Name: Neha Pant Organization: Taos High Tech | Arroyo Seco, New Mexico
Hometown: Almora, India
Breyana Ray: What is your connection to rural?
Neha Pant: It really goes back a long way, to my birth country. I grew up in a rural, mountain town while I was in India. My dad was a soil scientist and we were raised very close to the land and the water, with a lot of respect around it and loving the little, small community. So when I moved to the U.S. was at one point in California and then in the suburbs of Dallas, and in the beginning it was a really great experience. I had not experienced anything like that, but I really craved for that rural outdoors and nature and open fields, because that’s how I grew up. That’s when my husband and I decided we are going to move rural and, for me, it was specifically that I needed to be in the rural mountains that made me feel at home. I wanted to raise my daughter the same way that I grew up. That was the reason that we moved to where we live now in Taos, New Mexico — actually a little further north in Arroyo Seco, which is about 30 minutes away. That’s more rural because Taos is still a town. It’s funny because I keep saying, “Oh, I’m going to town,” or, “I’m going to go shop in town.” And a lot of my friends keep asking why I say town, and it’s mostly because I live so rural that even to do grocery shopping I have a 30-minute drive down to town — and that’s Taos.
BR: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
NP: I really wanted to be a teacher because I love children. I love children because I do see our children as the future of our planet, of humanity, and the next generation. I do believe that it’s our responsibility to raise kind, compassionate human beings for the next generation. I thought if I become a teacher that’s the most impact that I could have. I did work for a little special-needs preschool at one point, which was absolutely amazing and I loved it. But then I moved on to just taking care of my own daughter and homeschooling and being with her.
BR: What do you currently do today and how did you get to where you are now?
NP: Currently, I say I do a lot of things, because I do consider my job as a mother one of my biggest, main roles. But I also am a co-founder of a small tech company with my husband where we live, which primarily works with local businesses and local organizations in Taos — and there’s a little story behind that, too. Why we got started is because, again, rural communities don’t have a lot of access to tech. And it’s not just tech, but people who know what they’re doing and are good at it, and also honest, because it’s such a big umbrella — tech — and there’s so many different needs of different organizations and companies. So for us to start a local tech company mainly came from being a face, a human face to tech, because people in Taos are not very tech savvy and so much so that they’re afraid of tech. It was important for us to make it very human for them, that we can take advantage of technology to benefit rather than being scared of it and pushing it away, because it’s not going to go anywhere.
BR: How does the lack of representation in tech affect women of color like yourself?
NP: For me, personally, I would say that I didn’t really feel much of that because I feel fortunate — it may have been a very intentional move for me to be in Taos because it is a very diverse community. I felt very at home. That was the main reason I moved to Taos, because I was accepted as a person of color, as an immigrant of color, a woman of color. I didn’t really see while I was working, or while I still work in my company, that I am discriminated against — in fact so much that I feel like, at least in Taos, it was like I was really well-accepted. But I’m sure if I step away from Taos and I go somewhere else, to a bigger city, I am not sure how I will be received. I haven’t tried that yet.
BR: What’s the name of your company and what do you do there?
NP: My company’s name is called Taos High Tech. Our model or vision, really, is “for Taos, by Taos,” because we’re not just working for the local organizations, whether it’s website building or Google/SEO, or tech marketing, online marketing — those are the three main things that we do. Our goal is also to hire and train local Taos people who could come on board. It’s creating a circular economy where the local business hires a local tech company, which hires, in turn, local people who are working all together to make money rather than have it leave our little town. THat’s why we call it “for Taos, by Taos.”
BR: Growing up, did you have any inspiration or any mentors, or women of color in the tech field or industry that you looked up to?
NP: Not in the industry, but I don’t know if you’re aware of Indra Nooyi? She was the CEO of (PepsiCo). I had read a lot of her interviews… because for me, I’m an immigrant here, I did not grow up in the U.S. That’s a different thing, another big challenge, because I not only had to learn a completely different way of living — it’s cultural differences, a whole new world, right? There are lots of women of color now in the tech industry but I think it’s a different thing altogether when you’re an immigrant who did not grow up here. It’s harder to integrate. So, She was the one who really inspired me because she grew up in India, and then to get to that big position in another country and make it work all over the world is pretty exciting.
BR: What do you feel is changing for women of color who want to be in a tech-based field? Or in what way do you think things are staying the same? Is it getting better or worse, or kind of stagnant?
NP: I feel like it's pretty stagnant. I do have friends who are also in tech, some of them are code programmers, some of them are project managers or at management level, but mostly in tech companies or tech departments. I hear it all the time that it’s like they’re never equal to their peers, whether it’s their male peers, or whether it’s salary-wise. So for me, I think, women have — always will have — two roles, one at home and one outside. We, as a society, I feel haven’t caught up yet in any field to support women to do what they are really good at outside of home too, so that they can also have support at home. That way a lot of companies and a lot of organizations don’t have the benefits or don’t have the awareness of how to support women and, of course, there are lots of women now in tech, so it applies to tech as well.
BR: How should employers or allies or supporters actually support women of color who are in tech-based industries?
NP: I feel like just trying to truly understand that a lot of us don’t have the advantages or privileges like our other peers do. We don’t come from that background already — most of us make it because we were really motivated and we really wanted to do it, and there are lots of barriers and cycles that we have to break to get there. So don’t assume that, “Oh, you are here at this position, you must be earning a lot of good money.” Just because tech is associated, right now, with decent, good pay that doesn’t mean that it’s equal for everybody, especially for women of color. They probably, definitely, have gone through a lot more than their peers.
BR: What would an inclusive tech culture for women of color look like? What does equal look like?
NP: I feel like the pay, of course, is one of the big things, but I also think that I am one of those people that I want you to see me for who I am rather than putting me in a box and a label, and then giving me that, “Oh yeah, you’re a person of color, a woman of color, that’s why we are giving you this position.” Or, “Because our company talks about diversity, let’s fill that diversity box with you.” Because at that point you’re not seeing me for just my potential, and that’s how I want to be seen. Take me as equal, as everybody else, and I think that would be just the ideal world to be in.
BR: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you wish I would have asked, or anything else you wanted to include?
NP: I really enjoy what I do. It helps me be part of my community. I love it because it’s not just a job. It’s community-building for me as well, where I am in my local, little town. That’s something I really enjoy a lot and I hope that, slowly but surely, we’ll be able to bring the change that is required, and that people in my town can take advantage of technology and not be afraid of it.
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