I can’t do it by myself we need to do it together! An interview with Eriol Fox
Eriol, is a multi-skilled designer with 9 years of experience with awesome UX and Interaction skills, an Illustrator of cute things, code learner and video game enthusiast. She is a non-binary advocate and the cofounder & organiser of LGBTQIA+ Bristol. If you haven’t or spoke to Eriol you really should. They’re just bloody brilliant not only at what they do but they another reason why I started Women Rock.
I know Eriol as a Non-binary, we live in a modern world yes, but I understand some may not fully understand the term ‘non-binary’, so for those who don’t know a non-binary can be someone who doesn’t identify with the binary system of ‘man’ or ‘woman’ but identifies as ‘in-between’, neither or moving fluidly between the two identities. Eriol is the strongest, confident and respected non-binary person that I know and they have a story to tell.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AS A SENIOR PRODUCT DESIGNER?
Anything and everything at Ushahidi that’s related to design – Visual design, UX design, user research, field studies, digesting the results and applying it to the products. We also get involved across the organisation, for example I took over the Ushahidi Instagram and Twitter for two days.
SO, HOW DID YOU GET INTO TECHNOLOGY?
To be honest I was going to go into retail management. After university, I was offered the management track but I wanted to use my creative skills and be paid to do what I love. I didn’t chose tech when I was at school, I didn’t have any useful skills really but I was good at drawing so went to art school.
I completed my degree in Fine Art but knew I could do something more. So along with working retail, I signed up to a part time evening courses (in web design) as I was always interested in the internet as I was online from an early age.
I was offered an internship at Go wales where the government paid half my wage contribution, which was amazing! I did 3 internships before landing at a junior designer position at Confused.com, I owe them a lot and they made me the designer that I am today! I worked ridiculously hard for about 4 years straight, working full-time and doing night-classes about 4 nights a week and then weekends for homework! It was tough but now I look back, I wouldn’t change anything.
YOU HAVE 9 YEARS’ EXPERIENCE IN THE WORLD OF IT, WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF BEING A “WOMAN” IN THE TECH INDUSTRY?
The thing that keeps me here even though it’s tough sometimes, is the potential the tech has to do good in the world. Improve health and life. The fact I work in human rights activism and crisis response for a diverse global NGO – well that’s the most exciting thing and what I’ve wanted all my life!
I love using my problem solving skills and empathy in design and I’ve long thought that “women” are socialised to cultivate these skills more so than “men”. I certainly was socialised to use empathy to solve problems and while this is a lot of emotional labour sometimes, the fact that I can make things better for people around the world is amazing.
YES, GENDER EQUALITY HAS COME A LONG WAY, BUT THE FIGHT IS NOT OVER YET. YOU HAVE HAD A SUCCESSFUL CAREER SO FAR AND I DON’T THINK IT’S ANY SECRET THAT MANY WOMEN OR NON-BINARIES IN THE TECH INDUSTRY HAVE FELT THEIR GENDER HAS AFFECTED THE WAY THAT THEY ARE PERCEIVED OR TREATED. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A SITUATION LIKE THAT? HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT.
I get mistaken as a woman a lot, I ‘pass’ as a woman and will be ‘she’d’ and ‘her’d’ a lot. I use they/them gender neutral pronouns and while ‘she’ doesn’t typically bother me, if I’m having a very gender-dyspohric day it can be hard! Not a lot of tech companies have ‘gotten’ this and I’ve had everything from over sexualising of my sexuality to micro-aggressions around gender expression.
Turns out there are a whole lot of us non-binary folk and trans-gender folk in tech and we really need a platform to help cis-gendered people understand how to interact with us (hint: like you would any other person, with respect and kindness) just don’t ask us what genitals we have or who we’re attracted to and we’ll get along fine.
That being said, I’ve had experiences of sexual harassment from unwanted physical advances/touching, coercion, hate speech – the lot. You just have to find the ways where you can communicate this is not okay and find your community that’ll have your back.
When you get ‘hit on’ at a tech event or in a work place or when you’re representing your profession it really makes you think “Do they see me for the skilled professional I am? Or do they just see a physical shape that they want to be involved with?” I’ve had to shut down several freelance clients and workmates on this subject.
It shakes your sense of worth as a human who has worked hard at a profession and really knocks your confidence in a workplace or industry.
