By Lauren Sato, CEO and Forbes Contributor
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, stripping millions of Americans of our fundamental right to critical health care, I was having breakfast with a group of female executives at a strategy retreat in the Pacific Northwest. We cried together as we processed the news and then quickly turned our sadness and rage toward the question, “What can we do about this?” Like many people impacted by this decision, our brainstorming ran the gamut from quitting our day jobs to working on campaigns. We discussed what action we should take, given our areas of expertise and the unique positions we hold in our communities. We are leaders of a coding school for women and gender-expansive people, which led us to the idea of a hackathon. We have an alumni community of more than 700 people, along with their managers, mentors and peers, which means we are surrounded by a great deal of tech talent who also happen to be deeply impacted by the Dobbs decision.
When people who can become pregnant are prohibited from determining if and when they have a baby, their health, education and economic well-being are at stake. When more than 50% of our population is at higher risk for pregnancy-related disease, disability and death, we all suffer. As people with unwanted pregnancies drop out of school or delay their education, leave the workforce, or are overlooked for promotions, our economy may slow down and become stunted, for which we all will pay the price.
Technology is the cultural engine of our time. Since the beginning of the tech boom, the industry has focused on solving a very narrow range of societal problems because it has largely been built and led by a small and exclusive demographic of white males. As a coding school for women and gender-expansive people, with more than 70% of our cohorts coming from underrepresented racial communities, we are in a position to leverage the power of technology to help solve the problems our communities are facing: the stripping of our reproductive rights, transgender rights and gay rights, and the continued racial oppression of the BIPOC communities. That is the purpose of our hackathon—to create a big bang in the scope of problems technology is aimed at solving, and catalyze meaningful impacts on the most pressing social issues of this moment.
Technologists and tech leaders everywhere can have an impact in this moment of unprecedented social pain in our country. Here are some ways to leverage your highly influential positions and skills.
• Volunteer your coding, UI, UX, security and marketing skills at a social impact organization that may be doing great work but lacks the scalable influence of a robust website, social media strategy, etc.
• Join an existing hackathon or create your own. I love this guide by Joshua Tauberer for getting started.
• Come up with new ways to educate and engage voters, fundraise for a cause, etc.
• Create ongoing channels for affinity and employee resource groups to inform your business strategy. You may be missing critical opportunities to have a meaningful impact on your consumers. Women influence up to 80% of consumer buying decisions, but only about 25% of tech employees are women.
• Build partnerships with organizations that are doing great work but lack the scalable influence of technology. Offer them visibility, donate employee time (including loaned executives) and traditional fundraising support.
Within the tech sector, there is already great work being done to impact critical social issues. Microsoft, for example, has been working to identify, study and address the spread of misinformation. One of our alumni for many years led the technical work of an organization that was using technology to stop human trafficking. There are also organizations like Ecosia, which connects your everyday search engine use to global conservation efforts, and Syndio, which is using tech to evaluate and close the gender wage gap at major companies.
After the mass shooting tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, I heard of many people quitting their jobs to work for grassroots organizations. To be honest, I contemplated this myself. However, I realized that I can have the most significant impact where I am right now. I believe that is true for so much of the tech community; we just haven’t built the muscles to react to this critical moment. So, it’s time for a catalytic and directional change. I hope our Take Haction! hackathon can serve as a model for doing impact-driven work with critical voices at the table.
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