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Margaret Roth By Margaret Roth • March 19, 2015

Being a Supportive Ally to Women and Minorities in Tech


By Margaret Roth

As a company founded by two women and a man and comprised of a team with a nearly equal gender ratio, we're not shy about discussing gender, boundaries, and other issues of diversity that challenge not only ourselves on a daily basis but the tech industry across the board. 

That's why we're proud to share that our CTO Jason Lewis participated in a panel last night directly addressing and sharing his experience working to support not only our team, but other women and minorities in tech. 

 Interviewed by Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, co-founder and CEO of Fizzmint and Hack the PeopleJason, along with Dan Savage, an enterprise sales account executive based out of Seattle, and Paul Watts, founding partner at Jolt Labs and board member at Seattle Women in Tech and Hack the People, shared their experiences and advice for supporting people who are part of underserved and underrepresented communities within tech. Each of these men actively work "behind the scenes" to support women in tech and are committed to providing better opportunities for all of us. 

Below you'll find a collection of paraphrased quotes from each of the panelists in response to Tarah's questions. Or if you have some time, watch the whole video of the live stream


TV - "Here's what it's like to be somebody who is a really great ally to people in tech?"
"Why do you stay behind the scenes to support women and minorities in tech quietly? Why don't you make more noise?"

JL - "I think that one of the problems we've seen and that has gotten some press recently are men who put themselves ahead of women in the cause of speaking out on women's issues in tech. Being an ally is about being the support and not the lead. There is sometimes a selfish reason for sometimes not being more visible or vocal, sometimes even offering an opinion is putting a big target on your back." 

DS - "Sometimes you step out and people attack you, there are the far extremes on both sides who will be trolling each other, but from my perspective, it feels like my best position is to be the support and make it about the helping the person." 

TV - "One of the reason's I have specifically Paul and Jason is that they have both written blog posts, Jason wrote a really amazing thoughtful and critical blog post on LadyCoders. Do you ever back away from standing up for women in tech because you are afraid of saying the wrong thing? For fear there is no reasonable people behind the discussion?"

JL - "I blog and tweet less and less about these issues, because it feels like the loudest voices in the room are the least reasonable. The signal to noise ratio at least over the past year or so has been a little rough. The last time I blogged about this space was over DongleGate, which was over a year now. I had to change the comment policy on my blog because it got so abusive." "I don't go looking for opportunities the way I had at one point."

PW - "I don't really engage with people on twitter unless it's with friends. The level of vitriol has gotten ever larger, it becomes very difficult to engage in conversation around this on the internet and on twitter specifically."

DS - "No matter what you say you are going to find somebody who is going to be very unreasonable, and pick apart your message, or even attack you as a person without even listening to your message. If the landscape ever changes, I'd be happy to participate, but until that time, I'd rather support from the background." 

TV - "Going forward, as someone who is an ally to women and minorities in tech, how do you handle jerks? How do you help people be better?"

JL - "I think this is a great way to check ourselves. I constantly ask myself, would I handle this situation differently if I wasn't in a room full of young white males? That is a good check. Would I have thought what I said was okay, if the diversity of people in the room was different? The gender diversity of our company is split pretty evenly. Creating a culture where people act as checks on each other and being able to foster that sort of dialogue in the company from day one and help people see where the jerk line is has had a huge impact on the strength of our team."

TV - "How do you help straight white men be better able to see sexism and racism? And see the world differently?"

DS - "If you spend more time with a more diverse group of people you learn what those boundaries are. We learn their views on all different kinds of topics. It is about being objective with everything that you do, and showing the same respect that you do with your friends and your coworkers, to actively learn where the boundaries are for different kinds of people."

TV - "Wrapping up, what is your best advice to people that want to be better allies?"

DS - "Treat every single person that you meet with respect, and remember that they are a human first."

PW - "Remember who you are supporting and being emphatic toward them and their experiences."

JL - "Don't be a jerk, but know that sometimes you're going to mess up and be a jerk. Then just own it and don't quit because you were accidentally a jerk. Don't stop."

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