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Representing queer women in tech

By Elisa Barbier November 21, 2017

The organization Lesbians who tech is a community that unites queer women in tech

They represent in tech. They are queer, inclusive and badass. In a male-dominated industry, they seek visibility and inclusivity. The Montreal chapter of the Lesbians Who Tech community met at Montreal’s Le Cagibi bar on Nov. 15 to listen to panelists talk about their use of technology to trigger social change.

Lesbians Who Tech is a community for queer women and their allies working with or around technology. The group was founded in San Francisco in 2012 by Leanne Pittsford, but it officially launched in 2014. Since then, it has brought together more than 30,000 members with over 35 chapters around the world. The organization offers coding scholarships to queer and gender non-conforming individuals, covering 50 per cent of their tuition. However, the community’s main goal is to create visibility for its members.

Rachel Jean-Pierre, a digital marketing analyst, started the Montreal Lesbians Who Tech community at the beginning of 2016 after attending the organization’s summits in New York City and San Francisco. She said she wanted to give Montrealers access to the opportunities the community offers.

Guest speakers and founders of the Lesbians Who Tech’s Montreal chapter presented the aspects how technology can bring about social changes. Photo by Elisa Barbier

Jean-Pierre was later joined by RC Woodmass, the founder of the web-design company Quill Creative. “I saw it was very inclusive and it tried to encompass all the types of queer and trans folks, and it really encouraged me,” said Woodmass about the New York City summit they attended.

In 2014, women made up less than 30 per cent of employees in the global tech industry, according to UNESCO. In 2017, women held 19 per cent of the tech positions at Twitter, 20 per cent at Google and 17.5 per cent at Microsoft, according to the companies’ annual reports. Through Lesbians Who Tech, Jean-Pierre and Woodmass want to address the issue of inequality by building confidence and giving a voice to Montreal queer women in the tech industry.

“I am aware I am a woman. I am a black woman. I am a queer woman, and I am not easily intimidated,” Jean-Pierre said. She is making an impact in the tech industry by tackling ignorance and “macro” aggressions in her environment one day at a time. “I take initiatives,” she said. “I remind my co-workers what is not appropriate, and l remind the executives that we need real change, not simply [inclusivity programs in companies].”

Woodmass uses web-designing with Quill Creative to empower and give visibility to queer, trans and marginalized individuals, with a focus on accessibility for people with disabilities. “I redirect the funds of my business and my personal money to pay very well the people that I hire, which are always queer, trans, people of colour, suffering from disabilities or who are older,” Woodmass said. Woodmass also uses Facebook groups to seek out people who are marginalized, as they said they could not do this through regular hiring procedures.

During the gathering at Le Cagibi, guest speakers presented their background in tech and how they use it to bring about social change.

Founder of the Montreal Lesbians Who Tech, Rachel Jean-Pierre and city lead, RC Woodmass both attended the organizations summits and felt inspired to recreate it in Montreal. Photo by Elisa Barbier

Justine Gagnepain and Abigail McLean presented their project on women’s mental and neurological health. In the form of an audio-visual chat box, wmnHealth analyzes answers to questions specific to a disorder in order to track symptoms and detect problems. Its first module aims to detect concussions, then provides a weekly follow-up that often cannot be done with a doctor. In the long run, the creators of wmn Health wants to develop modules for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, depression and other mental and neurological disorders.

Another speaker was Nejma Nefertiti, a sound engineer and hip hop artist from Brooklyn. Nefertiti began writing and composing music at a young age, but it wasn’t until later on that she began to use technology to empower young people of colour. She now aims to raise awareness and bring about social change through her work by selecting projects that empower marginalized individuals.

Since the creation of the Lesbians Who Tech in Montreal, a lot more people and allies have joined the community. “We have volunteers that want to have a position in the organization as it grows,” Jean-Pierre said. Woodmass added that the Montreal chapter is one of the most vibrant because they do their own marketing, use the resources Lesbians Who Tech offers and post photographs from all their events online to raise awareness about the group. “We are vibrant because we believe in the cause, the disproportionate disparity,” Jean-Pierre said.

Woodmass and Jean-Pierre said their goal is to have a Lesbians Who Tech summit in Montreal so that the international community can recognize the city’s growing tech potential. “Summits inspire me because they have certain quotas for panelists, such as 50 per cent people of colour and 25 per cent trans women,” Woodmass said. “These quotas are not just because we need them, but because these voices prove over and over that [these people] are the most interesting and have the most to offer. This is what we value.”

The next Montreal Lesbians Who Tech event will be about art and technology at Studio XX on Jan. 17, 2018.

Photos by Elisa Barbier

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