Latinas in Tech is a non-profit organization working to rebuild the tech industry so that Latinas are well-represented throughout all levels of the ecosystem. The group began in 2014 and is comprised of more than 10,000 women representing more than 23 countries and working at more than 200 of the top technology companies.
Noun Project and Latinas in Tech have joined forces to launch a new collection of stock photos that celebrate diversity in the tech industry. Giving underrepresented groups a visual seat at the table is a critical step to changing attitudes and expectations about the tech industry for the better.
We caught up with Latinas in Tech Executive Director and Co-Founder Rocío van Nierop to learn more about how Latinas in Tech is connecting, supporting, and empowering Latina women working in the tech industry.
Hi Rocío! Tell us a little about yourself — what’s your background and how did you get to where you are today? What inspired you to create Latinas in Tech?
In 2014, there wasn’t much of a conversation on diversity. Back then, like many other Latinas, I kept finding myself being the only woman in the room, let alone the only Latina. One day I got the opportunity to meet Gretel Perera, my now Co-Founder, while I was working at Prezi and she was working at Evernote. We realized that we both shared similar experiences after sharing stories over coffee. We decided to meet again, but with two more Latina friends. That group of 4 turned into 8, then 16, and before we knew it we were over a thousand. That is when we noticed we were on to something and that there was a real need for community among Latina women in tech where they could share their stories and learn from others.
As time went on, our employers started inviting us to host our meetups at their offices, then other tech companies followed, and more and more Latinas attended as they found a safe space to share, be vulnerable, learn from each other, and find a new mentor or a new career opportunity at those events.
That is when we decided to take the organization to the next level.
How has the organization grown over the last few years?
In 2017, we applied to become a formal nonprofit, and we started to get funding from corporations. The first company to trust and even help us ideate our organization was Comcast NBCUniversal, though our “madrina” Lorena Hernandez. She made a bet on us and their investment led us to create an online platform and a chapter structure that was able to serve not just 1,000 Latinas in Silicon Valley, but over 10,000 in the U.S. and Mexico. We have created hundreds of events across 13 chapters and we are about to open our first European chapter in London.
Today, Latinas in Tech has a governing board of directors who ensures we work towards our goal to increase the inclusion of Latinas in Tech in decision-making positions across all the different areas that encompass the Tech industry.
Can you share more about some of the programs and initiatives your organization has put in place to create safe spaces for mentorship, professional development and recruitment?
Our flagship programs are our meetups (now webinars) where we bring in stories from role models that can inspire Latinas who have similar backgrounds. We believe that if you look up to someone who looks like you and who has had similar challenges and opportunities as you do, you are more inclined to take the next small step.
We also noticed that there was a huge opportunity to connect Latinas with tech companies, and that is how we started our LiT recruit program. This includes online and live events where tech companies can meet our members, a talent pool where recruiters and Latinas can find and communicate with each other, and a jobs board where companies can list their new positions.
We also created the Latinas in Tech Summit, which is the largest professional gathering of Latinx individuals in the US. This is where all our programs culminate in a celebration of our identity, success stories, and where we analyze the opportunities and challenges that the industry faces in terms of diversity as we move forward. We are currently working towards more programs aimed at entrepreneurs and programs dedicated to creating reliable mentorship relationships.
What kind of progress have you seen in diversity and inclusion in the industry since Latinas in Tech was founded?
When Latinas in Tech was founded, Diversity and Inclusion was not really as big of a topic of conversation in big tech as it is today.
As time went by we saw companies trying – they started by adding quotas to hire more people of color and then we saw them hiring people with “Diversity and Inclusion” in their job titles. We saw Latinx individuals hired, but not growing in their career and leaving before reaching their full potential.
Today, I see companies approaching organizations like ours to do things the right way. Caring about their current employees of color first rather than filling in numbers of new hires. I dream of the day when tech employees’ diversity footprint, especially amongst hiring managers and senior level decision-makers, reflects one of our actual communities demographically.
Employers should double down on their effort to ensure that every employee of color has a pathway of growth, where their voices are heard, and where they feel safe speaking up.
In terms of numbers, after reading all diversity reports released by big tech companies, I have seen little to no change, but that is why organizations like LiT exist – to listen to our members and hold tech companies accountable.
What are some of the greatest opportunities you see right now to drive meaningful change when it comes to more equitable representation in the tech and startup worlds?
Given the heightened sense of awareness on racial justice and equality this year, Diversity and Inclusion moved up as a priority, and many companies that didn’t answer our calls before are now calling us. George Floyd’s tragic fate brought overdue discussion and action to the world. Latinas in Tech and similar organizations now have some of the greatest opportunities to trigger action.
At Noun Project, we believe visual language has the power to shape, reinforce, and change perceptions. What are your thoughts on why diverse visual representation in tech is important to help change the status quo in the industry?
Racism and unconscious bias start with our visual perception. We don’t need to say a word to cause those reactions. The color of our skin, the clothes we wear, the way our hair looks, these all sometimes seem like they have more weight than the ideas we share, the code we write, the resilience we have.
Changing the diverse visual representation in tech is important so that people feel uncomfortable when they walk into a room without diverse representation, rather than the other way around.
If you remove the visual cues for racism and bias, and see what is inside each human, the whole industry would simply thrive.
Looking to the future, what inspires you, and what initiatives are you most excited about right now?
Every single story inspires me. I feel like the luckiest and most privileged person because I get to hear all of the stories that are shared through our community. Being able to be the liaison between tech organizations and our members makes me really excited.
We made a commitment to make tech companies accountable to not only be diverse, but also to be inclusive. These past few months we have been setting up measurable goals with each organization, which — if it is achieved — would cause a real dent for good in the industry. Measuring and achieving that success is what keeps me awake at night, in a good way.
How can people get involved with Latinas in Tech and support the work you’re doing?
You can become a member or an ally at latinasintech.org — all our events and programs are for free to our members. Companies are welcome to join us in working on our mission to make the Tech Industry a truly inclusive place.
This interview is part of our “Diversity in Tech” series in partnership with All Raise, AnitaB.org, Blavity, Grid 110, and Latinas in Tech, a coalition effort to champion diverse representation in tech. Read more about this initiative here, and download images from the Diversity in Tech collection here.
About Latinas in Tech
Latinas in Tech is a non-profit organization working to rebuild the tech industry so that Latinas are well-represented throughout all levels of the ecosystem. The group is comprised of more than 10,000 women, representing more than 23 countries, working at more than 200 of the top technology companies. The group began in Silicon Valley in 2014 and has since then expanded to 13 cities and states: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Miami, New York City, Sacramento, Seattle, Utah, and Washington DC. Latinas in Tech focuses on 3 key pillars: professional development, recruiting, and mentorship. For more information, visit https://www.latinasintech.org.