Women in leadership: Charlotte Jacobs
Jacobs’ drive for working with girls of color and their educational experiences goes back to growing up in Cleveland, where she often felt she was treated differently in her predominantly white AP and honors classes.
Jacobs, who received her Ph.D. in teaching, learning and teacher education from Penn, works as the executive director of Girls Justice League (GJL), a girls’ rights nonprofit dedicated to social, political, economic and educational justice for girls and women. She aims for GJL to be a girls-run, girls-led organization, while adult allies offer their support and perspectives.
“I feel like it’s not very often that you get that sort of structure within organizations where you have young people and adult allies working together, listening to each other,” Jacobs said.
At GJL, the girls participate in board meetings, can join the GJL board when they turn 18 years old and are encouraged to think critically about how they’re represented in society.
“We want girls to walk away with having that mindset of being able to comfortably ask critical questions and then also have ways that they can think about then creating change,” Jacobs said.
She added her leadership style centers around building relationships, a skill she passes on to GJL participants. GJL helps girls from different races and backgrounds who normally wouldn’t interact with each other connect, find common ground and work together, Jacobs said.
“Especially as our society is becoming more segregated by socioeconomic status and by race, having spaces where we’re being intentional about bringing people from various backgrounds and experiences together to do the work is also important,” she added. “Particularly as a girl, you’re able to achieve anything you set your mind to.”
Accessibility: Mikey Ilagan
Ilagan graduated from the Art Institute of Philadelphia in 2005 with a degree in multimedia and web design and worked for years as a web designer and developer.
Then, about two years ago, the Philly Geek Awards organizerbegan working as an accessibility specialist on the Comcastaccessibility team at Think Company, a tech company that designs software by researching user experiences.
Ilagan designs websites and apps to ensure usability for all users, including people with blindness or low vision, people with mobility concerns and people who are deaf, hard of hearing or on the neurodiverse spectrum. Ilagan reports inaccessible web features to development teams as bugs, then explains why the feature is problematic, who it affects and how to resolve the issue.
“I got to learn really firsthand the types of [mistakes] that I, in a former life as a designer or developer … would make and the things that I wouldn’t consider in the products that I was building previously,” Ilagan said. “When my job became to essentially advocate for folks with disabilities, I became very passionate about the need for it.”
Ilagan doesn’t identify as a person with a disability, but said he approaches the accessibility sector as a technologist and emphasized the importance of including people with disabilities in the conversation.
“I always try to shift the focus onto the actual audience that we’re building for,” he said, “so serving as that bridge to get really into that space.”
Ilagan hopes to see more resources and thought leaders in Philadelphia’s accessibility sector, and for people to understand that diversity includes disability.
“I try to do my own part in helping people make that cultural shift by just trying to get them to be a little bit more empathetic and educating them on the things that they don’t know and that they may be intimidated by,” he said. “If we hire the right people who are representative of a broad range of abilities, maybe that will be reflected in the products that we build.”
LGBTQ: Kay Martinez
From director of the Women’s Center at Tufts University to associate director of the Diversity & First Generation Office at Stanford University, Martinez’s career in diversity and inclusion work has been mostly university-oriented. The focus stems from their own college experience.
“Going through college as a queer trans person of color, I didn’t have anyone who looked like me,” said Martinez, who attended schools in Boston and New Orleans. “I didn’t have professors who looked like me, I didn’t have administrators who looked like me, so it was really difficult.”
Martinez’s favorite part of their work is setting an example for younger generations.
“I can’t tell you how many students I’ve had who are young and queer trans persons themselves who have come up to me and said, ‘I’ve never had a queer trans person in my life, I’ve never had a [queer trans] teacher before, I’ve never had anyone that I could talk to about these intersections of identities,” Martinez said. “It’s always been rewarding to be the first at many places and to have that relationship with young folks and be someone that they can see themselves in in spaces where they don’t have that.”
Martinez brings attention to marginalized voices by developing inclusive trainings, curriculums and policies through an authentic and vulnerable leadership style.
“In diversity and inclusion work, it’s really important that folks are able to speak openly and honestly and have a commitment to learning and being your authentic self,” Martinez said.
Martinez was fired from their five-month-long role as director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Mazzoni Center last Monday, prompting another marker in the long string of claims made by former staffers of color that the health services nonprofit engages in discriminatory practices.
“What happened to me is a reflection of our society at large, where queer and trans people of color in predominantly white LGBT spaces are trying to share their thoughts and their experiences and ways to address the climate which is adversely impacting them, and folks don’t want to hear that,” Martinez said. “So they silence queer and trans people of color.”
They added that while Philadelphia works to include minority LGBT people in conversations about LGBT rights, there is more to do.
“We still have a lot of work to do within our own communities so that we aren’t subsequently marginalizing other folks within our own marginalized categories,” they said, “so really trying to build that bridge between white LGBT folks and LGBT folks of color.”