YOU SAID IT’S TOUGH IN TECH SOMETIMES, WHY?
I’ve been in office and environments where I have had to hear how typically men speak about women, it’s overtly critical and often personal. Referring to someone as ‘mother hen’ for example, purely because they presumably and older woman. It’s sometimes really tough to hear even if it isn’t directed towards you.
I think there is also a problem within the female community, some work environments. I heard one women say to another, don’t be to bossy, don’t be strong and just going along with it. I mean………………..
I once had a female boss that I really looked up to, in the beginning. After I had been there a while started to notice her public interactions with her male boss – who was pushy and a bit of an a**. I started noticing that she just went along with his awful (sexist) comments and did everything he told her to do even though it wasn’t right. She told us all you need to listen to him, he just wants attention. I didn’t want to lose respect to for because we have to pull together, but I could feel my blood boiling and having to bite my tongue. It was hard to find a way to approach the topic – I couldn’t say “hey what are you doing, stop agreeing to everything he says even though it isn’t right!” In the end I left because I couldn’t listen or watch anymore. It wasn’t setting a good example and that could of rubbed off on me. Now I look back on it I don’t think there is a perfect way to address these types of issues I can’t do it by myself we need to do it together!
There’s generally not a lot of people in tech companies who know how to set healthy appropriate boundaries around work interactions. I’ve ended up as career counsellor, relationship counsellor, marriage-breaking-down counsellor and a tonne of other roles I never signed up for but here’s the thing, when you need that job to pay rent, buy food and keep the heating on, how do you raise with a colleague or boss “I can’t be you’re leaning post anymore!” when you fear losing your job for not being accommodating, it’s a dangerous world.
WHO’S YOUR ROLE MODEL?
My immediate role models – everyone who goes to the WTH! I admire, the younger women and their drive and passion and equally the older women for their unbelievable persistence. The women who are doing career changes, I look at them and think if that’s me in 10 years’ time and I can change industry’s (I’m not planning on it) but I could and I’ll be alright if I do!
Specifically there is Zoe Quinn. Zoe is a now famous games developer who almost lost everything due to the effort of her ex-boyfriend who punished her for leaving him and started a 3 year public hate campaign (known as GamerGate). She was receiving death threats across every social media platform. Her personal information was publicly posted, her accounts were hacked and her family members and friends harassed. But she still stayed active online, She still exists in the space and has reasserted herself as an awesome creative human and not just an event story. Read her book if you get a chance – Crash Override. How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate.
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE LGBT COMMUNITY IN BRISTOL?
We have an active community, especially through Pride. However we still are not doing as much as we can for tech or professional environments and our representation is much more on the white, cis-gendered, ‘gay men’ demographics. I’d love to see more women, non-binary and trans folk especially from marginalised ethic groups and people with disabilities in LGBTQ+ spaces and on the Pride committee.
ProudBristol is an organisation that connects up LGBTQ+ folk in business and run socials and speaking events about what it’s like to be an LGBTQ+ person in the workplace.
I co-run LGBTQIA+ in tech with a great person I met at WTH to give folks a platform to speak and talk about the challenges of being LGBTQ+ in tech. I saw Queer Code London doing this really well and thought “Bristol needs that!”.
People are scared to come out in business and in tech for fear of forms of discrimination.
There’s ‘smaller’ day to day things like a lot of the conversations in workplaces are very centred, around heteronormativity – That if you have a partner that they are going to be of the opposite gender to you. Family projects and conversations, that assume that families are a mum & dad they can also be mum and mum, dad and dad or people who transition to another gender and I desperately wanted to talk about it when I worked on a product that was to do with and targeted at families. I wanted to say “Hey, don’t assume what families are like! ask real families!”. You don’t want it to affect you personally but it makes it hard to exist in a space that tries to deny your lifestyle and who you are. You find folks lie about the gender of their partners and they don’t want to “out” themselves.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT THE INDUSTRY, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I think it is getting better but I want bias around your route into tech to be removed. You don’t have to do a STEM degree. I want opportunities in tech to be open to everyone!
Blind CVs and hiring people with a diversity of thought and experience are the way forward.
Let’s remove the name, education & origin and focus on the life experience, dedication and attitude that people can bring to the table!
Eriol, thank you so much! You really are an inspiration and I love your story, keep telling it and keep up everything you are doing.
LinkedIn: Eriol Fox