Category: blog

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Relief from relieving stress

Backstory

I’ve been at Pinterest just over 4 months and 2 months ago I sent out this email to all the women in my new workplace.

I was torn about whether to write this or not when I first joined Pinterest but today I need to say something because I just had someone be scared to come out of their stall when they saw me  washing my hands. I’m not a fan of scaring people so here’s what I probably should have sent 2 months ago:

Hi!  My name is Lukas and I’m a masculine woman (genderqueer/butch) and I use women‘s washrooms when there is not a unisex or gender-neutral option available.

It’s not easy to use a women‘s washroom when you’re constantly afraid of scaring/confusing/angering someone and so I’m hoping that letting you know about me will help decrease the likelihood of this happening when we happen to run into each other in that space.

That email generated 65 replies – all positive – from women throughout the company.  I was blown away by the kind (and often hilarious) responses from my co-workers regarding an issue that has been a lifelong struggle. It also helped lessen (though not eliminate) much of the stress around using the women’s bathroom, which was the point.

Queer/outsider coping skills vs. Taking risks

At least for this (white, able-bodied, class-jumping) queer, the way to get by as someone who doesn’t conform to gender norms has been to lock down with a group of people where I feel seen.  This has been the case at every paid gig I’ve ever had.  Get foot in the door, find ways to connect with co-workers, create a tight-knit cabal of ‘my people’, and then hang in there.  However I have some kind of restlessness gene and so I’m always trying to push myself to get more out of life than hiding in a particular group. I’m petrified of ‘groupthink’. I crave more experiences, learning, and opportunities to develop increased skills & resources that I can bring back to my communities to lift others.  I’m constantly pushing myself out of the nest every time I start feeling comfortable.  Examples include going back at 30 years of age to do a 4 year degree in Software Development with 19/20 year olds,  moving to San Francisco to work in tech with a majority of young men while leaving behind my Toronto community of queers & artists, and moving away from Mozilla where I had spent 8 years establishing myself as a contributor in many areas of the project to work at Pinterest where I knew just two people.  Those are just recent examples. If I dug further back, I know the pattern would still hold.

Pinterest has a commitment to diversity

Every tech company is chasing its tail right now to prove how committed they are to “Diversity”.  Head of Diversity positions are abounding in the want ads, articles and data every day espouse how each company is going to try and take on this hard problem (hint, it’s not as hard when it’s authentically driven).

Pinterest has made statements and posted goals. They also have done things that show their commitment including Unconscious Bias training for everyone, changing interview methods (laptop instead of whiteboard for coding in interviews), creating measurable standards for what our culture fit interviews should be checking for so that we aren’t unconsciously moving the goal posts or building a homogenous environment.

On top of these ever-improving system-wide changes, in our new building down the street there are going to be gender neutral washrooms.  I noticed this on the plans when we had a launch party and asked the Workplace team about it.  They confirmed, yes, we would.  I was excited and pleased to think that in 2016 I’ll be in that building and able to relax a bit about a thing that so many people do without a second though several times a day, and take for granted.  It’s not something you can understand if you’ve never felt it but the best I can explain it is like you’re getting the side-eye from people you want to feel on the same team with and while you’ve built up the “thick skin” to handle 100 instances of being on edge, the 101th time in a week, it wrecks your day.  That sucks for productivity, for team-building, and it’s one of the millions of paper cuts that can build up into feeling you’re in a ‘toxic’ workplace that doesn’t try to openly and honestly tackle true diversity.  The objective of working on increased diversity in workplaces isn’t only to end up with a pretty-looking set of numbers for large umbrella groups, it’s also to take on tiny things that quietly shift the status quo by making it possible for more people to have less friction in their workday.

Yesterday Pinterest’s Workplace team sent out a note regarding our current building:

The 1st floor women’s restroom has now been converted to a unisex restroom and is now in service ready for use! Thanks for your patience during construction.

They might as well have said: From now on, Lukas will be 150% more productive because  she’ll always be able to comfortably go to the bathroom.

Thank you, Workplace:

brad_thanks_you

p.s. Don’t worry, I’m not so comfortable that I’m ready to leave this nest :)

About to do some major learning

Tomorrow morning the first ever Ascend Project kicks off in Portland, OR.  I just completed a month-long vacation where we drove from San Francisco out to the Georgian Bay, Ontario (with a few stops along the way including playing hockey in the Cleveland Gay Games) and back again through the top of the US until we arrived here in Portland.  I’m staying in this city for 6 weeks, will be going in to the office *every* day, and doing everything I can to guide & mentor 20 people in their learning on becoming open source contributors.

Going to do my best to write about the experience as this one is all about learning what works and what doesn’t in order to iterate and improve the next pilot which will take place in New Orleans in 2015. It’s been almost a year since I first proposed this plan and got the OK to go for it.  See http://ascendproject.org for posts on the process so far and for updates by the participants.

Take on the harder problem, Google

This just in:

Girls love to make bracelets, right?
Girls love to make bracelets, right?

Google, who recently announced their very disappointing statistics for diversity within their company are trying to remedy that with a $50 million dollar initiative targeting the usual suspects:  Girls.

This is not just me pointing fingers at Google.  I am actively working to create a program that targets adults and supports them getting deeply involved in tech without blinders to the realities of that environment as it stands now.

They have $50M to put into this? Great.  They should, however, have enough brains in their organization to KNOW that ‘fixing’ the issues of lack of women in tech is demonstrably not done by just getting to more girls. Loss of women in tech happens with drop offs during CS courses & majors in college and then also out in the tech workforce because it’s a toxic and imbalanced place for them to spend their time and energy.

All this money thrown at adorable girls, creating projects for them will not help if they are being set up just to go into that existing environment. While we should do outreach and attempt to build educational parity for girls (but more importantly kids of color, kids living in poverty) so that there is exposure and understanding of the technology the REAL problem to solve is how to get adult women (and other underrepresented people) re-trained, supported and encouraged to take on roles in technology NOW.

While we’re at it, stop acting like only a CS degree is what makes someone a valuable asset on tech (pro-tip: many people working in tech came to it via liberal arts degrees). Make the current adult tech world a welcoming place for everyone – then you can send in the next generation and so on without losing them in the leaky pipeline a few years in.