Speaker 1: Welcome to the Underrepresented In Tech podcast, hosted by Michelle Frechette and Allie Nimmons. Underrepresented in Tech is a free database built with the goal of helping people find new opportunities in WordPress and tech overall.
Michelle: Hi, Allie.
Allie: Hi, Michelle. How are you?
Michelle: I’m good. How are you?
Allie: I’m good.
Michelle: It’s in the seventies this week in Rochester, New York.
Michelle: So it might actually be colder in my house than it is outside. And I called today to… I got new air conditioning recently, and they haven’t been able to test it because it was like 30 degrees that when they installed it.
So they called me to say, “Hey, we have to come test it before our summer gets really hot.” I said, “Oh, well, I’m free these days next week.” They’re like, “Oh, it’s supposed to be cold again next week.” And I was like, “No!” So they’re coming tomorrow. Anyway just a little glimpse into the life of Michelle Frechette.
Allie: Austin is super confusing because this morning it was 55 when I woke up, and now it’s about almost 80 outside, and I’m just like, I don’t know how to dress. I don’t know what clothes to wear. What’s happening?
Michelle: My furnace kicks on at night. My air conditioning kicks on during the day. I am so confused. Yeah.
Allie: It’s very bizarre, but what are we talking about today, Michelle?
Michelle: Today let’s talk about safe spaces. I think it’s so important that safe spaces exist for underrepresented folks especially. And yeah, we’ll talk a little bit about what that means, but let me tell you a little bit about how this conversation or how this topic came to me.
And that’s that last month, was it last month already? I think it was last month. I’m so confused. This year’s already just been one giant blur, but WordCamp Phoenix is where it came up. And I gave a talk at WordCamp Phoenix about belonging in WordPress. And it’s basically a challenge. So the talk is a challenge to those with privilege to share that privilege with people who are underrepresented.
So I’d say, “How do we make more room at the table?” And then my last slide is “Surprise! The table’s fake. There’s no real table. Make it as big as you want. An imaginary table can accommodate as many people as we can.”
And I talk about different ways that that can happen in different resources that there are, and how we as human beings can make spaces and areas and companies and organizations more equitable, more welcoming, and how that all plays into DEIB, et cetera.
And during that talk, I specifically talked about Black Press. So Black Press has a website. There’s a Slack channel, there are some allies. So I am in the Black Press Slack channel.
I so very seldom actually say anything in there because it’s not my space. So I’m in there as an ally. If I have opportunities, I share them. If people are asking for resources, I’ll share resources, but I don’t initiate conversations there. It isn’t my space and it isn’t my place to do that.
But I love being an ally, and I love being able to share opportunities and resources with people. And I think it’s great that exists.
And so I was talking about that as an example of spaces within WordPress that are very niche for specific groups of people, specifically underrepresented people, where you can operate within that space without the fear that you might if you were in a space that was not geared to an underrepresented group.
So we have Black Press, we have Ladies in WordPress, I think, is that the Slack channel I’m in? And you were telling me there’s a few others as well that I’m not part of, so I wasn’t necessarily aware of, which is fine too.
Allie: The one that comes to mind for me is the WordPress Women of Color Channel. And I’ll link to all of these in the show notes as well for people who are interested.
Michelle: Perfect. So I give this talk, and I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but what I love about when I give this talk is how well it resonates with the people who choose to be in the room.
Now, let’s be honest, the people who choose to be in that room are people who are seeking to be allies if they’re white privileged folks in the room. So I’m not changing over the hardhearted people and aren’t a lot of hardhearted people in WordPress.
So if you’re attending a WordCamp kind of thing, hopefully at least you’re a little bit open-minded. So yes, in a way it’s a little bit of preaching to the choir, but it’s also just trying to give people opportunities to do better in our spaces. And a couple of times in there, they applauded in the middle of the talk, which just warmed my heart.
