Leanne Pittsford, CEO & Founder, Lesbians Who Tech, include.io + Tech Jobs Tour, discusses her journey as a queer woman working in the tech industry and why she founded Lesbians Who Tech, the largest LGBTQ network of technologists in the world. She reveals the reasons why the tech industry represents a great opportunity for diverse talent and shares the work that she is doing to help create more diversity in the tech sector by scaling referrals outside of existing networks. Discover how leaders can support these efforts and the importance of creating safe spaces within organizations.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Leanne’s diversity story and her earliest experiences with diversity and inclusion (1:30)
- How to be inclusive in a movement while still maintaining an exclusive focus (8:00)
- How to be intentional in fostering diversity (13:00)
- Why tech leaders need to set bold goals when it comes to diverse talent (17:00)
- The biggest gap when it comes to recruiting and retention in the tech sector (19:00)
- The need for urgency when it comes to create more diverse workplaces (25:00)
- Why the tech industry presents a great opportunity for diverse talent (27:00)
- How Leanne is helping to scale referrals in tech outside of existing networks (30:00)
- The benefits of the Lesbians Who Tech community and conference (31:00)
- The importance of creating safe spaces in organizations (33:30)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Leanne Pittsford is an entrepreneur changing the face of technology. After founding Lesbians Who Tech, the largest LGBTQ network of technologists with 30,000 members, Leanne launched include.io, the mentoring and recruiting platform that fights bias in technology.
In 2017, Leanne and Megan Smith, 3rd CTO of the United States, are headed to 50 cities with the Tech Jobs Tour to connect diverse talent to jobs via events.
Leanne, welcome to The Will to Change.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Yay! So excited to be here.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yay! I’m so happy you’re here.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Finally.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yay, finally, I know. We’re busy ladies. So you have a huge conference coming up, which we’re going to talk about in a little bit, Lesbians Who Tech.
But before we get to that, we always start The Will to Change with people’s diversity story. The whole thesis of this podcast is: Everyone has a diversity story, even those—perhaps especially those—you don’t expect. What is driving you to do what you do today, and all that you do today that originates in your past?
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Like many queer people, I grew up in a fairly conservative home. I literally thought all gay people were going to hell and that all gay people lived in San Francisco as well. (Laughter.) Which is funny, when I was first coming out, I actually moved to San Francisco not realizing there was probably some subconscious element there from my past.
But really grew up in a sort of God-fearing home, where being LGBTQ was not an option. I really actually thought it was a sin, and I fully struggled even when my first friend came out to me before I realized I was gay, and handled it totally inappropriately.
JENNIFER BROWN: Ugh! We have so many regrets, don’t we?
LEANNE PITTSFORD: I know, right? And it’s mind blowing because it’s so hard to even imagine. Sometimes I wish I could go back and talk to my 16-year-old self, because it’s so hard when you grow and change to even really—to the person that you once were on certain issues like this.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so true.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: It’s always interesting. Fast forward, I had friends later on realize that they were also not supportive of me when I came out, and it was interesting—the forgiveness and process that we all go through.
But my parents still struggle with it. It’s been a lot of therapy and a lot of support from the community. But I was one of those kids that wanted to be president when I grew up. I was always interested in political science, thought I was going to go to law school. And then I realized I was gay and had to deal with my faith and all of those questions that are so connected to the church. Especially at the time, I feel like it’s getting better now, but being religious and being gay just wasn’t an option growing up. So you have to really question your faith in that way. That’s really intense when you’re also just falling in love for the first time and going to college and all of those things.
JENNIFER BROWN: Of course.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: But I ended up in graduate school in San Francisco focused on equity and social justice. I decided not to go to law school. I was one of those “damn the man” at the time. I’m not going to go into debt for law school, instead, I’m going to go get a master’s degree in equity and social justice.
JENNIFER BROWN: Of course.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: It seemed like a great idea at the time.
JENNIFER BROWN: As one does.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: As one does. And it was there I learned about white privilege, it’s where I learned on focusing on your own community first before you try and fix other people’s communities.
When I looked around a my classmates, I noticed all the LGBTQ people were either doing women’s issues, waste issues. I was thinking, “Well, I’m white, I’m a woman, and I’m gay. And it seems that no one else wants to focus on this.” Which is really interesting, I hadn’t really dreamed of going into the LGBTQ world as a profession. But I felt a sense of duty in that moment.
