Sep 15, 2017

Women will never advance doing community work


This article is inspired by my own experience and an insightful conversation with two lovely women — Susan Wu and Sarah Moran.


I’ve been in the industry for roughly ten years (you can read about it in detail here). I’ve recently fully realised why my career isn’t where I want it to be.

For the last five years, I’ve been heavily involved in community work; from meetups, workshops to established conferences with a thousand attendees. It was a great journey — I’ve utilised my communications, design, development, management skills as well as learnt obscure facts about AV, accounting, hospitality industry and so on. I’ve met a lot of people from all over the globe, and I’ve witnessed the effect my dedication to the community had on them. I’m grateful for that experience and proud of the work I’ve done.

It did consume almost every minute outside of my full-time job. Not entirely consciously, I opted out of progressing my technical skills and working on side projects that were slowly stalling in a never ending backlog. I poured the remains of my energy into the community. Last event I’ve ran left me on the verge of a breakdown (and it was our most successful conference to date). I’m not a founder (but could have been) nor a design leader at a Fortune 500 company (or whatever else success looks like these days), but I possibly could have been if I played my cards differently.

Now, that leads me to an observation that now seems obvious, but my judgement was clouded enough not to be able to see it.

We can’t have more women, people of colour, people with disabilities and other underrepresented groups in engineering, design and leadership if they’re all busy doing community work.

Not only are they fighting oppression on a daily basis but also actively trying to build platforms for safe expression and learning more than anyone else. Knowing the pain of being marginalised makes it an obvious choice to do so. Standing up for others and working tirelessly towards a better future is at the roots of activism. But this activism that we’re in dire need of is also the reason why we’re not progressing our careers.

Community initiatives are crucial. We shouldn’t stop organising, but we ought to carefully analyse what impact this work has both on the community and ourselves. There’s a right time to dedicate yourself and the right time to step away. We can’t feel guilty about making that choice.

We need more men stepping up and taking up the gauntlet of exhausting emotional labour; drawing from exemplary initiatives create new spaces for us to gather–workshops, meetups, incubators, funds, conferences or whatever form it might take. We still lack strong allyship and advocacy.

What’s even more necessary though is women and other underrepresented groups realising the impact community work has on their jobs. Lack of role models has been proven to be one of the biggest barriers preventing women from entering and staying within the tech industry. It won’t get any better if a significant amount of senior female leaders are busy organising instead of advancing in their profession. A balance between on-boarding underrepresented individuals into the industry and retaining them has to be struck.

Let’s reclaim our time.


“Reclaiming my time” was originally coined by Maxine Waters.