Black, queer, and neurodivergent in tech: How an activist is creating a safe space for intersectionality

In the year When I decided to learn how to code in 2017, I was surprised – not only did I enjoy the creation, but I even worked to find myself a software engineer. As someone who has been pursuing a career as a psychodynamic therapist, I am proud to have begun sharing my progress on social media.

As I described my journey online, I realized a sense of community building when people started following me, someone they knew—a black, queer, and neurodiverse woman—in a field where that was rare. Only black women are prepared 0.7 percent of the tech workforce in the UK(Opens in a new tab)identifying at least as neurodivergent and/or queer.

My goal is to inspire and encourage those who identify with any or all intersectional areas to enter the tech industry, and to do so, I use the most powerful and accessible tools at my disposal: my voice, my story, and social media.

Sharing my link.

As a DevOps engineer, multi-award winning neurodiversity and inclusion advocate, writer, public speaker and founder of Opal, I use mine. Forums(Opens in a new tab) To promote education on topics related to neurodiversity, inclusion and technology, including understanding intersectionality.

A term coined by a civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw(Opens in a new tab), intersectionality describes the complex, cumulative way multiple forms of discrimination overlap and affect marginalized individuals. By creating an identity that is greater than the sum of its parts, the middle class shapes perception—how you experience the world, the judgments made about you, and how you influence others.

Throughout my life, I’ve always been remembered for being more black when I entered the tech industry. As a junior software engineer I was very excited when I first moved from London to Belfast. However, after a week or two in my new position – working with around 500 people at the headquarters of one of the largest telecommunications companies in the UK – I realized that I was the only black woman there. Suddenly the stares I got when I walked into the cafeteria made sense and I chose to eat on my own.

Although I have always been honest and felt misunderstood, I have not seen any changes in the company’s diversity and inclusion practices. I’m grateful for the individuals I’ve met—some of whom I still consider friends—but constantly feeling responsible for educating others about who you are and providing inspiration through representation can be exhausting and isolating. I tried to reassure myself that what I was sharing would contribute to a better experience for the next person who joined the company and looked like me.

However, loneliness has taken its toll on my mind, and I am depressed and disinterested. Eventually, I found myself on a zoom call in 2021, swinging my camera from side to side as I tried to maintain my composure. Three years ago, following diagnoses of dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD, I was referred to a mental health professional for cognitive behavioral therapy and diagnosed with anxiety.

This journey finally led me to be diagnosed with autism last month, coincidentally during World Autism Acceptance Week. Although I am saddened that it took me so long to figure out this new area of ​​my identity, it is one that I accept, respect, and am learning to embrace.

Being neurodivergent can bring gifts such as creativity, unique ways of thinking, and a willingness to learn new things. It can also often present difficult challenges to explain what I need, and I haven’t had easy progress in my technology career in environments that aren’t designed for a neuro-diverse workforce. I use a variety of accommodations, including medication and screen readers, to help me navigate my daily life at work and outside of work.

However, following my own path, I have received numerous awards and accolades in addition to appearing in various publications, giving keynote speeches, participating in expert panels and even writing a book. Voices in the shadows(Opens in a new tab) About Black Women in Tech. Most recently, I was selected to serve as a representative of the United Nations Women’s UK Commission on the Status of Women.

‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’

In a world where there are so many opinions about who I am, I understand that there will be people who don’t want to hear my story – but there are nearly 30,000 others online who are following me and contributing to the opportunities. It inspires me to continue to learn and grow, and share my authenticity. At the end of the day, the number of followers doesn’t matter, and the number of views doesn’t matter – it’s the communities that my story touches that matter most.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” said activist Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund. Being neurodivergent, being queer, being a black woman, and even being a DevOps engineer means that I can be for others what I can’t see for myself.

“I love how much you’ve embraced who you are, giving voice to it and allowing others to embrace who they really are in doing so.” “Stand up in your power and move on to the mountains.” Comments like these show a sense of support and reciprocity for what I wrote to share on LinkedIn as an adult with autism.

Building a social media presence and sharing yourself publicly with the world can be challenging, especially for those who are part of marginalized communities. However, it can be empowering – not just for you, but for those who might be inspired by your example.

Protecting your digital space

As a technologist who is part of many marginalized identities, maintaining my rightful place in my industry and social networks is critical to my success and safety—a fundamental part of being able to share my story. Although it may seem simple to some, I have trusted my feelings online and worked to block people when it felt right.

As someone who genuinely enjoys discussing advice about getting into the tech industry, learning to code, or simply being a black, queer, neurodivergent woman in the corporate world, I want to share myself freely, but I’m disrespected by the people who show it. A sense of entitlement to that level of achievement. While I tend to overreact in situations of conflict or rudeness, I’ve learned that the answer lies in trusting how I feel.

Instead of struggling with the guilt of not showing the world the big heart my culture and society expects of me, I choose to prioritize my own well-being, which has allowed me to excel at what I love as a software engineer. A lawyer.

Although overwhelming, social media plays an important role in building your brand, establishing yourself as an expert in your field, and developing a support network. Protecting your mental and emotional well-being and yourself is just as important a part of managing your social media and I use basic strategies to protect my place online:

Create a safe social environment

Don’t blame people for not responding. I used to feel guilty for not responding quickly to a comment or question, sometimes because my followers told me I should feel that way. As a black woman, and in my role as a big girl, I always felt an obligation to be there for others even when I hurt myself. But it’s important to always put yourself first.

Block harmful people and do not respond

Over the years I have blocked people who were sexist, racist, immoral, or just plain rude. At times, I felt guilty, but never. We only close the door to those who respect it and those who don’t.

Take a break

As a neurodivergent person, I can get overwhelmed very easily. This is when I chose to get off social media. There is no need to announce a social media outage; You can just uninstall the app and breathe.

Be mindful of what you share

Don’t feel obligated to share everything about your life, your surroundings, or your opinions. You don’t have to be content all your life. You can keep things to yourself. Setting boundaries is important to your mental health and well-being. Make informed choices about who should have access to anything that shows off your home, and be sure to save content created while traveling to post after your safe return.

Also, use tools like two-factor authentication and strong password practices to keep your social media accounts secure and control what’s shared on your behalf. Anyone can be vulnerable to hacking, but these defenses can help protect your digital presence.

Providing inspiration with authenticity

As I find new connections and communities through my recent autism diagnosis, I encourage you to share your story and encourage people in your corner of the internet – it makes a difference to more people than you think. Remember, the number of followers you have or don’t have doesn’t determine your influence; As you welcome the world into your life online, the key is to stay authentic and true to who you are.

For those of you who can identify with any area of ​​intersectionality, I hope my experience inspires you to be unapologetic about who you are and come wherever you may be.

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