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I was honored to give the final keynote at last week’s Open Source Bridge 2014. My talk was titled “‘Why are these people following me?’: Leadership for the introverted, uncertain, and astonished”. It is the story of how I learned and claimed my leadership skills–because leading and conveying authenticity are both learnable skills.

This talk contains brief and nonspecific mentions of emotional abuse and thoughts of suicide. The video skips in several places; I’ve filled in the transcript to the best of my memory, but if you happen to have more complete notes or corrections send them my way!

Video and transcript are below the fold. This talk is licensed CC-BY-SA.

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I wrote about the ways toxic entitlement enables unintentional but substantial harm in STEM communities for Model View Culture’s current issue, Abuse.

When “I Didn’t Mean To” Makes it Worse

Entitlement and violation in STEM communities

We assume that our stories are universal. We assume that what helps us will help others. We ask, “Couldn’t you just…?” and explain that, actually, if they saw things our way they’d have it better. We ignore differences of ability, power, class, and culture to overwrite their stories with ours. We expect the world to be as we want it, and when we have power we act like that’s true.

That is the danger of entitlement. When we expect more than we’re due, we are in danger of robbing those around us of their own autonomy. Our assumptions shape our actions. Unintentional harm becomes easy. When we don’t expect boundaries to exist, we step right past them without looking, all in what we think is good will.

We don’t want to do this. How do we stop?

A prior version of this post was published on geekfeminism.org.

2013 was a hell of a year for me. I lost family; I ended or reshaped important personal and professional relationships; I began to reconsider my career path based on some truly unfortunate experiences in my academic departments. And with all that, it’s been the most personally and professionally rewarding year I’ve lived so far.

Why? I turned some of my frustrations into positive change and started the Seattle Attic Community Workshop, the first of the new West Coast feminist hackerspaces. I can—and will—talk about our vision for the space and specifics on how we are moving toward it. First, though, I’m going to talk about how my work with the Attic has changed me and why I love this space so much.

The Attic is the first formal community that I’ve been able to bring all of myself into without fear of rejection. There, I can be the least censored public version of myself. I’m not afraid I’ll be judged for the choices I make to deal with the flawed systems we all live in, and I’m not afraid that the real harm those systems do will be waved away in the process. The support there helps me grow into the self I want to be: gutsy, strong, curious, creative, knowledgeable, skilled, and compassionate. I want to create. I want to learn. I want to teach. At the Attic, I can ask the basic questions that let me learn without being condescended to for not knowing already. And more, I’m not the only member who’s restarted work on projects that had been on hold for months and years.

It’s what I wish working at a start-up, or a new lab, were like. We consciously notice our social dynamics. We learn from movements’ prior experience. We explicitly discuss burnout and balance responsibilities so that the work gets done and no one feels like they have to do it all. We value respect and kindness over displays of superiority — disagreements don’t define our worth as individuals, we aren’t afraid to be judged when we ask questions, and we’re not ashamed of our interests.

As we started this, I started to lead our early meetings and eventually was formally chosen as president. I discovered that I do have a talent for leadership—and here, I don’t have to keep my guard up or worry that my femaleness or my queerness will undermine it. I encouraged little things that build community; our meetings include a “rant and squee” section, one part consciousness-raising group, one part fannishness, one part show-and-tell, as well as a “good and welfare” section that I nabbed from my academic student employee union‘s meetings. Other members have also called me on my mistakes and failings and with their support, I’ve turned those around and done better.

This space and its members have also been a base of support for my other activism. It’s why one of our members entered the tech field this year. It’s a huge part of why I feel secure enough to consider leaving science for good. It’s given me the support I needed to be able to share my reasons why and is why I plan to do my best to make a change in my department and not keep my head down. None of this is easy, but now it’s possible.

So, this is a love letter of a sort to the Attic and the people it comprises. Many of my best experiences of 2013 were through the Attic or through the amazing women I met and worked with there. After this year it would be easy for me to leave science completely and geek from the edges, or to stay and become more and more angry and brittle. That’s not what happened. The acceptance, encouragement, and compassionate strength from my fellow Attic members have all helped make me into the person I want to be. I look around and see how I can be strong without shattering. I’ve been shaped by my painful experiences of that year; I’m being tempered by the kindness and utter acceptance the Attic shows me.

Right now, the Seattle Attic is finishing up our first fundraising campaign so that we can build on the beginning we’ve made and expand our space and our programs. We want to make this space sustainable, and we want to provide enough resources that other makerspaces can do the same. If you want to support us you can donate, or simply spread the word and tell a handful of your friends why this feminist makerspace excites you, personally. If you’re local or visiting, come to one of our open houses, workshops, or events — we would love to meet you.