set limits for ourselves, because only then can we rise and start to affect change from positions of influence. We need to love our enemies like Jesus said, seek allies and support from anyone genuinely willing to help.
I wrote this piece in 2015 ( can’t remember why I didn’t post it) although I’m no longer ‘active’ in the tech space, I’m sad that we are still facing these issues but glad that some change has happened along the way. It’s good to see more brown folk in tech, diversity schemes all over the place, lots of conversations and people really pushing forward (Well done to all who do the work!)
I’ve taken my skills elsewhere and I am discovering more things I love to do along the way, like nannying!. I still do not tolerate hate/injustice and will continue to speak up about and delight in what is true.