Christina Morillo has been in the tech sector since 1999, working her way up from a help desk call center to a VP in charge of IT security at Morgan Stanley. Yet when she looks at media coverage of her industry, it’s less like a mirrored reflection and more like a window into an alternate universe where her desk is always filled by a succession of white male millennials.
“I try to put myself in the shoes of a high school girl who googles ‘black women in tech’ and sees, what, a model with an iPad?’” Morillo said, her voice brimming with warmth, enthusiasm and a brash Bronx attitude. “I just thought, ‘This is crazy. I’ve been here this whole time, why don’t I ever see someone like me? I wish I could do a photo shoot.”
And then she had a second thought. Why not do a photo shoot?
She didn’t have a local support community to bring the idea to, but she did have Twitter, where she met Stephanie Morillo (no relation), with whom she planned an informal discussion last summer under the hashtag #WOCinTech, for “women of color in tech.” “Our mentions just blew up,” she said. “We thought we would get a few hits, no big deal, but it was a big deal. There were so many people who responded to what we were talking about.”
With $6,000 from JoinFundClub, a project administered jointly by Model View Culture and AlterConf, they set up their website, sponsored selected women to attend training and scheduled a photo shoot at which the models would be women with a variety of jobs across the tech sector. The “models” received professional headshots as compensation for their time.
This all unrolled in July and August of 2015, right about the same time that OneLogic ran a recruiting ad campaign featuring engineers from their own staff. One of those engineers, Isis Wenger, was targeted and harassed as a result: She didn’t look sufficiently engineer-like to be credible to a certain population despite her actually being an engineer. Thus was born the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag, which trended in early August and briefly bathed Twitter in a lovely, many-hued, multi-gender glow.
“I thought that was amazing,” said Morillo. “But it was focused just on engineers, and I was selecting women with different roles in the tech ecosystem: an entrepreneur, a developer advocate, even women in non-tech roles at tech companies, to show that we’re different and we work in different roles.” The two efforts were complementary, she felt; there was room for both, and indeed, there are.
Less convincing, for her, was the Lean In collection at Getty Images. “They’re pretty,” she said. “Some of the pictures look like women in technology, but a lot of them look like models, like they’re holding an iPad and they’re perfect. I want to see women like me: I’m imperfect, I’m in tech and I thrive.”
The first shoot featured 12 women, and the response was enthusiastic. “I’ve seen the photos everywhere,” she reported. One woman even told her she was recognized by a recruiter for a job she then secured. And with that success have come sponsors, from Google TechMakers, GitHub and Trello. The next shoot, scheduled for late January and mid-February, already has 47 sign-ups. As with the first round, the photos will be available on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
If you’re a woman of color in tech who can be in New York this winter and you’d like to be included, scoot over here.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.