EDTECH: Why is diversity in the tech industry important?
Kaskiris: The tech industry was lauded for a long time as a meritocracy for the brilliant and exceptional, when in truth it harmed women, Black people, Indigenous people and people of color (BIPOC). We now know that meritocracies reinforce structural racism and gender and ethnic stereotypes. The previous standards are outdated and benefit very few.
The Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley is, for me, a true source of knowledge and inspiration. Leaders there are unafraid to openly discuss and propose the dismantling of institutional and systemic racism, sexism and oppression. The institute is a beacon of transformational light in these very polarizing and traumatic times. I give thanks that it exists each and every week.
I know how hard it is to get this stuff right, and I acknowledge that and own my biases daily. The messaging that women in IT receive is that they need to show up differently or fix how they are perceived. On its face, that simply doesn’t make sense. Technology is genuinely about everybody, not the chosen few. And yet, here we are doing this interview. Because for all the hype and money and progress, we have so very far to go before technology recognizes, embraces and supports all inherently. There is so much work to do.
EDTECH: How is the committee developing the talent of current and future women leaders in IT?
Kaskiris: As the current chair of the UC Women in Technology (UC WIT) Committee, I have the rare opportunity to convene and hear from an immensely impressive group of women IT leaders on a regular basis.
As a prior successful Latinx entrepreneur of a brick-and-mortar learning space, I was keenly aware of the challenges around equity in education. A founding principle of my business was to create space for folks who were not typically in a position to be exposed to the curriculum. I hired a diverse roster of instructors and promoted and offered donation-based classes. I cultivated a new community. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my lifetime, and I draw from those experiences in my current role.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I immediately reached out to my good friend John O’Duinn to provide support for my remote staff and explore how to do what we were trying to do, which was transition traditionally in-person work to fully remote work in the midst of a pandemic. Connecting John to the University of California resulted in a remote keynote panel presentation with John, UCLA Health’s then-CIO Michael Pfeffer, and me as part of the annual UC Tech Conference. I was bombarded with support and requests following the keynote, because it was timely and much-needed info that the broader UC system was not able to provide.