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PDX Women in Tech survey on work inside tech firms exposes fault lines along race and sex

COURTESY: PDXWIT - The survey's word cloud showed what types of harrassment at work were reported, bigger font being more common.

The Urban Dictionary defines cis as "Short for 'cisgender' (opposite of 'transgender'), used to describe someone whose gender identity matches their anatomical gender at birth.

And Portland's cis white males think they're so woke.

That's one of the findings of the PDX Women in Technology annual survey, where they asked people in tech companies how things were at work.

One survey question resulted in the following stat:

White (63%) individuals are far more likely than black, indigenous and people of color (30%) to recommend underrepresented folks to work at their company.

This looks like it could mean that a majority of white people are more generous with creating access to minorities than minorities themselves are. However, Megan Bigelow, founder and president of PDXWIT, told the Business Tribune it's the opposite. White men and women make up 75% of tech jobs, and because they feel welcome, they assume everyone else does.

"You don't recognize that that might not translate to someone else," said Bigelow. "You would be like, 'It's super inclusive here, it's super diverse.' But maybe my definition of diverse is different? If you look at the people who are black, indigenous and people of color, they're far less likely to do the same thing."

Rather than minorities saying to other minorities, 'Don't apply here because we have the few jobs that are available,' it's more a case of 'Don't apply here, it's not as friendly as they make out.'

"It's really a matter of 'This is not a place I would recommend someone to come and work,'" explained Bigelow. She says most diversity and inclusion programs are flawed.

COURTESY: PDXWIT - Megan Bigelow, founder and president of PDX Women in Tech, says this year's survey shows that D&I  in tech firms needs to be led from the top down.


The survey rubric points out the difference between articulated culture (what the firm says it does) and its experienced culture (how it really feels to the staff who work there).

"Despite tech companies reaching a fever pitch of endorsement of diversity and inclusion, broadly speaking, survey respondents feel the actual progress is tepid.

Diversity and inclusion is now just called D&I.

Founded in 2012, PDXWIT now has 5,000 members, three staffers and 100 volunteers. It focuses on networking events and mentoring.

At 5,200 responses, the survey drew six times the number of responses as a year ago. That suggests the anonymous format appeals across the board: no one is getting shamed for their responses. The survey also was open to people outside of Portland this year.

Bigelow said it spread through work messaging channels such as Slack.

"Every company has their own Slack or something like that, and you start sharing it there. And that reaches several hundred people, maybe thousands of people, and then they pull it out and put it somewhere else. So that's how it gets to be national." It's one way that remote workers feel connected to office life.

The survey also included more questions about identity. The goal was to "Expand the racial, ethnicity, gender and LGBTQ demographic questions," and "Layer in questions that identify experiences related to bigotry and racism."

Some statistics are very surprising. For example, "Cis-gender individuals (41%) feel as though their ideas are ignored, overlooked or unattributed, almost triple the amount of trans and/or gender non-confirming individuals who feel that way (13%)."

PMG: JONATHAN HOUSE - Megan Bigelow, founder and president of PDX Women in Tech, says this year's survey shows that D&I in tech firms needs to be led from the top down.


When it comes to harassment, peers are worse than bosses.

Of respondents who have experienced harassment, the leading perpetrators (most to least likely) include: peers, supervisors/managers, executives, and potential or current customer/clients.

One power dynamic predictably comes into play around money: Of those who responded, posed with the question "If you found out you were underpaid relative to your coworkers, would you ask for a raise?" trans and/or gender non-confirming individuals (21%) and black, indigenous and people of color individuals (19%) said they wouldn't out of fear of retaliation.

That is, people who already feel like they are marginal do not want to rock the boat when it comes to money.

Questions included examples of ways in which women had been discriminated at work. For example, had gendered language made them feel excluded, or had they been asked to order lunches or serve administrative roles that weren't part of their jobs?

Getting a job is one thing for a minority. Getting funded is even harder. "If you're looking at venture capital numbers, I think women getting funding is 10%, maybe 15%. But people of color? Less than 2%."

"People see gender equality and equity as distinct from racial equity. And we don't. You can't have one without the other. Because if you're talking about feminism, I would say that the majority of what you're going to hear and see would be considered white feminism. That essentially erases the experience of any woman that isn't white."

This has been going on for years.

"What we are endeavoring to do is make it very clear that these things are related. And then we cannot just solely focus on women, because especially when you're talking about Portland, and even outside of Portland, even in the United States, typically when you hear diversity, they're talking about women. And when they say women, they mean white women."

COURTESY: PDXWIT - The survey also showed many are skeptical about official company pronouncements.

Tech companies "give themselves credit when they focus on the numbers of women."

The survey has some choice quotes from Latinx people:

"The sense that now that I'm here (queer Latina) our team as a whole is 'diverse' and our work there is done. I sometimes feel tokenized or like others are using me as a shield."

And from gender non-conforming people: "Stop making the trans narrative about single topics, bathrooms, pronouns, health care. We are people first, not a topic."

The responses are qualitative, so it is fitting that a word cloud is used to answer the question:

What form(s) of harassment have you experienced at work in the last 12 months?

The biggest (most popular) words in the cloud are Gender, Age, Inappropriate Sexual Discussion and Physical Appearance.

Only three in 10 respondents reported harassment in their workplace, and of those, three in 10 experienced retaliation afterward.

More than 20 Portland companies have officially pledged to increase diversity in staff. PDX Women in Tech recently hired its first executive director, Elizabeth Stock, a white woman who was favored for her 10 years of experience in non-profits. Bigelow says PDXWIT did its own soul searching and is now trying harder to be equitable.

COURTESY: PDXWIT - The survey also showed many are concerned about how fair their salaries are.


"People who are within the category of black, indigenous and from the Latinx community, they are the least paid on the dollar. We're talking about 52 cents on the dollar. If you look at national data, relative to white women, which can range from 70 to 80 cents on the dollar. The lowest paid people, from a national perspective, are also the people that are the most likely to fear retaliation."

This is structural racism.

"That creates this cycle that you can't really break out. If this if how the structures are set up, that you're underpaid, you can't bring it up, because then you'll just be either demoted or forced out. You're never going to get to a place where people are actually paid equitably."

Bigelow is frank about herself. She has had access to education, is part of a long line of Americans who have had privilege through the government, is currently middle class, a white cis woman, and heterosexual.

"So, I have to undo that thinking, and re-center myself in order to have meaningful conversations about how to fix these things.

"I think it's really important for somebody like me to be very clear about my own personal journey through this. I wouldn't have been talking about it like this last year. I didn't even know. Our survey last year was on very binary traditional gender norms. This is the first time that we really kind of cut it up in a way that would surface this kind of information. It is a journey. People who are in positions of power, are there for a number of reasons. And there's nothing wrong with them being there. But that there's a really important acknowledgement of what allows to happen. And you have to undo the damage that you have done by just being complicit in it."

Until now, the marginalized people are asked to do the work.

"They have to do work every single day, when they walk outside and face micro-aggressions. You wouldn't want to ask them to do more."

It should be the people at the top of the org chart, who are usually cis white males.

"So, we're making it a personal like, 'I have a personal responsibility in our leadership, and we're educating people that if you happen to be a part of the majority population, which I am, my job is to educate other people who are in that majority population."

And that is the point of the survey.

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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