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The demand for more Filipinx leadership and representation in the tech industry

Ruqaiyah Angeles poses for a photo at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California on July 6, 2022. Photo: Joyce Xi

Ruqaiyah Angeles would start each day last summer at 8:00 a.m. and commute to her internship at FreeWire Technologies, an electric vehicle charging station startup based in Oakland. Upon entering the glass doors, she would leave her Filipinx and Muslim identity behind and activate an internal “code switch.”

Code-switching involves changing one’s behavior, appearance, and style of speech in ways that will enhance the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment and equal opportunities. Angeles felt she needed to code-switch to advance in the tech industry.

“I do code-switch, I do tone it down. I play my role, but that’s how [people of color] are here and continue to ‘succeed’ in these companies. It is something that I struggle with because you’re acting, and you’re not truly yourself,” Angeles said.

Erin Jerri Malonzo Pangilinan is the founder of Filipinx Americans in Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM). Also known as FASTER, this multi-stakeholder organization serves the Filipinx American community in the technology ecosystem.

“Many of our employee resource groups have talked about microaggressions, being underpaid at the workplace, and the really hard issues of not fitting into the culture where there is diversity, equity, and inclusion, so of course, they’re going to code switch,” Pangilinan said.

Beyond a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Angeles says Filipinx tech workers face an added barrier in advancing to upper-level and C-suite positions with high-ranking

executive titles.

According to reports published by Dropbox and Lyft in 2020 and 2021, white employees held more than half of leadership and management positions in the United States. Asians, on the other hand, represented about a quarter of leadership roles at both companies. Due to a lack of disaggregated data in each diversity report, the number of Filipinx holding upper-level positions is unspecified.

Pangilinan stresses the need for more Filipinx entrepreneurs and investors to create a lineage for the community.

“We don’t have the same amount of people investing in our communities from early-stage startups in the Philippines and the United States,” Pangilinan said. “That’s part of the reason why [FASTER] tries to promote and highlight as many entrepreneurs and investors as we can. If no one there looks like us, then you can’t change that framework.”

Angeles calls for more Filipinx representation in tech and mentorship opportunities that provide youth the resources and education to navigate the tech industry. She introduced her siblings and other students to Dev/Mission, where she served as program coordinator for the community technology associate program. Dev/Mission is a San Francisco-based nonprofit that connects low-income young adults to careers in technology.

“She took it to the next level, and hopefully, one day, it’ll become a citywide project where more young people help low-income families use technology, provide tech support and facilitate a computer class,” Founder Leonardo Sosa said.

Angeles has since graduated from the program and applied the skills she learned to her most recent internship at FreeWire. There she was given a leadership role in product marketing and user testing for the company’s EV charging touchscreen application. One of Angeles’ goals was to change the app’s framework and make room for improvements.

“I was blessed to be part of a company where leadership listened. I presented it step by step, used data to back it up, and explained that many things needed to be changed — to spark a conversation and inspire them to do better,” Angeles said.

Sosa applauded Angeles for her dedication to her role within FreeWire. He notes how interns such as Angeles should leave a lasting impression within the company to secure future employment.

“Tech companies will not guarantee you a job just because you’re an intern, but if you leave a good impression, that company eventually might call you back. I’ve seen that happen to our young people that have been converted into full-time positions,” Sosa said. “I want young people also to understand that tech is not just about being a software developer; there’s so much around it that you should be able to find what that path is, find the right company for it and once you get there, open the path for others.”

FreeWire offered Angeles a position after graduation, but she declined to further her education and job training. Angeles hopes to restart her mentorship program called Breaking Barriers.

“Other than the degree, I want to have some work experience in the industry as a whole. Maybe go into one or two companies to see the difference. When I go back to the people I am trying to help, I can give them my experience, full circle,” Angeles said.

Angeles is expected to graduate from San Francisco State University in Spring 2023 with a degree in computer science.

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