The Woman Behind the Checkbox

jessincheckbox

My son wants me to write about being a Christian woman leader in technology. “It’s complicated,” I tell him, “And very hard to do without whining.” The kid looks at me, puzzled. I feel like I owe him an explanation now. After all, the way he sees me is fitting. I’m his mom, but I’m also a Christian, a woman, a leader and I work in technology. At this time in his life, he only sees the possibilities.

How do I tell him that most days, I feel like others see me as a checkbox. I fulfill one or two checkboxes – gender and race. In certain environments, I single-handedly represent diversity. One Christian organization that’s predominantly white invited me to speak at their conference and asked to post my photo online on their website right away so they could be seen as more diverse. They wanted me to attract “women and minorities” they said. Being a sales and marketing professional in technology, I had other things I brought to the table, but my ethnicity and gender were the only things they wanted. But at least they want me, right? I am still feeling the sting of tokenism.

I have learned over time that though there are boxes I check for these organizations, that I’m confined to certain checkboxes and excluded from others. For example, I’m not asked to speak on leadership by these predominantly white organizations. When they want a Christian leader in technology, they ask an old white guy. And that is who gets invited to speak on the topic. But at least they still want me for something else, right? I am still tasting the bitterness of gender and race inequality.

I am also not seen as a Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander. This is lost under the umbrella of “Asian” and it happens to be an integral part of my identity. I come from a region of the world with some unique shared experiences, stories, culture and traditions. I hold some similarities with East Asians but I also find myself leading very differently. My leadership style is deeply shaped by being Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander. When I look around at work and outside in Christian circles I’m in, I am saddened that there aren’t many Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander leaders, male or female. I find myself reconnecting with a Vietnamese-American friend from college who’s a Christian leader but thousands of miles away – just to help me figure this out. I am feeling the aloneness of being a minority of minorities.

I had the privilege recently of speaking to a group of Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander students. I felt the woman behind the checkbox come out, free. No longer did I feel like a token, because there was more than one “me” in the room. I didn’t feel the weight of inequality because I talked about leadership. I didn’t feel alone. But too quickly the experience passed.

The thing is, I love being a Christian woman leader in technology. I love the way God has made me and who I am becoming. I also love destroying checkboxes that confine me and my tribe. My hope is the larger world will see there’s a woman behind the checkbox and get to know me. Otherwise, they miss out. My son certainly thinks so. He only sees the possibilities.

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