I literally interviewed for I think a dozen jobs after grad school, all focused on LGBTQ issues, and most of them turned me down. Equality California was my last interview. Literally, I had a plane ticket to Peru to teach surfing if I didn’t get the job, and I got the job on the spot—two parking tickets later. I was hired, and that was the organization that led the fight almost ten years ago, which is so scary, for No on Prop 8, which was the battle to keep marriage in California—which we actually ended up losing in 2008. That’s my diversity story.
JENNIFER BROWN: What a story. What church were you involved in? I’m just curious.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: I mean, I’ve been to every Christian denomination—Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, all of those. We sort of ended at non-denomination, but been too many.
JENNIFER BROWN: Do you still go? How do you define your spirituality today?
LEANNE PITTSFORD: It’s interesting. I would say agnostic. I believe in spirituality, I just feel like there are so many things we don’t know about the world, and it’s an interesting topic that I can talk about for hours, but so many people are uncomfortable talking about death, and I think faith is just such an interesting idea.
My struggle is it’s been used for power in a really negative way throughout our history of the world. I think that’s the push and pull that leaves me questioning. It’s a continual questioning, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. In a way, well, we build our own churches in terms of community in the LGBTQ world, right? You can have this deep—it almost feels like a faith in the activism and the power of that community. It fills you up in a really spiritual way. I’m sure you have those feelings thinking about the power of the community and this gathering. When you stand on that stage and you see thousands of queer women and allies, it is akin to a spiritual and religious experience.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Yes, 100 percent. There is definitely no moment that I’ve experienced that is like that feeling, for sure. But when it comes to—I believe in something more powerful. There has to be something that we don’t know. That’s the interesting thing about humanity, learning, and growing. Think about the things that you didn’t know when you were ten that you know now and that process of knowing them, and then the process of achieving something. I’ve run a marathon. How I felt before I ran a marathon and after, knowing you can do that, that’s how I feel about religion and what happens next. You just don’t know.
I try to imagine myself when I used to not know something and that transformation, right? And getting comfortable with that idea, but also pushing for more knowledge.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Well, I have known you for a long time. Speaking of not knowing something, but still striving to solve and understand it, I was at some of your early gatherings for Lesbians Who Tech. I share your frustration. I knew, even back then, what you were trying to do. You were trying to rally the women in the LGBTQ community to a place, to get us together. Somehow, we just refused to be gathered. We are like cats that way. (Laughter.) It’s not an second, not an accident.
I remember you coming to New York and saying, “I’m coming, let’s get together.” And 20, 30, 40, 50—maybe 100 women would show up. I, personally, was so grateful for the callout for women in particular to gather. I was very used to men-only spaces and being the only woman in the room over and over again—I still am, to a large degree.
It’s exploded. I’m happy for you; I’m thrilled. The world really needed what you’ve built. What were the early days like when people doubted that this would ever turn into a thing because women just won’t show up? Do you have any theories about why we don’t show up?
LEANNE PITTSFORD: That’s a great question. I was exactly that person. When I started Lesbians Who Tech, I really started it to prove myself right in that I thought no queer women would show up—that queer women just didn’t want a community that badly. I’d spend the last few years in the LGBTQ space, and no matter where you went, any city in the world, it would be between 70 to 90 percent male. That was true with over 1,000 events I attended.
Queer women complained about it. I noticed we wanted something different, but I wasn’t sure that we’d actually show up to make it happen. I started just by having these small events. You were at the first one in New York I think, Jennifer. I really wanted to see if the issue was just that we had to do it 10 percent differently. What if the issue is that queer women are in the women’s community, we overlap with women—lesbians are women, even though that’s sometimes a funny conversation to have with people. People were saying, “We only focus on women’s issues, and we’re not really doing LGBTQ programming.” I said, “This is going to be awkward for a second, but lesbians are women.” (Laughter.) We’d always get through it, we’d always hug it out.
It’s interesting that we have to be so intentional about intersectionality even when you think something is fairly common. We’re minorities both in the LGBTQ space and in the women’s space, right? And because of that, our voice gets lost in either space.
What I see happen all the time is that women think of us as LGBTQ, and LGBTQ men think of us as women, and we get missed. Even if they kind of know, we’re not as front and center in the power structure. Because of that, I think all of the communities out there just weren’t specific enough for queer women. We’re actually the only organization in the world that is 100 percent focused on providing value to queer women. Period. Just in general, not just in tech.
