Badass Woman spotlights women who not only have a voice but defy the irrelevant preconceptions of gender. (Not to mention, they are exceptionally cool.) Here advocate for diversity and inclusion in the tech industry Erica Joy Baker speaks about her experience.
Why she’s a badass: This senior tech engineer made headlines in 2015 for publishing a spreadsheet of salaries at Google, her former employer. Some of Baker’s coworkers used data in the sheet to ask for and receive more equitable pay. However, Baker was reprimanded for her actions. Undeterred, she used the experience as a catalyst for her devotion to championing equality in the workplace.
“It was the first time anyone had ever spoken out about what it was like to work in the tech industry as a person of color,” Baker says. “It was a little heartbreaking to learn that so many people were going through all those same issues, but at the same time it was a motivator for me. We need to keep talking about this because clearly it's a problem, and we cannot solve the problems unless we are being honest about them.”
Baker now spends her time to making sure tech companies respect their diverse core of employees. She’s also a board member for Girls Develop It and a co-founder of Project Include, a non-profit that provides companies with guidelines for accelerating diversity and inclusion.
How she got involved in technology: As a kid, Baker’s mom used the computer as a virtual babysitter. Once Baker’s interest was piqued, she attended a two-day computer camp that furthered her passion for technology. By age 12, she decided that she wanted to work with computers in her career.
“When computers started becoming very popular, I was the only kid in my class who knew how to do anything with them,” Baker says. “I wasn't afraid of them.”
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What she’s most proud of: Baker and several other prominent women in the tech like Ellen Pao (Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Kapor Center) launched Project Include in 2016. Since then, the group has been able to provide actual solutions for startup companies looking to focus on adding to the diversity of their workplaces.
“People often talk about the word ‘diversity’ without the word ‘inclusion.’ And I think inclusion is the hardest part,” Baker says. “With Project Include, we’re acknowledging the people that are already in the tech industry to make their work lives better and make them feel more included. I feel really proud about what we’ve produced.”
Overcoming obstacles: Baker has written and spoken about her own experience working as an African-American woman in the tech industry and the obstacles she’s faced. She’s no stranger to being ostracized for her race and gender.
At one recent TED @ BCG talk in Milan, she spoke about “bridging the anxiety gap,” which refers to minority groups’ need to overcome a bombardment of micro and macro aggressions before they are able to focus on their jobs at all.
“How can we achieve and advance and get ahead when we aren't getting the opportunity to come to work every day and focus all our attention on doing the work?” Baker asks.
What’s up next: Baker is dedicated to placing the emphasis on inclusion at work. She wants to see more companies add to their culture as opposed to hiring for “culture fit.”
“Being able to come to work and be my authentic self and be who I am instead of the person who fits into the culture is a huge deal,” Baker says before adding that she believes she has found a more positive company environment in her latest position as Senior Engineering Manager for Patreon.
Baker oversees the art-focused patronage platform’s infrastructure engineering team. Right now, the new manager feels grateful to be in an environment that allows her to focus on her passion for technology.
“Diversity and inclusion are super important, but I'm also an engineer,” Baker says. “So it feels really good that I’m able to spend a lot of my time now on engineering.”
Her best career advice: “Be true to yourself,” Baker says without hesitation before noting it will come at a cost. “But if you want to do this, if you want to advance and be a force, you have to be true to yourself and not stray from that.”
Visit ericabaker.com for more information on Baker's latest projects.