Hello Portland Women in Technology! I have just been hired as your first ever executive director. My heart swells as I type those words. I am honored to be joining this exceptional collective of people deeply committed to making Portland’s tech community more inclusive. Before I go into that, I’d like to tell you a bit about myself.
I was born in Miami, grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Oregon at 18. I was raised in a slightly unconventional family that showed me that all families can look different. My father is gay – a fact that may barely garner a reaction today. But 30 years ago, I knew no other families that resembled mine. I would hear gay slurs at school on a regular basis and at times I felt shame and isolation. I also saw that my dad’s experience as a gay parent was exceptionally difficult at times. As a child, this provided me with a glimpse into what marginalized populations face every day, although I know everyone’s experience is unique. As an adult, I can see that having a gay parent has only added volume to my character, and expanded my understanding of others, and I am deeply grateful for it.
And now I get to be a parent, which has blown my heart and world open in a way that I could never have imagined. My son Westley, and I, along with my husband Mark spend our free time creating adventures – whether that involves going on hikes with our sweet dog Annie girl or seeing how big the forts we build in our living room can get, we always manage to have a good time.
The importance of diversity in technology (along with every other space) cannot be overstated. The fact is, when we don't have different perspectives – whether those differences are based in gender, age, life experience, abilities, education, or race – we miss out. We miss out on innovation and potential growth and everyone involved in this organization knows it. Thanks to the efforts of PDXWIT, and bold activism from many others, Portland has made tremendous strides when it comes to inclusion in tech, but there is still a long way to go.
I have had the opportunity to connect with many members of the PDXWIT community already, and I am eager to get to know all of you. The amount of talent, strength, intelligence and creativity in this community of folks committed to the mission is profound, and deeply inspiring. I look forward to joining you all, learning from each of you, and ensuring that as your executive director I am doing everything I can to keep your organization on track as it continues to change the game.
Thanks for having me and I look forward to getting to work.
Q&A - Elizabeth Stock with PDXWIT Press Manager, Allison Cefalo
AC: Why PDXWIT? What drew you to the organization?
ES: I like to keep a pulse on local organizations that are focused on equity and inclusion so PDXWIT has been on my radar for awhile. I have been doing consulting work for Diversa, an educational tech company, which led me to linking with PDXWIT on some projects. I started coming to the happy hours and connecting with so many exceptional people. I knew from the first event I attended that I wanted to continue to be part of this community in some way.
I have always been impressed by organizations that function primarily as a result of committed volunteers. I have a long history of volunteering myself, and I have found my professional interests through my volunteer experiences. PDXWIT has managed to accomplish so much primarily due to the volunteers who dedicate themselves to the organization and I find that tremendously inspiring.
I love when an organization can simultaneously have a laser focus but also recognize there is work to be done beyond the specific organizational focus. I think PDXWIT exists very well within that reality. I also appreciate the organization’s ability to be self-reflective, which sometimes means making changes. A strong organization is one that can evolve and improve as it continues to understand the needs of its constituents, and I think PDXWIT is a model organization when it comes to doing that.
AC: What are you most excited to accomplish in your new role?
ES: I am excited to continue the incredible momentum that Megan, the board of directors, and so many volunteers have created. I look forward to continuing to find corporate supporters and donors who are looking to put their resources towards an organization committed to equity. Fundraising is something I have always enjoyed. I get satisfaction out of helping people and companies find meaningful places to put their money so I am looking forward to exploring new funding opportunities for the organization.
I also am eager to understand how I can best support the tremendous volunteers for this organization. PDXWIT simply could not operate without them so ensuring they are getting the tools and support they need to keep going feels really important.
AC: Is there anything specific that you want to say? A key message to convey?
ES: PDXWIT has reached the point of hiring an executive director because of the dedication, hard work, and grit of so many people. I just really want to thank those who came before me to bring the organization to where it is now.
AC: What part of your professional and personal background would you like to ensure the audience knows about?
ES:I have been putting my personal values around diversity and inclusion into direct action throughout my career. As Director of Foster Care Services at Boys & Girls Aid, I consistently took steps to ensure that programs and services were inclusive to all who accessed them. From creating gender neutral bathrooms to ensuring youth in residential programs had culturally specific hair products, it was fundamental that services took the needs of everyone into account. I hired and supervised a diverse team of staff and provided them with the resources they needed in order to create safe spaces for all children they worked with. When tasked with volunteer and foster family recruitment, I was thoughtful about what communities I reached out to, ensuring I captured a diverse network of potential folks to engage.
In my work at Diversa edu, I had the opportunity to engage with generations of African American community members in Northeast Portland who have experienced the devastating consequences of gentrification. Through storytelling encounters and the creation of historical art markers, there will be increased visibility for this community of folks. I am passionate about storytelling, and appreciate what art and technology can offer in terms of illustrating and amplifying people's stories.
AC: Are there any details about meeting Megan or the organization's leadership team that would be appropriate to share with the reader and humanize your involvement?
As I was wrapping up my interview with the board of directors, I reached into my bag to grab a writing sample I planned to leave behind. When I pulled the folder with the writing sample out of my bag, out also came a diaper and a tampon. I felt embarrassed for a split second, but then quickly felt like a badass.