You Deserve to Be Here

Jul 10, 2018 - Bernadine Locsin

Meet Ada Powers – tech superstar, diversity and inclusion activist, and all-around badass. Though her background is in tech, her passion is in inclusive growth. In addition to her day job as an information developer at Tealium, Ada also serves as Director of Community Inclusion for Startup San Diego – a nonprofit aimed to support San Diego’s vibrant startup community. Once a year, Startup San Diego volunteers work with the community to celebrate San Diego Startup Week, five days chock-full of educational sessions, workshops, and social events for prime networking. During the week, thousands of entrepreneurs, startup founders, developers, designers, students, and community leaders gather together for the week-long celebration of entrepreneurship.

Though San Diego’s startup community absolutely meets the mark at creating an open forum for innovative ideas, it naturally lends itself to conforming to a certain stereotype that can be discouraging for others looking to be a part of it. Cue visual of HBO’s cast of Silicon Valley. Women, especially women of color and those in the LGBTQ community, are certainly the minority in this space, and don’t always get the warm welcome one would hope for in a forward-thinking environment. That’s where Ada comes in.

As Director of Community Inclusion, Ada quickly realized how much work there is to do in our entrepreneurial community and tech scene to make our environment as welcoming and inclusive as possible. Women in the San Diego startup community have voiced that they didn’t always feel like their presence was expected or welcomed, and Ada wanted to do something to change that.

In a small but incredibly moving way, Ada empowered these women with one single message on a post-it: “I deserve to be here.” She placed this post-it on the mirror of the women’s bathroom where San Diego Startup Week was held, so that every woman looking at herself in the mirror felt affirmed as a valued member of this group. Ada then left the post-it pad with the Sharpie marker on the bathroom counter, in case anyone wanted to add more notes. Without any direction, other women quickly followed suit and soon the mirror was covered with messages of affirmations and resources, aimed to uplift one another and create space for everyone wanting to be part of this growing community.

The need for inclusion and diversity is no stranger to any group or region, San Diego included. Yet it still remains a huge problem. San Diego’s innovation economy has made the region better educated and more prosperous, but it also presents new challenges for future growth. Many San Diegans in underserved communities, like Southeast San Diego, don’t feel like they can succeed here. And if we want to keep San Diego as a place where smart, passionate people, companies, and startups can thrive, it’s clear that we need people like Ada and employers to take action. This year San Diego Regional EDC launched an inclusive growth initiative, with the goals of building a strong local talent pipeline, equipping small businesses to compete, and increasing affordability. With its steering committee comprised of big and small San Diego employers, EDC plans to develop data-driven recommendations to help move the needle in our economy’s inclusive front. No easy feat, but you have to start somewhere.

It takes a village, and perhaps many small empowering gestures like a post-it on a mirror, to make real changes. But if any place can rise to the challenge, it’s San Diego.

Here is Ada’s social post about her mirror mural:

Bright and early Monday morning, I arrived at the venue for #SDStartupWeek to set up signage and decor (rainbow lights? you’re welcome) before the event opened its doors. Last minute, before people started flowing in, I decided on one tiny final touch: sticky notes and a sharpie in the first-floor ladies room, seeded with a single affirmational note. 
Entrepreneur communities, as much as I treasure our scene in San Diego, are still not as welcoming to non-men as they could be, and I wanted to speak to whoever might be staring in that mirror, questioning their worth, and give them a chance to speak back. 
Imagine my delight to come back Thursday and see the mirror had absolutely exploded with affirmations and resources. THIS is what it looks like to uplift one another, to set aside competition for collaboration, to make space for each other and ourselves in challenging environments.

My original note was strangely missing, but I don’t mind—I’d like to believe someone took it because they really needed it.

#sdsw18 #sdsw