• Motto

How the Tech World Can Be More Inclusive to Transgender Employees

6 minute read

The tech industry is not exactly famous for its diversity. Google’s latest numbers released in June reveal 69% of its employees are male and 31% are female (a change from last year’s numbers of 70% men and 30% women). Fifty-nine percent of its employees are white. And at Facebook, despite offering recruiter incentives for hiring diverse employees, only 17% of its technical roles are held by women.

Some companies hope to solve this diversity issue through blind application software, which seek to reduce bias by withholding an applicant’s biographical information (including their name) for as long as possible during the job search process. Instead, applicants complete customized tests or challenges to prove their skills in advance of submitting a resume. Eventually, hiring managers will learn the applicant’s name, but only after they see how that applicant performs. As reported by Fast Company, the blind application company GapJumpers looked at around 1,200 tests at 13 companies and found the gender breakdown of candidates hired once there was a blind skills test in place was 58% women, 42% men.

Jessica Janiuk, a transgender woman and software engineer from Des Moines, Iowa, was recruited for her most recent job from CodeFights, a website that gives its users competitive coding challenges. “I think it did help,” she told Motto when asked if these kinds of services helped her find new opportunities. She did caveat that her biggest difficulty was getting her career started. Once she had her first job at a small shop in Wisconsin, she said she had “little to no problems” finding a job, “because everything since then has been reputation-based.”

Motto spoke with Janiuk about what it’s like being a transgender woman in an industry not particularly well-known for its embrace of underrepresented groups.

Motto: How has being a transgender woman affected your career? Why do you think that is?
Jessica Janiuk: When I was first starting my career, some interviewers would ask me about these talks and I would tell them how I discussed gender and trans issues. Once the interviews ended, and I followed up, I found out that they had moved on.

I have passing privilege — when people first meet me, they see a woman. It usually isn’t until later that they find out I’m trans because of all the speaking I do in the transgender community. That information is right there. Typically during initial interviews it’s never brought up. I’m also always very cautious about not bringing it up, which is unfortunate. When you’re in a smaller part of the country where I have been, like Iowa, or Wisconsin where I grew up, [trans rights] are much less prominent.

Why do you think employers are put off?
I would say, to quote George Takei, it’s the “ick” factor. People don’t really know much about the trans community. Many people are very ignorant, just going off of what they have seen in media and preconceived notions and assumptions. I know we make a lot of people uncomfortable, which is sad. That’s a big part of it, we’re icky to them and they don’t want to have to deal with us. Secondary to that is also being a woman. We also deal with that double negative of the perception of women in the tech industry, we’re also minorities in that regard.

What do you think companies and HR managers should do to be more inclusive of transgender employees?
It’s a universal thing but essentially knocking down the ignorance wall is step one. And maybe it’s the HR folks or having events in companies that actively engage the LGBT community and helps educate people in the office. A lot of it is exposure. Once people get to know me, there’s nothing scary — or about trans people in general. When people don’t know and operate on assumptions, that’s when you run into problems. Starting to break down issues of ignorance by trying to get people in the office, exposure to education in company organizations is great.

I know some [companies] do this, I spoke at one, but having an LGBT club within the company to sponsor those events is great. And I also think that’s also a great selling point for a company that’s trying to be more diverse. It’s a very visible way to tell potential employees that hey, we actually support and welcome you.

Are there places where you have felt welcomed and included?
I’ve always felt like I’m a minority, since I’m often the only female or one of two females on a team of 20-30 people. I’ve seen code camps where women have been presenting and audience members actively try to hit on women. But you have the rest of people in the audience going, “Oh my god I can’t believe you just did that.” I’ve also seen at similar events a female presenter being asked if they’re there with their boyfriend rather than being there to be there. But at bigger conferences [inclusiveness has] been encouraged. I’ve been to Google IO [an annual tech conference hosted by Google] and women-focused organizations give tickets to women who want to go. You get pretty good turnouts — 23% women.

What do you think the tech community can do to welcome trans people and the LGBT community?
Tech conferences should invite LGBTQ-identified people to be speakers as well as other minorities. This helps expand visibility to the tech community while also promoting acceptance, and offering different perspectives to attendees. Those conferences, as well as tech companies in general, should be very explicit about their policies of inclusivity and acceptance. I think by doing so, this will help members of the minority communities know that we are not only welcome, but also safe and supported.

For example, Comic Con now has policies like “cosplay is not consent” to encourage acceptance of women, and the tech community could do that as well by openly stating policies about who’s welcome.

I know there are sub groups like Lesbians Who Tech who have conferences on the coast a couple of times a year, but that’s also a self-limiting group. We need to promote to all people that they’re welcome.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com