Software Development

Here’s the speech IOPipe cofounder Erica Windisch almost didn’t give

“If we want more talent to come to Philadelphia, we must make this a safe city for underrepresented people,” said Windisch, a trans woman. “We must clean our house.”

Windisch reading the speech at Diversity Dinner.

(Photo by Danie Harris)

At Philly Startup Leaders’ second Annual Diversity Dinner this week, IOPipe cofounder Erica Windisch was bumped from her initial speaking slot.

She had a speech prepared and was so upset when she initially didn’t get to say it that she left the room. Later, Windisch returned and was allowed to read the four-page speech before the audience.

We are reproducing the speech here in its entirety.

It’s great that I get to speak here tonight after giving another speech this afternoon at DevOpsDays Philly. If you’re not aware of DevOpsDays, it’s a conference that holds place in tens, hundreds of cities all around the year. It’s also one of the most diverse tech conferences I’m aware of where the content itself is not focused on matters of diversity, inclusion, gender, sexual orientation or any marginalized group.

It’s also great because while it was locally organized by Philadelphians, DevOpsDays is a global movement which brings these diverse values with it.

Events as diverse as DevOpsDay are critical because so few alternatives provide that same level of care. It’s not just because people want representation. It’s not just to be inclusive of those we know are Black, brown, Muslim, Jewish, gay, lesbian, transgender, or all three. It is all of those things, but it’s more. It’s to be inclusive of those that we do not know are marginalized, too. Because not all marginalizations, such as disabilities, are visible, and sometimes they’re not even visible to those that are marginalized and oppressed.

At one point in my career, several years before coming out, I realized that I preferred gender-neutral pronouns: they and them. They can be used in the singular, by the way — such as “that person over there, I think they are using pronouns correctly.” We often use this when we don’t know someone’s gender. And we use this when we don’t know our own gender or don’t identify with binary labels. By the way, I now use she/her pronouns but discovering this was an important step for me in managing my dysphoria and accepting my identity.


I had used these gender neutral pronouns but had them “corrected” by a coworker that edited content I wrote for presentations and blog posts. They didn’t believe it was correct English, that I should use the “he” pronoun. To my protest, they made these edits.

Pronouns are important to the expression of identity. Do not police other people’s pronouns. Don’t assume that all white men are white, or men.

I was never a man, I never encountered male privilege, only passing privilege.

Just like I, as a white-passing, mixed-race person, encounter racial passing privilege. Those of us with passing privilege, live an interesting and sometimes horrifying experience of being exposed to bigotry that those more visible do not. As a trans woman, I experience transphobia. It’s via micro-aggressions, passive-aggressiveness. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes its not.

As a founder, I have faced surprisingly little discrimination for my gender from colleagues and my industry. That which I have experienced, I cannot prove. I can only guess it. I can only surmise what happened. It’s frustrating!

As a founder that has raised capital from investors from multiple cities and coasts, it would appear ironic we haven’t raised from Philadelphia investors. Yet it was a Philadelphia-based advisor to a venture firm that had the information to connect the dots to out my gender identity. A week later, their money went cold.

My company is founded in two cities and distributed. This is a good thing. It allows us to work beyond local culture, and build the corporate culture that we desire that is both diverse and inclusive. We can do this because we’re not founded solely in one city.

Philadelphia has a fair amount of diversity. The 2010 census measured 44.8 percent white and 44.2 percent Black or African American. Other races are comprised of the remaining 10 percent, plus there’s overlap for those of myself, that are multi-racial. Self-identified women are 52 percent of our population.

Yet, we do not see this diversity in the tech community, especially within tech and startups.

I have had marginalized people ask me if they should move to Philadelphia. What does work looks like here? Which organizations are safe to be openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex? Which companies are good for Black or brown employees? What is it like as a woman in tech here? How safe are the co-working spaces? Do safe companies, organizations exist? Is the city safe?

It’s not an easy recommendation. It’s not a straightforward recommendation. It’s a “Yes, but” conversation.

How can I build a company here and ask candidates to relocate if I cannot recommend the city to my friends?

We know tech has not been friendly enough to marginalized people. But it’s not just tech: these problems go deeper. This past year in particular, the realization has gone more mainstream that our country in a diversity crisis and that our city is not exempt from these problems.

We are a city that struggles with racism and transphobia in what should be LGBT safe spaces, where our Mazzoni Clinic struggles to move beyond controversy, where Sharron Cooks, the first transgender city chair was voted out of her role for recognizing a differential in privilege, we are a city that allows a statue of Frank Rizzo to stand, where after the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virgina by a growing movement of white nationalism, the president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, John McNesby, called one of his officers’ Nazi tattoos “not a big deal.”

Surely, like [Donald] Trump, McNesby finds these officers very fine people. Nazis are not fine people and they don’t belong on the force.

We find ourselves with well-meaning community leaders unprepared for these conversations. We must clean our house.

I congratulate Mayor [Jim] Kenney on standing up to ICE, vocally opposing white supremacy in our police force, and being a voice for positive change. Seeing him with Gavin Grimm, who is fighting the federal government for the right to pee, and raising the trans flag over city hall a month ago was touching and a powerful message. Yet, these problems are beyond what a Mayor alone can do. It’s beyond what a single activist can do. It’s beyond what a single founder can do. We need to fix these problems together. We must clean our house.

We have a lot of work. We have an opportunity to change, to be better, to be the best in the nation. We are still a small community. As long as we are small, we can be agile. We should grow our startup community here in Philadelphia, but first, we must clean our house.

The prospect of bringing Amazon into Philadelphia is attractive to jobs, to growth, but what are we bringing in, and what are we bringing them into? With Amazon, Philadelphia would never be the same, and it will become extraordinarily difficult or impossible to fix any of these problems afterward. If we don’t clean house now, and Amazon arrives, it will be nearly impossible to fix these problems. If Amazon comes here, first: We must clean our house.

I am Indonesian Dutch. My grandmother’s family in the Netherlands was torn apart by fascism. My grandfather survived wartime occupation in Indonesia where Dutch-speaking Christian Indonesians like himself were interred in camps.

As a transgender woman, I cannot forget that the Nazis burned the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, setting back medical research and acceptance of transgender people by decades. A personal friend of mine, a trans woman living in Charlottesville, Virginia, was physically assaulted by Nazis only two months ago, and nearly lost her life.

I should not need to remind you of this, but Nazis are terrorists.

In supporting Nazis, fascism, and white supremacy, the Fraternal Order of Police of Philadelphia has sided themselves with terrorist organizations. The national Fraternal Order of Police has opposed legislation that would allow justice for those wronged by police, especially those of color. We cannot let this stand while they do not stand for us. We cannot let this stand in Philadelphia. We must clean our house.

We cannot stop with identifying these problems, but we must fix them. We must not bake cakes for those that will not bake them for us. We must not serve those that do not serve us. We must clean our house.

If we want to make Philadelphia not just a diverse city, but an inclusive city, one that I can recommend to my friends looking to leave tech hubs like San Francisco? We must clean our house.

If we want more marginalized people, such as trans women of color, to be engaged in city commissions and the organizations that are tasked to drive change in Philadelphia and support marginalized Philadelphians, we must clean our house.

People will not move to our city if they are afraid to walk down the street. This January, at the Creating Change conference hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, a trans woman was attacked… here in Philadelphia. We must stop this violence. We must clean our house.

If we want more startups to come to Philadelphia, we must support talent. If we want more talent to come to Philadelphia, we must make this a safe city for underrepresented people. We must clean our house.

Please, let’s clean our house.

Thank you.

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