For our “Leading the Field” Q&A series, we’re speaking with leaders in the civic/gov tech space who are driving important change to make government work by the people, for the people, in the digital age. For Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re lifting up the voices of Hispanic and Latinx leaders who are working to ensure the government can serve everyone equitably, with dignity and respect. This week, we spoke with Ceci Fischer-Benitez, a Code for America alumni and the current Program Manager for Latinas in Tech.
At Code for America, we welcome a broad diversity of viewpoints—and we strive to let people speak in their own words about their own unique experiences. With that in mind, the following has received only minor edits for length and clarity, and the views expressed here reflect those of the author.
Hispanic Heritage Month encompasses the stories of so many diverse communities. What’s the story of your community and where you come from?
I always love when I am asked where I come from because I am so proud of my heritage. I come from a small village in Mexico, in the state of Michoacan. It’s called Santa Cruz de Villagomez, a town of no more than 500 people, with no running water, but still rich in culture, food, and love. Where everyone knows each other and supports one another in good times and bad. That’s the type of community I grew up in, and I was taught how to care for my neighbors like they were family and provide support whenever someone was in need. That small community has been in my heart since I moved to the United States in 1999 and has shaped me in ways that I didn’t know until coming of age and understanding the world around me.
What inspired you to forge a career in the nonprofit technology space?
Ever since I can remember, I enjoyed learning about new tech—the latest phones, computers, and eventually applications. I was so interested in it in high school and college but I never knew it was something I could do. I didn’t really believe that someone like me could be a part of the “tech” community because of my lack of education on the subject and experience in that sector. It wasn’t until after college that I started to believe I could make an impact in tech, and specifically in the civic tech and nonprofit sector. I was working in education at the time, and I started following organizations that were doing this type of tech work that supports government services. I became really inspired and wanted to join the field. Five years later, as I watched how the civic tech world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the immense need in government for improved systems, I knew it was time to join in. I realized that I wanted to do more, to somehow contribute to and support our local communities, so I joined Code for America. Though I’ve left the organization, my passion for the field continues at Latinas in Tech.
Tell us a little bit about Latinas in Tech. How do you empower and connect people in this context?
Latinas in Tech is a nonprofit organization with the aim to connect, support, and empower Latinx women working in tech. Our mission is to create an equitable representation of Latinx women at all levels in the tech ecosystem. We work hand in hand with top tech companies to create safe spaces for learning, mentorship, and recruitment. We also introduce women to the civic, nonprofit, and government tech sectors by providing opportunities to connect with hiring managers and sharing open roles with organizations we partner with. Latinas in Tech also has a chapter in Washington, D.C. that has focused many of their events around teaching women how to break into government and civic tech. We want to make sure Latinas have the same opportunities as other groups to learn about the global technology landscape and are involved in shaping the future of the whole tech ecosystem. The voices of Latinx people are important, and we deserve to be represented in the field.
What does it mean to bring your full self to work in this field?
The ability to bring my full self to work anywhere is non-negotiable for me. I believe in living and working authentically—there’s no way around that. A place where you have to hide part of yourself is not the place for you, as you should be able to bring exactly who you are to your workplace. I am a proud, queer, immigrant Latina who brings her heritage to work and cares deeply about diversity, equity, and inclusion. I bring a different perspective, I bring hard work, I bring dedication, I bring color, I bring my family, I bring my whole being—and that is what it means to bring my full self to work.
Where does the civic tech field still need to grow so that it can become equitable and inclusive?
It’s not a surprise that we still need more diversity in tech in general. Everyone should become an advocate of diverse communities. We need to hold our workplaces accountable for the implementation of inclusion strategies organization-wide and help provide opportunities for underrepresented folks whether that is through advocacy, mentorship, or direct access to opportunities. If we have more diverse teams that are representative of the communities we serve, our products and services will thrive.