And at the very end, a woman who’d been standing in the back, I said, “Are there any questions?” I had five minutes for questions. And she just said, “Thank you. Thank you for giving us ideas, bringing resources, telling us how we can do better.” And I thought that was awesome. But then afterwards, one-on-one, I had three different people approach me at three different times. So not in a group come talk to me, but I had three different people from the LGBTQ+ community approach, me and say, is there a space like Black Press for the LGBTQ+ community? And I was like, “There is in tech,” but there wasn’t specifically, at least none that I found to date in WordPress.
And so I got my brain thinking about, gosh, how could we do that? And so I told all of them, this was standing at my table that I was repping for the company that I was there with.
So at the after party, which I almost didn’t go to, and Kevin McNamara was like, “Come, Michelle, we’ll help you with your scooter, et cetera.” At that after party, I was sitting with several folks who are in the LGBTQ+ community, and we started talking about how could we create a safe space?
And I’m an ally and I love helping people get started with projects as everybody in the WordPress community knows. And so we started talking about what could we create, and we wanted to model it after what you’ve done with Black Press.
And so there’s a website that is not even built yet, so you can visit it, but there’s literally nothing to see about a rainbow right now. But there will be shortly lgbtqpress.com. And we have created a Slack channel specifically for the LGBTQ community in WordPress. And so my invitation is for people who are part of the community, who are wanting to find safe space in that Slack channel and within the organization, Black Press has little meetups at WordCamps and things like that, which I just love that y’all do, that the same could be true for the LGBTQ+ community, could be true for women in WordPress, et cetera, that we could have these little micro groups meeting in support of one another.
So as a result of all of that, I reached out to the people, DM’d them, the people who had approached me. They’re excited about the process, they’re excited about what’s happening. We’re creating, currently, I’m supposed to be drafting up, and I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m drafting a code of conduct for the space with extra care because you could be a member of the LGBTQ community and out to other people in the LGBTQ community, but not out to the community at large in WordPress.
And so it’s hard for Allie Nimmons to hide her brown face. So you walk into this space and we know that Allie is not the white girl that Michelle is, but it’s different for your sexuality and for your your LGBTQ+ness. I’m messing up queerness royally.
Allie: I would say queerness.
Michelle: Okay, queerness, which includes trans and everything else. So all of that. So it’s very, very important that that is a very safe space for people who may not be out to others and that if they choose to allow allies into that Slack channel, that they’re very well vetted so that we aren’t introducing people into that Slack who then would out people either.
And I always assume the best of everyone, but we all know that there are bad players in the world, and we want to make sure that we continue to have a safe space for people.
And so we’re drafting that code of conduct. We’re going to be starting working on the website. And my goal as an ally is just to kick it off and then step back or step out, whatever the community decides, because it isn’t my community. Yes, I’m an ally, but it’s not my community.
I am not trying to run it. I am not trying to determine what happens. I’m simply helping facilitate getting it off the ground and then stepping out of it because it’s not mine to run. So all of that to be said, is the importance of creating safe spaces and not even being aware.
I mean, here I am talking about under-representation to a group of people and not even aware that there’s not safe spaces for certain factions and groups and sub communities of our community and the need to create those. So I thought that was a good topic for today. I’ve like waxed very long on the subject so far. So dive in and give me some of your two cents and we can talk about what that might look like.
Allie: Yeah, I’m super excited when you told me about starting this, I always have these moments where I’m like, I want to dive in and I want to spend all my time helping you work on that. And I have to reel myself back in and be like, no, you don’t have the bandwidth to completely run that.
But I think it’s super important and I’m really excited to see what happens with it, particularly when we start getting queer folks from the community to participate in helping to build it. Because already it’s kind of … So I think an important part of creating safe spaces in general is taking into account and listening to the people who need the safe space first and foremost.
Speaker 1: We hope you’re learning a lot from the podcast. If you have any questions or need specialized help making your space more diverse, equitable or inclusive, book a consulting session audit or strategy service with us, just go to underrepresentedintech.com/services for more information. Back to the show.
Allie: And this is a proposed idea that I’m putting out there that doesn’t need to be the way that it is. I would propose that in a group like LGBT … Can we call it Queer Press? LGBTQ+ is such a mouthful.
