Learning from the Past to Address 2020 challenges

By Davida Johnson, Managing Director, UCLA Office of Information Technology, Chair, UCLA WIT

At the beginning of 2020, who knew we would be facing two major crises – a global pandemic and smoldering intensity of racial injustice leading to national civil unrest.  In the age of social media and instantaneous digital communications, the details of these events spread like a wildfire in a forest, sparking uncertainty and fear in the world.  The pandemic did not change the story for so many underrepresented women and minorities in the tech sector. And the injustices we have all witnessed recently makes the story so much more real.  How do we find hope in the midst of these crises? 

Being involved in UCLA WIT has been a source of constant optimism for me since 2015 when I was involved in the first UCLA WIT conference.  My hope comes from being able to see a difference happen in the lives of people even if it does take time. Systemic challenges for women in technology, such as lack of representation, shortage of leadership opportunities, access to higher levels of education, sponsorship for higher level positions, and pay inequity, seldom can be solved in a project, an initiative, or even a generation.   Vision for change begins the process so that things do get better over time.  

I can reflect back on being raised by a mother who always had a positive outlook on life. She was before her time in the use of technology, having taught herself to use a computer in its early days.  She began to teach computer literacy to adults and I personally benefitted from her love and advocacy for technology. I also benefitted from her fight for justice and equality for working women and African-Americans.

I recall her stories to me and my sisters about her first few jobs as a teaching professional after earning her Master’s Degree in Business Administration.  One specific incident she experienced early in her career, was when she received a job offer over the phone.  After meeting her new employer face-to-face, they rescinded the job and gave it to an individual with no degree.   She felt it was discriminatory and did something that would surprise the school system – she sued.  After months of uncertainty and even death threats to our family, she won her case.  The school system reinstated her position, though she did not take it, and paid her for lost wages.  

My mother was bold and courageous.   I cannot say that I would have exhibited those same qualities had I lived in her day.  I am eternally grateful that she fought for equality and justice for herself, our family, and so many others. This has motivated me to be an active part of UCLA WIT.  I have been empowered to lift up others as I have been lifted. As I look at the qualities that made her successful, a few notable characteristics rise to the top.   She had vision and could see a life for me and my sisters that did not yet exist and was willing to fight for it.   What she chose to focus on became opportunities.   She spoke positive words rather fill her vocabulary with hopelessness in the midst of the turmoil and injustices of the current times.  As Martin Luther King, Jr's says, "We will overcome," not "We may."  She made a commitment to make this a way of life.  Finally, she took action, otherwise things would have stayed the same.  

So, what action will we take? What commitment will we make? What words will we speak? What vision will we create?