Moving past being an “other”

Hi y'all, I've never posted on Elpha before but was *busy* reflecting on life this weekend and thought I'd give this a shot because I doubt I'm alone in this experience!

I’ve felt like an “other” since I left the nest. I grew up in Fresno, CA, as a 3rd-ish generation person. Fresno is in the Central Valley, an area most known for being an agricultural capital of the world. Both my mom’s Filipino side and my dad’s Mexican side settled in the Valley for farm work. My parents were both the first in their families to attend college and are both teachers. I grew up going to the best public schools Fresno had to offer, and at 18, left for college.

I attended Brown University, and was overwhelmed with culture shock and imposter syndrome from the moment I stepped foot onto campus. For the first time in my life, I was acutely aware of my “otherness.” I felt normal within the context of Fresno, but at Brown, I was poorer, less prepared for an Ivy League education, and browner than the average student. It was embarrassing to feel like I didn’t belong when it looked like everyone else felt they did, so I tried to keep it a secret. This meant I tried to conform as much as possible to the dominant culture, thinking it would help me survive and possibly even thrive.

Looking back, I wish I had leaned into my identity more while in college. I wish that I had sought out people who felt similarly “othered” and took advantage of the support systems that the university has to offer underrepresented minorities. Sigh. Trying to conform was my survival technique of choice, and it didn’t work. I learned that I am different, and over the years, came to understand that was a good thing. It might even be a strength(!). In fact, people might actually listen to me because I bring a unique perspective to the conversation based on lived experience, and think I actually have good ideas (could this be why the university admitted me to begin with???).

After I graduated, I was “othered” again in Teach for America. This time, rather than being an outsider in a predominantly white space, I was surrounded by a historically Black and segregated community in rural Louisiana. It came with a new set of questions, learnings, and challenges. After my 2 years in Louisiana, I continued working in schools for another year before making the decision to move back to CA to pursue my dream of living in San Francisco.

In 2016, I made the transition from education to tech, naively thinking that tech would be different from my past experiences. I assumed that this progressive, highly innovative space would surely be this incredibly diverse & inclusive space where I’d fit in. Not quite. I joined an early-stage startup as one of about twenty employees, and the first question I asked the few people of color on the team was “Where are the rest of us?” With shrugs all around, I realized that at least at this small company, I had agency and the power to affect change. I proposed that we could alter the company's culture trajectory by committing to a company culture where anyone else who had felt “othered” could also find their voice and power to do their best work. This led to the creation of the company’s formal diversity, equity, and inclusion commitment and strategy, an initiative that I got to co-create and lead for the remainder of my tenure at the company.

Tired of being othered, I fought for space and for recognition at that company. It felt like it took forever, but I found my voice, and felt powerful (and also sometimes not!) in that voice. I built strong connections with folks and had a lot of hard convos about things like gender equity, race & space, and we built a diverse team. Overall, I was just totally, uncompromisingly myself at work, and that felt so good.

Because being yourself as an “other” member of a historically underrepresented minority group in college or professional life can be SO LONELY. But when there’s space to be you, you can just be you - not the [insert intersectional identities] you, just whatever the heck you want to be.

Subconsciously, I'm sure all of these feelings contributed to the motivation to cofound Envision Inclusion. With my own company, I get to be me in tech, and I get to create space for others to find where they can be themselves, too.

Curious if anyone else who has felt like an “other” or an outsider at various parts of their life can relate to finding their voice and space in their professional life??

Hello Mariah yes I can relate in many ways. I checked out your website and wanted to share some suggestions. I am a latin woman and in the process of applying/interviewing with some accelerators for initial funding and will eventually need other engineers ( I building the product myself ) and I would like to hire women and POC ideally. When I look at your website the focus on the diversity aspect is huge of course, but I wanted more information on what your process for hiring engineers is like. I want to hire diverse candidates in the future but I need to know that you have experience hiring specialized engineers etc... since let's get real that's the biggest focus on an early stage co. Engineers. How long is the hiring process from your perspective, how many interviews, how do you source people etc... The diversity aspect for me is obvious because I am diverse. But there is a point where sometimes it gets prioritized over the technical aspect and I can't do that. It has to be equally as important.It would be great if you had specific examples of people you hired for a specific team and what they were looking for and who you found for them. You need to show that what you do is what other specialized tech recruiters do but that you also are on the lookout for diverse candidates. Because that's what I want as a potential client. Creating content such as videos you can add would be great. What some people who are on the diversity work do that I don't like is the lecturing. I don't need to be lectured. I get it. I experience it. I understand. I want to get to do the work. I want the diverse people to be normal like me I don't want it to be a huge lecture every time. I don't want to be doing group therapy at the office, it's about getting work done. I don't need the backstory for everything I want to hire people and that's what I would go to your website for. As I diverse person I don't have millions of dollars or a huge budget so I am not going to hire any DEI person until and IF I get to PMF. The priority is the product and the users. The last thing I want is for 'diverse' employees to be segregated into roles that are about 'diversity'. They have to be represented everywhere.That's my two cents.
Hey, great suggestions to add to our website; we're always adding more information. Best of luck with your accelerator applications.
Love this! And can definitely relate. Here's to creating more spaces where we can be our full selves at work, and to opening the door for others to do the same. :)
Thank you for posting this. I’m about as far away from other as a middle aged white female gets so I can’t say I’ve had these experiences, but I very much appreciate your post. It helps me to understand and appreciate how you feel. It’s the best way to help everyone who isn’t or doesn’t feel represented to help to have representation and feel included in all areas of work and life.
I've been an Other for most of my 20-plus years as a Web developer. At first it was because I'm a woman (though, in the late Nineties, I worked with many more women developers; this declined noticeably by 2005); then, it was because I turned 40, then 50, and so on.As you experienced, being an Other, even when your teammates are supportive, is exhausting, and also unnecessary: there's simply nothing in hiring criteria that *should* exclude a variety of people from these jobs. However, I'm pretty cynical about most diversity and inclusion efforts. I've encountered too many that were performative. Companies start these programs, but don't commit to maintaining them. I hope Envision Inclusion can overcome the disappointing experiences of potential candidates like me. May you thrive and succeed.