For a group like this, I would even suggest not allowing allies for the pure sake of, like you said, there are a lot of people who are still closeted. And a lot of times what closeted people need most, even more than people who are out, is a safe space to come to terms with those feelings, to talk to other people.
And by pure definition of having a group like that where people who are closeted would be encouraged to join, I fear it would deter them if allies were a part of the group. That’s not to say that shouldn’t happen. I could be totally wrong, I’ve never been in a position, I’ve been fortunate enough to not be in a position where I felt closeted with my queerness.
But there is such a need for safe spaces everywhere, not just in WordPress, not just in tech, but I think particularly with workspaces that by definition, are not built around that mindset. Most of our companies and businesses are built around efficiency and making money and all that stuff. And we have to consistently go backward and remember, this is about people. These are real people who are experiencing these things.
So Automatic has Cocomatic, which is their internal version of Black Press, essentially. And Black Press came to be because members of Cocomatic were like, we want to expand this to the WordPress community in general, not just [inaudible 00:12:44]. So there’s always need for these places at different levels and in different places. And I think that the WordPress community has gotten really good at making these places.
I think there’s a struggle to maintain them a lot of the time. It’s like right now, the original founders of Black Press, most of us are not as involved anymore. And we’ve kind of passed the torch to various other organizers who have had more time and more bandwidth to do it. Same goes for WordPress Women of Color, but that’s also kind of the joy of it, is that when you have a community led thing, it will wax and depending on what the community needs at that given time.
So I think it’s super cool how good we are at making safe spaces and how inherently good we are as a community at … There’s so many individuals in this community who I think of as safe spaces. You are a safe space to me. I know that I can call you or text you or DM you whenever, barring your availability, you will be there for me and I can talk to you about anything. I can tell you anything. And I know that you will protect my privacy and you’ll protect my feelings and all of those sorts of things.
And there are even people who I’m not as close to as I am to you personally, that I think of as … John Locke is a fantastic, and I know he’s listening, Hi, John …
Michelle: Hi John.
Allie: … Is a fantastic safe space for me. And I’ve never even met him. I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t even think we’ve ever been on a Zoom together. But he is always the first person there to advocate for me. He is always the first person there to defend me. He’s always the first person to send me a DM and check in on me and see how I’m doing. Same goes for [inaudible 00:14:40].
There’s so many people in this community who have made themselves as individuals into safe spaces. And when those people begin to scale that support, that’s when we get these bigger spaces together. And so I know that there are people, queer people that I also think of as safe spaces.
I won’t call any of them out that I hope will participate in building this community because it’s super necessary. And yeah, so what is the next step beyond the code of conduct, what then would be the next step in building out that group, do you think?
Michelle: Yeah, so we have some people already in the group who have given an interest in helping build the site out. And so we’re looking to get that site up and running sooner rather than later so that it’s easy to find your way into the Slack, for example, and to see what events might be coming up if the community decides to do a meetup at an event, for example, that kind of thing.
So we’ll just have similar to what’s what’s happening at the Black Press website, because it’s a very good benchmark to look at and kind of emulate to just make it the gateway into the safe space itself, if that makes sense. And so if people are interested in getting into that Slack, right now the only way to do that is to DM me, and I will absolutely give you the link to get in.
I would tell you some of the other people you could DM, but I don’t know how safe they feel putting that out there. So I will continue to be the conduit until something else arrives, because it’s not my job to out people either. So I would be happy to be the bridge into that community.
If you’re somebody that’s looking to join, please DM me on Twitter. I check my DMs at least two or three times a day, so it’s not going to sit there for very long. If we’re not following each other, I will still see it within 24 hours, I promise. And be happy to give you the information that you need. If you’re looking for a project, we’re not paying anybody because it’s just a community project, but if you are looking to help out with the website itself, we would welcome that as well. And then also anybody that joins into the Slack channel as we build out that code of conduct we’d be happy for inputs there as well.
Allie: Totally. Yeah, it’s super exciting.
Michelle: It is, and it kind of, in a way, I started thinking like, Ooh, what other underrepresented groups should have safe spaces? I’m like, maybe we should have Divergent Press. Maybe we should … it could go crazy. But also remember that for some of those underrepresented groups, Big Orange Heart actually serves as a really good place.
