On Equity, Technology, and Where We Go From Here

As part of this month’s “Best of 2014” series, we asked Leading Change Summit attendee and Idea Accelerator project lead winner Yee Won Chong to reflect back on community conversations, progress, and opportunities explored during 14LCS and beyond.

Steph: Equity in technology was a recurring theme throughout the 14LCS. What were your impressions of the conversations of which you were a part?

Yee Won: I agree with many of the speakers that, if we are serious about diversity and inclusion, we have to integrate these values into everything we do. My impression is that most people want to address issues of inequities, especially in the technology world, whether it is nonprofit or corporate.

I recently read in Fast Company Magazine that “African-Americans represent 13.2% of the U.S. population but account for just 1% of the people who hold tech positions at Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo.” When we talk about equity in this country, we need to be explicit about racial inequities. And gender inequities as well.

While I was glad to see that this was a front and center conversation at LCS, we’ve just skimmed the top, so I hope to see ongoing conversations, as well as deeper conversations about the cultural, institutional, and systemic racism and sexism that created and continues to maintain this digital divide.

What are a few ways you can see or imagine that technology could or should be used to further equity?

Technology is a neutral tool. We can use it for good, bad, and everything in between. Social media gave me a sense of our collective outrage over the injustice of Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths. This kind of outrage is needed to sustain social justice movements that create change.

Here’s my somewhat cynical perspective: Technology made many millionaires and billionaires. It has sped up gentrification and widened U.S. income disparities.

While I think that the technology field should become more diverse and inclusive, give a lot back to communities, and use more socially responsible practices, fundamentally our priorities are completely upside down! How do we justify paying a person who creates a gaming app three and a half times more than a person who educates our children? What if we shifted corporations’ incentives? Instead of hoarding financial wealth, the primary incentive should be to create positive impact. Nonprofit techies are already doing it. All tech companies should do it.

What were some highlights for you at the 14LCS?

The best part about gatherings like 14LCS is meeting new, cool, and awesome people. I also enjoyed playing the “where-have-we-met-in-the past” game with a few familiar faces.

I loved the open format of 14LCS. It was an environment where you can test out ideas knowing that other people will be encouraging, supportive, and give you good feedback. I saw the twinkle in some people’s eyes when they talked about their ideas.

And, of course, the Idea Accelerator was one of the highlights for me. I probably had a twinkle in my eye, too! I’d not been exposed to a fast pitch competition before. It was a humbling experience to receive first place and the community choice award.

You pitched the “Say This Not That” project for the Idea Accelerator. Can you talk about the need that this project?

Say This Not That’s mission is to support people and organizations in bringing more consciousness to language that cultivates greater trust between people.

The nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me” was intended for children dealing with bullies. Well, it’s not true that words will never harm me. Verbal harassment can have lasting negative impact. Our language reflects our behavior and vice versa.

Here is another example. When we use the phrase, “Boys will be boys,” we are giving a pass to unacceptable behaviors. We are completely omitting our responsibilities in shaping the lives of children. If we keep using that phrase, we become directly responsible for the aggressive and sexist behaviors when those boys grow up to be men who harm each other and harm women. Our language shapes our societal culture.

We have a choice: continue to be unconscious about our language, or change the way we communicate.

What are next steps for “Say This Not That?”

There are already seven community organizations that are part of this project. With help from the talented and wonderful team at LimeRed Studio, we’ve submitted Say This, Not That into the DML Trust Challenge. We’ll know on January 4 if we are one of the finalists. Winning this challenge will give us the funding we need. I’m also looking for talent such as researchers and IT talents. Email me if you are interested to help with this platform and community!

What do you wish were a larger discussion in the nonprofit tech community? How do you think we can get there?

The tech world is starting to look around and notice the people who are missing from the room. But there is more to diversifying the field than just creating the “pipeline” and increasing access. Let’s figure out how organizations don’t just have revolving doors, where people of color and women enter, and then leave because conditions are unbearable. Let’s talk about who gets to shape the conversation. We cannot truly tackle inequities without talking about systemic privilege. We are in the thick of it right now.

Yee Won Chong
Yee Won Chong Consulting
Yee Won Chong is Principal of Yee Won Chong Consulting. Yee Won is committed to addressing racial justice, economic equality, environmental sustainability, and gender/LGBTQ inclusion as a trainer, strategist, speaker, and catalyst for change. Follow Yee Won on Twitter @yeewon.