Everyone else may have a focus of queer women, but they’re broader in some way, shape, or form. Right? Which makes sense for what they’re doing, but I think it’s interesting in that I think, oftentimes, women want to be more inclusive, especially queer women. We’re always thinking, “How can we be more inclusive?” And because of that, I think we tend to go broader in our scope. But what happens is we’re not specific enough. That’s been the thing I’ve tried to do really hard in all of our events—be specific to a core group of people who need a specific type of value, without being exclusive. Trying to make sure everyone feels included in the space, but still being clear on who we’re going after in terms of who we’re providing value for.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s a beautiful way to say it. We do fall through the cracks. Of all the communities, we have a special “Spidey sense” about inclusion, and it perhaps is because we straddle so many different identities. Personally, I think we have the potential to be incredibly inclusive leaders because of that, because you have to learn how to shape shift and code switch back and forth.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: We’re a diverse community, too. “Queer women” is a huge umbrella term, but I think you’ve gone beyond just providing a gathering space for Q women, but you seem to have always prioritized having ethnic diversity, welcoming, and truly making that community inclusive.
Was there a moment when you looked around and you realized, “Wow, when I invite Q women here, I get a lot of white women”? Was that a moment, or was it always ethnically diverse?
LEANNE PITTSFORD: It’s something that’s interesting. Actually, this may be the first time I’m putting this together—maybe my graduate degree was good for something. (Laughter.) It really did teach me about white privilege. I didn’t come from that type of upbringing or having that education. Growing up in a lower- to middle-class family, who was really white, Christian, conservative military family. It was eye-opening to me to have that background, and then enter into the larger No on Prop 8 movement, which got criticized for being very white. The LGBTQ community was definitely criticized for being very white.
I had an early awareness that that was wrong, that it should be done better. I didn’t really know how. Because I come from such a data mind, I just knew that’s kind of my technical background is more in data and analytics. And knowing that in order to be able to reach out to a community, you have to do things like show up first. You have to use data, have goals, track really early, and notice that it’s an issue. And I decided to have a quota for speakers. I thought it would be good to be really intentional about that, and that it would shape the type of community we would become.
Obviously, I continued that on with my staff. Anytime I have control over attendees, like when we did our events at the White House, I literally was intentional. I made sure it was 50 percent men and women, 10 to 15 percent transgender and gender nonconforming, 50 percent people of color, going deeper on that to say 20 percent black and Latinx, because that’s the core under-representation among technical talent.
Being really clear on that measuring it every year with speakers is tricky. I have to have a lot of eye-opening conversations with people. It makes our process different. We can’t just guarantee someone a speaking spot. There’s no way I could do that and keep our quota, which is everything to us. I’d return a check gladly if there was even an issue with that, but it requires a different process, a different structure, but it’s everything, even in our team.
Everyone knows that diversity is better for the bottom line. I hate even saying it because it’s so redundant. We’ve heard it hundreds and hundreds of times.
JENNIFER BROWN: To us.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Yes, that’s true. But even at the top, they know that, they see the stats, but things don’t change without urgency. They do not change without urgency. A lot of people just think, “Oh, culture changes.” No. Every point that there’s been change, there has been some urgent driver to that change. That’s how we use data on that part for us.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. We can’t wait for institutions to require these things of us. Sadly, we can’t benefit from the quota system they have in Europe that has demanded a number of women on boards. By the way, the sky didn’t fall when they achieved their goal.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: I just want to point that out. (Laughter.)
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: It didn’t lower the bar, it did not.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: It just changes the criteria, right? If experience for a past job is always the prerequisite for any job or any board seat, then we’re always going to have to look to history. And who has had power in this country, right? White, straight, cisgendered men. And if we’re looking at, “Who should take this company public? Which leader?” If we’re only looking at people who have done this before, then of course that list is going to be white, straight, cis men—literally probably named John. That is the saddest stat, there are more men named John who are Fortune 500 CEOs than there are women Fortune 500 CEOs. It’s super sad.
It’s something that’s worked in other places, and it’s something I would love to see of tech leaders. Obviously, quotas or affirmative action is illegal in this country, which I actually think is something that should change, but regardless, you can have strong goals and you can make sure people are holding you accountable to them. I would love to see our technical leaders, our CEOs make some strong, bold goals out there and work to make it happen. I believe if facing that, we would absolutely make it happen.
JENNIFER BROWN: I agree. They’ve hacked everything else. Like we often say, if they set their mind to it, they could solve it, just like they’re solving a lot of other things that were previously thought unsolvable.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: You started focusing in tech. Sometimes the name “Lesbians Who Tech” confuses people.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Who “text” or whatever.
