Tech, Now + Beyond

What doing the work cost me as a woman of color

Being the one to do “the work” has been my reality ever since I was old enough to understand the extent of systemic discrimination. Now that I am older, I’ve realized how this discrimination manifests in professional settings.

This summer, I was interviewed by Allison Beringer from The Intern Podcast. This betaworks podcast covers “the self-produced story of a young woman navigating New York City and a new career in tech and media,” and the episode for which I was interviewed was called “The Priority Problem.” In it, Allison explored the infamous topic of diversity in technology, how it relates to her work at betaworks, and her discoveries about the technology industry.

In this episode, I talk about the concept of “the work,” which is the reality that often occurs when someone is the single minority in a given setting: this person bears the responsibility, or the work, of having to educate everyone else about diversity, inclusion, and all it’s related woes: microaggressions, appropriate language, why certain things may be offensive, and so on. Anil Dash, “an entrepreneur, activist and advocate working to make technology and the tech industry more humane” touches on this idea in the episodes as well, suggesting that sometimes, being the single minority means having to do twice as much work (and for the same amount of pay).

Discrimination pervades all industries. Click To Tweet

Since the episode’s release, it came to my attention that a number of people had never considered the concept of “the work,” and relatedly, how exhausting and emotionally draining it could be. Being the one to do “the work” has been my reality ever since I was old enough to understand the extent of systemic discrimination. Now that I am older, I’ve realized how this discrimination manifests in professional settings.  Growing up, most of my friends were white, since most of my classmates were white.  I found myself having to do “the work” in my classes, when walking home from school, at gymnastics practice, at weekend sleepovers… you name it.  

Being the single minority means having to do twice as much work for the same amount of pay). Click To Tweet

As a girl, having to do “the work” wasn’t much more than an uncomfortable nuisance. With age, it’s become much more than that; I’ve seen how “the work” can come as a serious disadvantage to women of color.  This disadvantage often manifests itself in professional settings where the burden of having to do “the work” exists in a space where the stakes are much higher. When a task needs to get done, it can be harder to complete because of the burden of the emotionally-draining and time-consuming task of defending your well-being, teaching others about behaving respectfully, and coping with microaggressions.  Those who can do their job without having to deal with “the work” are at a clear advantage.

Burden of having to do 'the work' exists in a space where the stakes are much higher. Click To Tweet

I work in the technology industry, where there have been countless stories from underrepresented minorities who have spoken up about discrimination in the workplace. These stories often allude to, at some point or another, having to do “the work” of educating people, companies, and products, about what it truly means to be inclusive. This isn’t just true for people who work in technology: discrimination pervades all industries, and thus, underrepresented minorities do “the work” across all disciplines.

It’s not your responsibility to educate everyone you come across. Click To Tweet

There’s certainly a lot of work to be done (no pun intended). Whether you can relate to the work that comes your way if you’re a woman or the work that comes with being “the only” minority in some other capacity, know that there are people working to change that. Know that there is support for you to be found somewhere. Know that it’s not your responsibility to educate everyone you come across. Know about the work.

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Terri Burns

Terri Burns is an Associate Product Manager at Twitter; she’s currently the Chair of Tech@NYU, NYC’s largest student technology organization, as well as a contributor for Forbes. Terri is interested in building products, programming, and diversifying the technology industry; she regularly writes about each of these.

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