How one woman is forging a new future for queer women in tech

Paula Ratliff is an openly gay woman who is trying to forge a future for women working in the tech industry.

For Ratliff, being openly gay is a point of pride, but she admits that during her 22 years working at a staffing company, she could not be her truest self.

“It’s been a long journey, and I probably came out in my late 20s or so, after college,” Ratliff said. “I spent most of my career avoiding pronouns. I would talk about my significant other, I would talk about my partner.”

After decades in staffing, Ratliff took on a new challenge. She’s the head of Women Impact Tech, trying to give women who’ve often felt like an ‘other’ a leg up in the industry.

“Now I can advocate and feel that I can advocate for others, both in their careers as well as in their personal lives, to be their authentic self,” Ratliff said.

Pride isn’t just about parades and celebrations. To Ratliff, it’s a process well beyond marches and slogans.

She’s trying to convince companies that inclusion and understanding need to come to the offices of tech. The Women in Tech Conference where she was a main speaker is her chance to connect women with those companies.

“I encourage employers and companies to really bring diverse voices to the table to make sure they are mirroring the market that they service, and they’re mirroring their own employees — you really need to have LGBTQ representation at every level in the organization,” Ratliff said.

There are various vendors and sponsors at the Women in Tech conference. Ratliff says it’s the first in-person event they’ve had in Seattle since early 2019.

Seattle is one city where Ratliff knows her work can have a major impact — a tech hub with a reputation for being open. She knew that post-pandemic, her conference had to be back here.

The women in this audience are Ratliff’s target — women who have been excluded in tech, or felt that way. Dismantling barriers and achieving balance in boardrooms may not be a rallying cry at most Pride events, but it is for Ratliff.

“If you can bring your whole authentic self and you don’t have to worry about hiding your pronouns, hiding your family, and you can put a picture on your desk like everyone else, that has an impact,” Ratliff said. “I think we have come a very long way, maybe further than I ever dreamed we would in my lifetime. So I am really proud of where we are.”