The tech industry loves to glorify rabble-rousers. Unless, of course, that rabble-rouser is a 37-year-old Black woman. Erica Baker, currently a senior engineering manager at Patreon, learned that lesson very publicly after she left Google in May 2015.
Baker had been working for Google, first as a field tech and then an engineer, for almost a decade when she and a few coworkers were discussing pay transparency and the “chilling effect” companies instill by discouraging employees from discussing compensation with each other. One day, she suggested that they all put their own salaries in an internal spreadsheet.
The sheet quickly spread and only continued to grow after she left the company to work at Slack in 2015. Two years later, a section was published in The New York Times, revealing the company’s disheartening gender pay gap.
“I felt no fear at the time about creating that spreadsheet because I knew that I was protected by the law,” Baker says. “They couldn’t fire me for talking about or sharing salaries, and if they wanted to make my life difficult,” — something she indicated on Twitter may have happened at the time — “I was already ready to leave anyway.”
At Patreon, Baker explores how tech can help artists find lucrative outlets for their work. Outside of her day job, she’s a vocal advocate for equal pay and inclusion in the tech industry, serving on several boards and mentoring at Black Girls Code.
“The advice I wish I would have gotten early in my career is that even though you don’t see yourself, you can be this,” she says. “Don’t let other people convince you it’s impossible."
Black Is The New Black is Refinery29’s celebration of 20 Black women who kicked down doors in their fields this past year. Black women who are reminding the world that we are not a trend or “a moment.” We’re here — and we’ve been here. Check out the full list.