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Spotlight on Linda Calvin


Q: How has your identity as a woman of color influenced your career journey and leadership style, and what advice would you offer to other women of color navigating similar paths?
A: Initially, my journey in the tech industry didn’t hinge on my identity. I entered the field as a computer operator at a hospital, influenced by my sister, who happens to be white.

In that setting, I didn’t feel different among the five women and four black individuals on the operations team. It wasn’t until I transitioned to corporate America that my status as the only one like me became apparent, and I began experiencing differential treatment. As a black woman, I realized I had to work harder, shoulder extra projects, just to be noticed and valued.

Initially, this worked, thanks to supportive white male and female mentors. However, as I moved up the ranks into leadership roles, I encountered more microaggressions and dismissive attitudes. Actively engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and employee resource groups (ERGs) early on was important to me, yet surprisingly, some of my white female friends didn’t fully embrace this work, viewing it as overly personal or excessive. “Just work hard Linda as you are going to turn people off.”

This shift in perception, I believe, transformed me from a favored figure into a perceived threat. My progress within the organization stalled, and I eventually became a casualty of a widespread layoff. A few weeks after my layoff, I was told by a leader that I had a white male sponsor who held me in high regard but when he left, I became vulnerable to less diversity-minded leadership.

Throughout my career, I’ve encountered both opportunities and adversity, including bias and hostility that led to depression and illness, driving me to retreat from colleagues. Fortunately, I’ve had a supportive network of mentors from diverse backgrounds—white males, white and black females, LGBTQ individuals, community leaders, and business figures—who have helped shape my leadership style.

My experiences as a black woman navigating a white family, church, neighborhood, schools, and predominantly white spaces, coupled with mentorship, have instilled in me a resilient leadership approach. I strive to share with those around me a similar resilience mindset. While I actively use my voice and influence to advocate for change, I also prioritize listening and mentoring others.

My aim is to pave the way, clearing obstacles so that those following don’t endure the same hardships. I am also a firm believer that if get invited to the stages, it’s our duty to lift others onto that same stage.

Q: Why do you find it significant to serve as a mentor for women of color?
A: I serve as a mentor for many black women in tech. Research has consistently shown that having role models is an effective catalyst for encouraging women to pursue careers in the tech industry; when you see us, you can be us. It’s paramount that women and girls of color see others who look like them excelling in tech. This visibility not only shows that there’s room for you in tech, but also that you can thrive in tech.

According to a 2020 study conducted by Accenture and Girls Who Code, half of women in tech roles depart from them by the age of 35. Why? Factors include a lack of female role models, a sense of not belonging or lacking support, and the belief that the industry isn’t meant for people like them. When a mentor looks like you and shares your professional journey, it helps diminish those feelings of isolation. It creates a space where you feel comfortable confiding in them and draw inspiration to persevere.

While most women encounter bias and discrimination, women of color face the compounded challenges of racial and gender intersectionality. Therefore, it’s crucial for those of us who are thriving in tech to share our experiences and support other women of color who may be experiencing challenges with bias or the “isms.” We rise by lifting others.