In June 2015, New Yorkers Christina Morillo, an information security architect and Stephanie Morillo, a tech writer and musician, started a Twitter chat aimed at women of color and nonbinary people in tech discussing career-related topics.
As women of color working in the tech industry, Christina and Stephanie (no relation) received an enthusiastic response from all over the Twittersphere to their candid conversations — hashtagged #WOCinTech — about the gender disparity and intersectionality issues facing the tech industry.
“We started asking questions about the issues that had actually affected us as women of color in tech,” Christina explained. “We just started casual conversations using our own Twitter accounts, and we got great feedback. It was clear that we were filling a void.”
“Our only agenda was to respond to all the companies that say they are looking for diversity,” Christina recalled. “Well here you go — here’s a whole chat full of women who are qualified.”
As the chats gained popularity, creating a website for the community seemed like the natural next step. As they were building out the WOCinTech site, Christina and Stephanie hit a snag.
“I couldn’t find any pictures of women who looked like me,” said Christina. “I didn’t feel represented in any existing stock photos, and it was really frustrating. Just because you show a black woman or an Indian woman looking at an iPad, that doesn’t work for me. It’s cute, but it’s not reality.”
That’s when the idea hit Christina and Stephanie to hire their own photographers for their own photo shoot featuring real women of color in technology. Their pitch to potential models: free professional headshots in exchange for being part of the project. Twenty five women signed up almost instantly.
“They saw that we had held these Twitter chats and that we weren’t just fly-by-night people,” Christina explained. “We have the conviction and we understand the struggle. These women feel like they know us.”
In October, Christina and Stephanie unveiled their first collection of stock photos featuring women of color in tech, available for free use under a Creative Commons license.
“It’s interesting because we went into it without huge expectations,” Christina said. “We just wanted to get women of color and nonbinary folks jobs. But now, companies like Squarespace and Twitter have reached out to us.”
Looking ahead, Christina and Stephanie are organizing additional photo shoots, with plans for several new series featuring women in gaming, DevOps and the maker movement. There is also a video series in the works.
Ultimately, the Twitter chat, the photo and video series and everything else that Christina and Stephanie have created for #WOCinTech started as a solution to a very personal problem that became a huge step toward making the tech industry more inclusive.
“You think you’re just making a difference for yourself…but you are actually making a big impact,” Christina said. “If you’re solving something for yourself, that’s innovative enough.”
Image credits: #WOCinTech Chat