JENNIFER BROWN: But it was right. You have a base in the Bay Area, et cetera. Tell us, why is tech such a great opportunity? Who is setting the pace for that industry? You must see good behavior and lots of bad behavior, unfortunately. What inspires you in that industry that makes you say, “Yes, this corporate partner is truly walking the talk, the CEO really gets it”? Who are the names that come to mind for you?
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Technology was solving a need for me personally, right? I was literally starting my own tech company at the time, and I had a lot of community in the social good space. But when I entered into tech, I’d go to LGBTQ tech events, general tech events or even women’s tech events and I wasn’t finding my people. I wasn’t hearing the voice or perspective from queer women. At the same time, there were all these issues happening in the larger technology sector on top of all the things that go into scaling a tech company or specific to the industry. There is so much connection there and a shared mindset that I felt would be important to bring lesbians and queer women together in a community. Obviously, living in San Francisco, I felt like that was a specific voice that was really missing in the space.
We work with over 150 companies. We partner in some shape or form, and I am endlessly amazed by so many leaders in this space. I can definitely say that no one has figured this out yet. The blaring gap, to me, is around mid-level talent. Obviously, there’s a lot of recruiting and retention focused on junior, college-level, and then you have focus on the executive. But when it comes to diversity or general recruiting and retention in that mid-level space, that’s the area where we’re planning our roadmap. Also, our community is there, right? Because queer women lack that type of community and there’s so much urgency, we’ve been able to build a community of more mid-level and executive talent in a way that there are 100 women’s groups, so it’s more dispersed. We’re a greater niche in that way from a sheer numbers perspective.
It’s a really great example of community around that type of space, and it’s something companies know needs focus, but they’re still trying to figure out. Look, we spent over $1 billion trying to solve this problem and we haven’t moved the needle.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Everyone knows it, and it’s really going to take one company to fix this, to turn up the volume on the pressure.
If Amazon, Google, or Facebook made bold goals around their board, around the C-suite, around the technical teams, I think that would put the pressure on other companies to do the same. Doesn’t have to be those three specifically, but when one or two companies make those types of statements, it definitely gets the attention of other leaders. I wish that were not true, but things don’t change without urgency. There has to be pressure.
Luckily, the press has put on a lot of pressure. We’re still having this conversation, which I was nervous that it would get a little bit of attention in the press and then go away. Clearly, it’s still a problem, it’s still an issue. The press have done a great job of holding our leaders accountable and need to continue to do that. There are some big steps that need to happen in the near future.
JENNIFER BROWN: I agree. We need real leadership. The competitive nature of these companies can absolutely be used to make strides. I agree, somebody’s got to be bold and say, “I don’t care what it takes, we have to fix it.”
The hard part of that, of course, are the implications of requiring things like quotas. It creates all sorts of backlash. We’ve seen the situation, for example, with the Google memo writer. Whatever we feel about that whole decision to fire him, we’re in a tough place right now. We don’t have the equality—or anything even approaching equality—but nobody seems to have the right strategies for how we’re going to fix it.
Your community is so intersectional, it hits a lot of boxes. It’s women, queer women, many women of color, and it’s all of the talent that corporate America does such a poor job making feel like they belong, and that they can come, do their best work, and build their career.
I agree with you, the middle rung is where the biggest risk is of losing diverse talent. That’s the point at which we get really fed up. We just say, “I can’t deal with this daily.”
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Yeah, we’ve been fighting for so long.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. It’s the daily micro aggressions, it’s the lack of visible support by my company, or maybe my company isn’t really walking the talk, what they’re doing internally doesn’t match what they say externally in the market. At some point, you become poachable because you’ve stopped believing—if you ever did believe—that somebody has your back and you’re supported and protected. We call it the “frozen middle” in my diversity and inclusion consulting world.
The top does sometimes get it, and they’re out there talking about it and making a splash. The bottom of the organization, the talent early in their career, is the most diverse generation we’ve ever seen. But regarding the mid level, especially for queer women, I wonder if you see that many of us are still struggling being out and bringing our full selves to work because we aren’t in the millennial generation? I’m my 40s, and I know plenty of people who absolutely cover who they are in the workplace still to this day.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Yes, absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: The stats tell us 50 percent of LGBTQ people are still closeted in the workplace and making that choice. Is that how you think about that mid level and what we’re struggling with?
