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The lack of diversity in the tech industry is not new.
And when thinking of underrepresentation, it can be easy to fall into the trap of grouping people with vastly disparate experiences under one umbrella. This isn’t always bad, as sometimes it allows members of different underrepresented groups to uplift others from outside their immediate spheres, but it also runs the risk of flattening those disparate experiences.
As part of the Examining Underrepresentation series, LeadDev brought together a group of Latinx engineering leaders living across the United States to share their experiences in the tech industry, discuss the challenges they face, and how they can use their position to support and uplift their community and folks from marginalized groups.
To open the session, César Puerta, a Senior Staff Engineer at Twitter, gave a presentation about his own experiences navigating engineering leadership at different companies, and across continents and cultures.
After César's presentation, the group split up to discuss their own experiences in the tech industry. As individuals began to talk about what they had been through, it soon became clear that even amongst Latinx engineers, the realities of their experiences and the factors that shaped them are vastly different.
A difference in cultures
An initial distinction was between those who spoke English as a first language, and those who were native speakers of Spanish or Portuguese. One attendee spoke about how they would come home from work with a headache after a day of trying to navigate the language difference, and another mentioned how she would be fearful of speaking up in meetings in case she said the wrong thing.
However, the discussion soon moved beyond language to a point of unity, with the majority of those in attendance agreeing that there was a bigger barrier, and it was one that took them a lot longer to navigate.
In his presentation, César discussed how the style of communication in the U.S. differed from what he was used to. César stated that in many Latinx cultures, communication is high context, and that if something is implied then it is taken as an explicit instruction. Whereas communication in the United States tends to be low context: there is the expectation for meaning to be explicitly carried through words and language. The difference in communication styles could potentially create misunderstandings that reinforce the biases of the tech industry, particularly as this contrast in culture isn’t immediately recognizable.
The attendees discussed both the positives and negatives of being high context in a low context world. Some stated that their aptitude for communication allowed them to be skilled as a mediator, but that this could sometimes result in a person acting as one in an uncomfortable situation that they did not want to be in.
Others mentioned that their effective communication was a key driver in them seeking positions of leadership. While this was a positive for some, others felt that their skills in communication led them to be pushed into roles of management unwillingly, when they may have preferred to remain on an IC track.
The problems surrounding communication that our attendees had were often most apparent at the early stage of their careers. As many of the attendees had now progressed to more senior roles, the discussion soon turned to how their increased influence could be used to help others from underrepresented groups.
One attendee noted that while they were initially enthusiastic to increase outreach to be able to ensure that members of the Latinx community were applying for roles at their organization, they soon realized that this came with a moral dilemma. While they were excited to increase access to opportunities, they wanted to ensure that they weren’t going to subject another Latinx engineer to the difficult experience they had endured.
Although the group agreed with this tension, the discussion that followed highlighted messages of support, with attendees saying that there should not be a fear of bringing folks in. Instead, the increased influence that comes with seniority should be used to drive change in individual companies and the wider tech landscape, cultivating a better environment for those who follow.
The majority of participants also noted that they didn’t have a Latinx mentor when coming into the industry, and spoke about how different their experience would have been if they had been provided with one. They were now excited about the opportunity to mentor other Latinx engineers and create the tech community that they never had. Others mentioned that it wasn’t too late for them to find their own mentors as they continue on their career paths. By expanding their individual networks on LinkedIn and through more specific organizations like Techqueria, they could find both support for themselves, and others to support.
As the discussion drew to a close, participants were invited to share one takeaway from the event. The responses ranged from actions to take back to the office, to a greater understanding of their own experience. One response that stood out was an attendee who wrote ‘Even though it feels like it sometimes, I’m not alone as a Latinx person in tech. We’re all here together to support each other’.
Discussions like this, where folks from an underrepresented group can talk with their peers, allows for a safe space where they can share their experiences and guide each other. Being able to talk through these issues together meant that our Latinx attendees could brainstorm solutions and next steps with their own community in mind.
The participants left the discussion inspired to harness their newfound network to expand their own engineering community. They wanted to uplift their peers and continue sharing their experiences with each other to empower Latinx folks in tech.