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 Pride Month this year, we’re lifting up the voices of queer leaders who are working to ensure the government can serve everyone equitably, with dignity and respect. This week, we spoke with Julie You (they/them), the Head of Talent at Code for America.
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.
What first drew you to talent recruitment? What type of unique impact do you get to have in your role?
After finishing my undergraduate experience, I had no idea what I wanted to do aside from something with the social justice space. I had the opportunity to work for an education nonprofit that focuses on advancing first generation students of color in the STEM field who come from low socio-economic backgrounds. In this work, I was able to meet Google’s Head of Diversity Talent Acquisition who spoke about her background, her passions, and how that has shaped her professional career. It was my ‘aha’ moment. An actual career that not just appreciates my life experience and skills but elevates this in a way that is to advance equity. In my current role as Head of Talent, I have the privilege of challenging archaic recruiting systems and structures that have inhibited Black and Brown people and other marginalized groups from accessing the “tech world” that impact those exact communities. I get to have a part in seeing folks who look like me, my friends, and my family in spaces that I didn’t alway see or even knew existed growing up.
How do we get the right people in the door at Code for America, and in the field of civic tech more broadly? What does it look like to keep those doors open and those spaces welcoming?
Finding someone who is interested in making a social impact at scale is already a niche. After that, we need to be open to different experiences. Skills are transferable. So we need to see how we can use those skills, meet people where they’re at and help them grow into this interesting, nuanced space. That, and intentionality being transparent about goals, I believe help create welcoming spaces. Of course, we must focus on equity, inclusion, diversity, and belonging.
Where does the field of civic tech have room to grow in terms of its recruitment and retention of diverse talent?
From my experience, civic tech nonprofits and government agencies seem to lack resources that allow them to commit to building, executing, and supporting equitable hiring and growth opportunities. For example, I’ve spoken with many folks that don’t have a recruiting team at all, let alone one that focuses on DEI hiring. Additionally, HR teams are minimally resources to create careers maps that allow folks to continue expanding their careers, not just their experience (for example, their title or pay).
What does it mean to bring your full self to work in this field?
I think it’s being able to be comfortable with the version that you want to be in the workplace knowing that it is celebrated and needed in order for the work being done to be at its best. Bringing your full self to work means that you, as an individual, and all the identities you hold and choose to share, are essential to the operation.
During Pride Month, it feels right to ask—what are you proud of?
I’m proud to be a child of a single mother immigrant, a product of almost all social services that my organization supports, and a leader who actively seeks to ensure that all folks get to have and share the pride in who they are, no matter their background or experience.