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Kaliya ‘Identity Woman’ Young

Opinions  •  
Mar 08, 2022

Kaliya – known as Identity Woman – is a key figure in SSI and identity on the blockchain. Internet, in her opinion, is there to empower people. By co-founding the Internet Identity Workshop in 2005, Kaliya committed her life to the development of an open standards-based layer of the internet.

We are happy to talk with her about International Women’s Day. In this conversation, Kaliya talks about her own career and sheds a light on how it is not about encouraging women to pursue a career in IT, because women are not the problem limiting their leadership. More likely, she talks about a deep systematic issue. Finally, Kaliya offers advice to young girls who feel inspired to start a career in IT or tech. Thank you Kaliya for this inspiring conversation and keep going with your amazing work!

Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them? 

I think when I was in the early part of my career I didn’t believe I experienced barriers or issues but looking back I realize they were there. This included inappropriate sexual advances at conferences (my strategy was to just ignore them).   

Early on when we were all talking on a mailing list about user-centric identity Doc encouraged everyone to start blogging – it was at that time when one needed a name for a blog – that is when named my blog Identity Woman. This was in part because I was the only woman I had met in a meeting about digital identity.  I was very lucky to find alignment and connection with Doc Searls and Phil Windley to collaborate in co-organizing the Internet Identity Workshop.  

What was your dream job when you were a little girl? 

When I was a little girl my family watched the 6pm evening news almost every night. In Canada where I grew up the first 1/3 of the hour-long news program was international news. So I was aware of a bigger world and I saw things that didn’t seem just or right like the first Palestinian Intifada or learning about the tensions in the cold war.  I also saw politicians talking and they seemed to have power at least how it was framed and I was putting pieces together as a young child so I wanted to be one of them – to make a difference in the world to make it better.  I am still trying to use my power to make the world a better place.  

What are you most proud of? 

I’m proud of myself for having the strength to follow my own path and through the significant struggles found success.   

I have held true to a vision I caught via my participation in the Planetwork community and ist articulation of the Augmented Social Network vision. It was following that path I worked with others to cultivate the Internet Identity Workshop is an incredible community. I realize, now that I am reading more about international standards bodies and how they work, how our event and the community we have spawned to work on open standards for digital identity that center people and our autonomy instead of centering corporations and governments and their needs that this community and our event is really special.   

What was your first job, and what did it teach you? 

You could say that my first job was being a water polo player.  I played on the Canadian Jr. National Team when I was 17 and 18 years old and from there I got an athletic scholarship to attend University in the United States at UC Berkeley. While I was in college I played water polo for the Canadian Sr. Women’s National Team. Playing sports at such a high level teaches you a lot – more than I really realized at the time.  It gives you a mental toughness to really knuckle down and focus to improve yourself over time.  I also learned how to play water polo in a team system by observing patterns in the field of play and knowing where to go. This sense of game and strategy serves me very well in both areas of my work facilitating unconferences and supporting communities acting together.  

Do you have a female role model? 

I admire Esther Dyson and her pioneering of convening within the Technology industry. She a major conference PCForum from 1982 to 2007.  It was the one conference where Bill Gates and Steve Jobs appeared on stage together. She published a book Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age in 1997. I aspire to have enough money to be an investor like her.  

How can we encourage more women to pursue senior leadership roles in their careers?  

I don’t really think it is about encouraging women. We aren’t the problem limiting women’s leadership. The problem is the dominant culture and the way that it frames who is worthy and who it can “see”. 

I founded a conference in 2007 called She’s Geeky for women in technology.  I was about 3 years into my career and was bright-eyed and optimistic. We kept hosting the conference and as I and others who attended approached year 10 of our career many of us contemplated leaving the industry. It isn’t that it’s toxic and hard right away – it is that the deep systemic issue and the years of micro-aggressions and not being seen and recognized for one’s work build-up to the point that it sort of become “why bother”. 

I think we need to do some significant cultural work amongst those in the dominant and largely unconscious culture. It is so toxic and really quite terrible for women and people of color.  I am unclear how we get to this type of significant cultural change.  

What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about a career in tech or IT? 

It is critical to find allies and people who will support you and your work. I have been materially helped most by men of color who have made proactive steps to materially help me – get me contracts, do key introductions, help me address bad behavior by white men, give me job opportunities.   

If you could have dinner with three inspirational women, dead or alive, who would they be (and why)? 🙂 

I would like to go back and talk to my great-grandmother Spoor. She went and got her bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin and in fact, did a senior thesis that was almost exactly the same as a science fair project I did in 7th grade.   

My mom died when I was 18 and I would really love to see her again. She would be really astounded at what I have accomplished. She didn’t even see me go to college.