So neuro divergence and Big Orange Heart go really well together. So if you were in under the underrepresented group that is neuro divergence and you’d like to join big orange Heart, that’s simple. Just go to bigorangeheart.org, click the join button, it’s free to join there as well. And we are a safe space for mental health. And I know that neuro divergence isn’t mental health, but we have also, there is overlap and we absolutely are a safe space to talk about anything that comes about as neuro divergence.
And then if you’re part of an underrepresented group and you’re looking for some resources to start your own, hit me up. I’ll be happy to tell you how I got things up and running and how you can do it very quickly and easily as well. I don’t need to be involved, but I’d be happy to share resources.
Allie: Yeah, absolutely. And I thought for a second that I should get ahead of it and try to explain, because when Black Press started, there was a modicum of pushback of people who were like, “Why is this necessary? This is segregation, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
And so I thought for a second that I should revisit that in terms of the LGBTQ Press group. I’ll say this, segregation happens without choice. That is the distinction. It all has to do with choice. So if, for example, you worked at a company where all of the gay or queer people had to work in the same office and they couldn’t go into the straight office and they didn’t have a choice, that is segregation.
Creating a group where people can choose to hop in and say hi and talk about whatever they want, queer people are interesting and exciting, and we have all kinds of things to discuss from queer issues to things outside of that, that all comes down to choice, and people can choose to join that group because they can get something out of it because there’s a benefit for them.
So before anyone decides that they have something to say or think about that, that is the difference.
Michelle: It’s a resource. It’s a resource for an underrepresented group to have that safe space. And it is not self-segregation. Agreed.
Allie: And it does so much, I think depending on how visible these groups can be to the general public, it says a lot about the WordPress community to people who are coming in to see, oh wow, there are all of these individual spaces for me. There are all of these places that I can go and I can feel valued and I can feel important. And that honestly makes all of us look better.
That’s not what it’s about at the end of the day, but it’s helpful toward communicating to new community members that in general, WordPress is made up of people who want these safe spaces to exist and who support them and help in organizing them and all of those good things.
And so I know that there are other similar types of groups out there for tech communities, but I think that, yeah, it says a lot about our community and about WordPress in general, that we have become so passionate in the last few years about creating these spaces for each other. It’s pretty great.
Michelle: Yeah, and remember too, that, like you said earlier, that a safe space can be a community or it can be a person. So if you’re looking for resources, message us over on the Underrepresented in Tech Twitter account.
Send us a message through our underrepresentedtech.com. If we have resources that we can share with you, we are more than happy to do that. If you have questions we can help you with, absolutely. And you may have somebody in your life already, that’s a safe space for you. But if not, I encourage you to seek somebody out who you can trust with your innermost feelings and ideas and questions and angst and everything in between, because it’s good to have somebody that you can open up to about your innermost self.
Allie: Most definitely. Cool.
Michelle: All right,
Allie: Well, yeah, we talked about a lot of different websites and communities, and I will, I’ve made notes to put all of that, all of those links in the show notes. If you’re interested in checking in with or joining any of those communities, I’m sure they would be happy to have you.
Michelle: Absolutely. Cool. All right. We’ll see you next week.
Allie: Okay, bye
Speaker 1: This episode was sponsored by the following companies, Yoast SEO. Yoast Is your go-to resource for everything SEO. They help you rank your WordPress website and Shopify store. Go to yost.com to learn more.
The Blogsmith. The Blogsmith is a holistic content marketing agency for B2B technology brands that creates data-driven content with a great reader experience. Visit theblogsmith.com to learn more. Thank you so much to our sponsors for this episode. If you’re interested in sponsoring an episode using our database, or just want to say hi, go to underrepresentedintech.com. See you next week.
This episode was sponsored by Yoast SEO. Yoast is your go-to resource for everything SEO. They help you rank your WordPresswebsite and Shopify store.
This episode was sponsored by The Blogsmith. The Blogsmith is a holistic content marketing agency for B2B technology brands that creates data-driven content with a great reader experience.