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"In support of women who code" a Guest Blog by Ashu Chatterji

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

about Intro by Brianna LePiane

I first met Ashu and Adam, two of five co-founders of Caravel Labs while participating in the Torrey Projects' startup BootCamp. As I came to understand Caravel Labs and their mission and learn more about the software industry, I am floored by the massive importance of their values in their work. In sustainability, we tote our work as inherently ethical (which it isn't always btw) but the software industry is different; taking a strong stance on human-centred design and ethical technology development in a $500B global industry is counter-culture and deeply needed. Where the technology industry as a whole is the Tin Man, Caravel Labs is the heart the Tin Man is looking for.

Soon after graduation, I was delighted to reconnect with them to explore working together. It was an honour to advise them on creating their sales system and collaborate on a sustainability project (RESUO) that is now actively reducing single-use waste in the world.

We built trust alongside the sales systems work we did at Caravel Labs, and are now partners working on bringing our respective skills together to continue to solve more climate & sustainability-related challenges.

Caravel Labs and Sustainable Products Sales collaborating
Adam, James, Ashu and Brianna on-site in Seattle collaborating on a sustainability project.

About a year after our graduation from the Torrey Project, I opened an email from the founder, Dave Ferran, who was starting another mentorship program, this time focused on female founders. I was flipping through the presentation and I stopped cold when I read that ~2% of VC money is invested in female-founded startups in spite of significantly better ROI from firms with gender diversity on their boards and leadership (reference: three VPs of the European Bank discussing this topic). [The update as of May 2023 is this number has doubled to 4%, thank you to Carrie Gallant for this update I learned today].

I broke. Minutes before my meeting with Adam & Ashu, I was having a tearful, sobbing breakdown. This rarely happens to me in a work environment; I am used to numbing and repressing my feelings when the bullshit of discrimination comes up. "Soldier on" has been my approach and what I was taught, and I was worried about how I would be received in this state, but given the trust we had formed, I decided to be honest with them. It's hard to find the words for how underrepresentation impacts me personally. My coping mechanisms are to put blinders on, focus on my work, or sometimes I literally pretend I'm male. If you know me you may have heard the words: "What would your inner mediocre white man do?" These are not healthy coping mechanisms, but it's what I know and it gets me through the day.

So I took a risk, and showed up, as I was and I was absolutely floored by what happened next; they held space for me. I was in overwhelm and by being witnessed, in a non-judgmental environment by my peers, I was able to feel and process the pain of systemic oppression showing up at that moment. I cried for a few minutes and that was that, we got down to business. The whole emotional episode didn't take longer than 10 minutes, and it didn't derail the meeting - I'm not saying speedy emotional recovery is the goal, I'm sharing my experience.

With time, education, and the support of my community, I am learning how to feel that pain and heal, and I'm learning to feel my privilege so I can simultaneously dismantle the systemic harm that I uphold being a white woman living and working on stolen land. The truth is, we can't do this alone, and it's hard and messy work. We need each others' diverse experiences and willingness to hold space and work to make changes, and I was so surprised by what that has looked like on a personal level with these wonderful, caring humans. I know how we can "dehumanize" people, but can we "rehumanize" them too?

With that, I give you one of my rehumanizing friends and partners...

"In Support of Girls Who Code" by Ashu

"Underrepresentation of women and minorities is not a simple accident that can be addressed with the flip of a switch. In the 1950s and 1960s, tech jobs were mostly staffed by women and minorities. Of course, that changed rapidly as the reputation of the tech industry as a source of wealth for its participants was established. Long-held prejudices were invoked, and discriminatory frameworks were tweaked systematically. The result is that the underrepresentation of women and minorities is now at least one generation, and probably two generations deep.

At Caravel Labs and among all of those who have been seeking to correct underrepresentation of women and minorities know that it is as much about the culture and policies inside the organization as it is about the societal norms that discourage women and minorities from considering careers in the tech industry as suitable for them. And as time progresses, role models that are contemporary and relatable become scarce. Organizations like Girls Who Code work on creating and elevating role models who encourage women and other underrepresented minorities to not only join the tech industry but also embolden the activism necessary to expedite the demolition of systemic discrimination that allowed the underrepresentation in the first place. Every real-life role model inspires others, but when the underrepresentation is as severe as it is with women in the tech industry, that cascading effect is still not sufficient. This is where the importance of fiction writing plays such a huge role. There is nothing new about this. The effectiveness of fictional role models is well proven for as long as there has been mythology. As avatars, they amplify the sphere of influence of the real-life role models and in the process provide deeper inspiration to far more people than direct contact can ever do.

We therefore endorse Girls Who Code’s book series and would like to encourage everyone to invest towards these for themselves or the young women in their sphere of influence (and yes, I daresay that if you have none in your sphere of influence, you are not giving yourself due credit, or put more bluntly, working hard to not look). And for the creative writers (and other content creators) who feel passionate about addressing underrepresentation of women or other minorities, perhaps it’s time to create more virtual role models who can inspire."

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