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Absolutely. So many of our members maybe joined our community because they loved the content, right? We consider ourselves a tech conference first. It just happens to be that the speakers are mostly women, queer women, queer women of color. But they come and maybe they’re in the 25-28 range. Now that we’ve been around for almost five years, they’ll say, “You know, I didn’t really feel it, but now that I’m getting to be more senior, I see it everywhere.” I don’t know if it’s because they’ve been enlightened or the conversations have opened them up to seeing things. Once you notice one thing, you notice it everywhere. Or if it’s that it gets to be more blatant and you see, “All right, there were 100 people competing for this job, there were ten amazing people,” versus, “There are three people competing, and I am definitely more qualified than this person, and they still got the job.”
It’s a little bit more clear when you can see that, especially if you have a relationship with your boss and see how they make the decisions and where the relationships and loyalties are. The reality is: Humans are biased. We’re literally programmed that way. We connect more with people who are like us. If white, straight, cis men have more power and they know themselves, they’re always going to feel that someone who is like them is less risky. It’s a less risky hire if they can hire someone who resembles who they are. That’s the thing that happens in our networks as we perpetuate it. It’s the reason that if you start with five white, male founders, it’s no surprise that your community is going to reflect that. Our networks generally reflect who we are.
When we’re talking about hiring or building a community, those things continue to be issues. I absolutely think retaining diverse, mid-level to senior talent is huge. How can we finally get these incredible, badass, talented people in the upper echelons of corporate power structures? It’s everything. I fully believe if we lived in a world where boards were 50 percent women, 50 percent people of color, and 20 percent LGBTQ, that we would not be having some of the issues that we’re having today in any industry. It just wouldn’t be happening. That speaks to making sure that you have diverse voices at the table thinking about all the different parts of our identities and cultures. This is why it’s good for the bottom line. Again, without urgency, these things won’t change. That’s the reckoning that leaders have to have—the change isn’t happening fast enough.
We’ve been looking at pay equity. It’s not going to happen in our lifetime if we go on at this current rate. That’s just unacceptable. We have to push harder. That means pushing for legislation that says women on boards must be a certain percentage by a certain year. If it’s pay equity, if it’s paid family leave—we have to push for real change in that way. Or if it means pushing the press to suggest that our leaders at least create goals, then we have to do that.
When it comes to talent, I do think companies understand that this is a super important thing to make sure that they’re competing for the best talent in the country and even the world. They know they have to work on this.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, they do. You founded something called include.io to partially address the red herring of, “Well, the talent just isn’t out there.” I would like to hear a little bit more about why you started that effort. How are you more than a conference now? How is Lesbians Who Tech not just an incredible 5,000-person gathering in the Castro?
LEANNE PITTSFORD: 35,000 people all over the world.
JENNIFER BROWN: All over the world.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: All over the world. You have a squad all over the world, Jennifer.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yay! I love my peeps. I do.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Absolutely. Basically, we talked about this. Lesbians and career women are intersectional. We had a front-row seat to so many of the issues happening for our own members, whether it was graduating from a coding boot camp and not being able to have a job, hitting a ceiling with their network feeling like they didn’t have access to the direct referral they needed to get a job. Essentially, we felt like we had true insight and true knowledge into solving this problem.
We basically took what we learned at Lesbians Who Tech and we launched two things: One is called the Tech Jobs Tour. They’re like mini summits that we do at Lesbians Who Tech, but all around the country. We’ve gone to 25 cities. Megan Smith, the third CTO of the United States and CEO of shift7, she’s joined us. Technically, she’s been on more stops than I have, but she’s our advisor. Essentially, we’re helping companies connect to non-traditional and diverse talent.
We’re teaching people about technical skills. The average tech job is three times the average American salary. It’s not just about a job, we’re talking about changing someone’s life, right? The technical industry and tech jobs, there’s over half a million jobs that are open right now, and that will exceed one million in a couple of years.
This is something companies have to figure out. Obviously, these are very event driven. We wanted to figure out how to create a scalable solution, which is why we launched include.io.
Really, the core problem that we’re looking at is, first and foremost, how do we allow companies, through opt-in, data to be intentional about inclusion? The same way that we do quotas with our speakers, we encourage companies to have hiring goals, to incentivize the recruiters. They should get more bonuses if they hire diverse talent. Again, if you don’t create urgency, things aren’t going to change. In our tool, you can search by opt-in diversity data.
And then the real big idea that we think literally can change the game around technology is around scaling access to direct referrals. Companies have deemed this a very safe way to hire. This is back to the network problem, right? If I’m biased to connect with humans that are like me, how do I actually scale access to direct referrals outside of our own biased networks? So a black woman who’s self-taught in Nashville can connect with a senior software engineer at Amazon. They can look at their skills, they can say, “You know what? In 30 minutes, I might not be able to say this person is a perfect fit for the job, but I can take their resume from resume pile to phone screening.” We’re just trying to get an extra proxy to make sure that more representative candidates are getting in that pipeline of phone screenings. That’s step one.
