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SXSW: LGBTQ + Tech Workforce Panel

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By Travis Tyler
SXSW Press Team

From Left to Right: Monica Arrambide, Kim Rohrer, Colleen Finnegan, and Lukas Blakk. Photo by Travis Tyler
From Left to Right: Monica Arrambide, Kim Rohrer, Colleen Finnegan, and Lukas Blakk. Photo by Travis Tyler

On March 12, I had the privilege of going to my first SXSW Interactive experience. It was nerve wracking at first because there was so much to do and so much to see. It was a lot to take in. Once I got my pass, it became easier to navigate through the crowded streets, intense bikers and the traffic that seemed to never end. My main priority? Attend some awesome panels. Using the ever so handy SXSW Go app, I was able to sift through the stuff that either seemed too dull to the stuff that would possibly gather some interest. It was from there that I spotted the LGBTQ + Tech Workforce panel.

What is LGBTQ + Tech Workforce? In a summed up version, speakers discussed the LGBTQ community and the bountiful opportunities that they had in the tech world. Opportunities that embraced the community and discussed progressive actions that tech companies like Pinterest, Pandora and Disqus are taking to diversify their work space. Colleen Finnegan, Senior Manager of Employee experience at Pandora, openly discussed how media giant Pandora has included certain health benefits to the transgender community over the past few years. Since the transgender process is a long and expensive process, “Pandora now provides full coverage for trans surgeries, mental health evaluations, and the like for gender reassignment surgery,” Finnegan said. In a time where LGBTQ rights are becoming a more prominent concern, this is almost revolutionary.

However, the main gem of the discussion was what Monica Arrambide, CEO and Founder of Maven Youth, discussed. Maven Youth is a non-profit organization that Arrambide created to give LGBTQ youth skills and experience in the tech world. Essentially, the youth go to camp, which would be the tech companies, to go work first hand on HTML and coding, video game design, networking skills and even mobile app building.

I found it extremely moving that tech companies are reaching out to the LGBTQ youth, not only because it’s a learning experience but because it is like they’re investing in the future of tech. Their initiative includes people from all backgrounds, no matter race, gender or sexual orientation. That really stood out to me.

SXSW LGBTQ Panelists
From left to right: Monica Arrambide, Kim Rohrer, Colleen Finnegan, Lukas Blakk. Photo by Travis Tyler

Arrambide explained that her organization partners with local youth groups in certain cities (currently based in Austin, San Francisco, and New York) and gather sponsors (tech companies like Github, Mozilla, Google, Pinterest, Tumblr.) Camps begin in June and end in July with each city getting a week or so to work with the youth.

Lastly, the panel had a few standout questions from the youth that were asked by Arrambide to the tech spokesman. When asked what challenges they faced during the program, Finnegan said “how much curriculum did we have to fill up, how much time do we have with the kids, how much space do we need (and) how many laptops,” are some issues that they face.

Overall, it was an intriguing panel. Seeing these giant media/tech companies reach out to the LGBTQ community and provide them with great opportunities like these was amazing. It was a great first panel to attend and I’m looking forward to seeing what other panels come my way.

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