Trans*H4CK Founder On Equity In Tech And The Need For Queer Inclusivity

Trans*H4CK, a series of hackathons for transgender and gender non-conforming people, recently launched a Q&A web series featuring trans people in tech. I recently sat down with Trans*H4CK founder Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler to chat about diversity, racism, unconscious bias and more. Below is our conversation, which has been mildly edited for clarity.

Megan Rose Dickey: What is diversity?

Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler: I think it really means difference and celebrating difference. That difference is good. That it’s ok. Not only in the space of tech and business but also as a human being and human growth. I think I try to lead a life that includes diverse perspectives of people, so, that’s what it means to me.

MRD: Why is diversity important in the tech industry?

Ziegler: I personally think diversity is important in the tech industry because it is a space about wealth building and wealth creation, and me, being a black person and being widely aware of social inequity, I think tech is a really great space that allows for some of that inequity to be dissipated in multiple ways. So, if we do have a kind of diverse space and we include different perspectives and give different opportunities to people, I think we have a better way to include people in the wealth building creation that is what I think tech is about.

MRD: Do you see tech companies handling diversity well? If so, what are they?

Ziegler: I think companies like Slack, and I’m in Oakland and Clef is there, and they’re doing a lot of work to really hire people who look like me, and not only just hire people who look like me, but put people who look like me in leadership roles and positions. So I think those are two companies that are doing really awesome things.

MRD: Last time we met, we talked about racism in tech. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you believe there is racism.

Ziegler: I think within the industry people are human beings and they live in the world and they bring their politics and biases into the workplace and that’s just fact. It’s so funny, even Apple, on MLK day they had his face on its website, but two days before, it comes out that they’re like, ‘we don’t want to hire black people,’ pretty much.

MRD: Right, they called it a burden.

Ziegler: Yeah, “it’s a burden.” They use words like that: it’s a burden, it’s too hard. I think that’s definitely racially biased and so, we can call it racism — a form of racism — but I definitely think the idea of racial discrimination needs to be discussed more.

MRD: In last year, tech companies have started offering unconscious bias trainings? Is it unconscious versus conscious?

Ziegler: I think a lot of racism is unconscious. I think it’s all intentional at the same time. I think It’s messy. I think it’s a bunch of that stuff. I think that anything that somebody does to make the world better and to make someone more comfortable is a step in the right direction.

MRD: Speaking of steps in the right direction, what other steps do tech companies need to make to foster diversity and inclusion?

Ziegler: I think tech companies can partner more with non-profits. I think a lot of non-profits that are not tech-based are doing a lot of the work that tech companies are wanting to do right now with their tons of money, but really have no idea what to do. And there are people who have been doing the work with no money for years and years and years. I think there’s a missed opportunity that’s happening, especially in the Bay Area, an area of progressivity. A lot of non-profits are here, but they seem to be so secluded and excluded from tech events and the tech world. I think so much could be done if there were more conversations being held between those two worlds.

MRD: I remember a tweet of yours about how the solution to hiring more blacks in tech is just to hire them.

Ziegler: Someone I follow on twitter, @dtwps, Riley. He has a video about diversity in tech and is like, ‘yeah, if you want to hire black people, just hire them.’ It’s not that difficult. And if it doesn’t work out it just doesn’t work out. I mean, the opportunity is there. I don’t think it’s that difficult to be more inclusive.

MRD: How do you envision the conversation around diversity and inclusion evolving?

Ziegler: I mentioned this to you last time. I really think it’s not as inclusive as it could be of queer people. And not just queer people in general, but me, as a trans person, I don’t really see the conversation that — I think I read something recently that we should move beyond gender. I don’t think we should move beyond gender. I think it’s a rich space to really tackle diversity with gender, and so I would like to see more conversations being held about that. I think it takes a little bit of work for people who want to be inclusive to do the work and include people.

This is part three of a five-part series. Come back tomorrow to check out an interview with Paradigm co-founder and CEO Joelle Emerson. If you’re new to the series, be sure to watch our interviews with Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant and Slack engineer Erica Baker.