There are going to be more things we’re going to try to do on the product, but we’re looking at how to scale access to direct referrals outside of our own biased networks.
JENNIFER BROWN: Incredible. You’re doing such good work. I want you to be able to give a shout-out to the conference, which is coming up in a couple weeks—my goodness, so excited!
LEANNE PITTSFORD: I know. I know.
JENNIFER BROWN: Tell us a couple highlights, reasons that you’re excited about this year.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Yes. This year, Kara Swisher is going to finally interview Sheryl Sandberg on stage, which I’ve been trying to make happen for years. Last year, Kara interviewed Megan Smith, who is also her ex, which was a first. It was a very lesbian moment for all of us.
JENNIFER BROWN: Indeed.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Kara turned to Megan and said, “Well, who’s the top lesbian in tech, me or you?” Everyone’s laughing and then Kara said, “Never mind, it’s Sheryl Sandberg with a drink in her hand.” (Laughter.) I actually told Sheryl this in person the other day, and she laughed very hard. I’m very excited about that.
This year, we have so many technical talks. We’re talking about missile technology and defense systems. It’s such a pertinent for everything that’s happening with Korea. We have Alicia Garza, who is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter. We have Tegan and Sara coming, who started a foundation for LGBTQ women, which has been so incredible. We have Pamela Rice, who works at Capital One talking about trends and the future. There’s so much on AI and algorithms, blockchain and cryptocurrency.
I just love how we’re able to pull together some of the most incredible speakers from different parts of the technology world who just happen to be queer women. It’s so incredible. People told me, “You can’t have too many events, you’re going to run out of speakers, there are only so many lesbians.” I get it, right? It’s a scarcity mentality.
There are so many of us, and there are people that I have on my list that aren’t totally out yet, but I know we’re going to get there. That’s part of it. They also get to come and see what it’s like to bring their professional and personal worlds.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: I always love that part. Literally, Stephenie Landry, who is a VP at Amazon, said, “My favorite thing about Lesbians Who Tech is that everyone’s slightly uncomfortable, but it’s that discomfort that allows for stronger connection.” I’m standing next to someone I manage, and then my boss might be there. Literally, it helps us. We’re all slightly uncomfortable, but it allows us to laugh a little longer, be more open to true connection, which is everything. The truth is, we talk about changing the face of technology—or changing any issue, really—and it always comes down to relationships. Change happens through human connections and relationships. And that’s what we’re doing at Lesbians Who Tech.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s beautiful. I see what happens in the room. To be in that room is a first for so many incredibly accomplished women. Women who have these executive positions, and you watch them come out on stage, and you can tell, this might be the first time that they’ve ever spoken to an audience like this. It’s an overwhelming feeling and a good reminder for us that so many people, not just queer women, lack a safe space in which to relax and bring all of the knowledge and accomplishment that you have.
It’s a reminder that we need to continue to build. I commend what you’ve built. I love it, it’s fun. There are even a couple “lez-bros” in the audience.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: 100 percent.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love our male allies who come. There are too few of them, but I always make a point to go over—they’re usually my friends—and I say, “Thank you for being here, it’s incredible that you make the time.”
LEANNE PITTSFORD: And that’s the thing with women, we’re so good. We give you a shirt, your own name. You know? That’s my challenge to many gay men when we’re talking about the framework of the LGBTQ space. I say, “I want you to think of two ways to make queer women feel more included in what you’re doing, even though I know you feel like it’s an assumption that they’re part of the community, they don’t feel that way.”
No matter what space you’re talking about, if there’s any minority that still is technical part of your group, but isn’t there in terms of represent, how can you go about showing up for them in a stronger way?
JENNIFER BROWN: Hear, hear! Here’s to see more male allies come into the space, feel comfortable coming in, and want to be there because there are so many badass women in the room. There certainly are.
Thanks, Leanne. March 1st through 3rd, San Francisco, Lesbians Who Tech. If you’re going to miss it this year in person, where else can people dock into all the stuff that you have?
LEANNE PITTSFORD: Yes. We have live-stream tickets, too, so you can join us online.
JENNIFER BROWN: Awesome.
LEANNE PITTSFORD: #LWTSummit, follow along on social media.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you so much, Leanne.