Tuesday August 22, 2023
Michelle Frechette: From an Active Volunteer to a Diversity Advocate
A Director of Community Engagement at StellarWP, a Podcaster in WP Coffee Talk and Audacity Marketing, a Director of Community Relations at Post Status, and a frequent organizer and speaker at WordPress events. To some, that might be the perfect definition of multi-hyphenates – folks who have multiple skills or work more than one job – but to us, it’s our fellow WordPress enthusiast Michelle Frechette.
It’s beneficial to be a multi-hyphenate person, as you’ll have additional income streams and higher hiring potential due to a more comprehensive skillset. But if not managed well, doing different jobs at the same time can be stressful.
We wanted to discuss this topic with someone who walks the talk, Michelle. Read on to find out her insights about bringing impact to your community, and how she empowers the WordPress community by enabling access for wider audiences while keeping the work-life balance.
The Journey toward Becoming a WordPress Community Expert
Michelle has been active in her local community’s activities for decades, and it has helped her solidify her career as a community professional.
“You either build on things that you are required to do, or you build on things that you enjoy,” she says.
She has worked with her local chamber of commerce, organized community meetups, and was elected as a local school board member. Over the years, she has experienced being a leader, a team player, and a casual observer who just watches what’s going on and has an opinion.
“You’ll learn how to either lead or follow. So it’s important that we have leaders, but everybody in a group can’t be a leader either,” Michelle says.
This extensive experience has helped her grow to understand the community ecosystem comprehensively. “If you start working at community and you find that you love it, then you look for more ways to work in the community,” she adds.
And that’s what Michelle does: she keeps finding more ways to make an impact in the community she’s part of. Together with Allie Nimmons, she founded Underrepresented in Tech, a free database that helps underrepresented people – like women of color or people with disabilities – find new opportunities within the technology ecosystem, specifically WordPress. They can use the database to look for jobs, and everyone can use it to find talent.
They also have a podcast on the Underrepresented in Tech website, where they talk about how people can help solve diversity issues every week.
“We’re trying to kind of reduce ableism, racism, and misogyny, all of those things that suppress groups of people like us, like Allie and me. We want to ensure we’re using our voices for good,” Michelle says.
For Michelle, this database is still a highlight in her WordPress journey so far.
And she’s not stopping there. On May 2023, Michelle launched WP Speakers, a database of speakers with WordPress-related expertise. This addresses a pain point many WordPress event organizers have felt – finding a speaker.
The Circular Power of Community Building
For Michelle, one beauty of the WordPress community is that everyone comes together around almost anything. When someone knows more about something, they will eventually teach somebody else about that, helping others understand the topics better. The cycle will then continue, as people pass on the knowledge to others.
The lifting-each-other-up spirit also applies to event organization. “When organizing a meetup, you are looking to build the local talent,” she says.
Michelle realized sometimes a group doesn’t have expertise in a certain area they want to learn, so connecting to people outside of a particular local group would be nice. That’s why she created databases like WP Speakers and Underrepresented in Tech – to bring in speakers that can help everyone’s group grow.
“I think we perpetuate the ability to share and grow not only when we look inside our own local community, but when we also bring in outside speakers to infuse ideas and topics that we might not have any local expertise,” she says. “You never know when you might be helping somebody into their next level of expertise on something.”
Michelle also loves that in the WordPress community, she can be friends with people who work for products similar to her day job. “People can work for competing products, but that doesn’t make us enemies – everyone wants to see each other succeed.”
Joining the Community
Now what’s the best way to start contributing your skills to the WordPress community?
“It’s hard to pick a particular point because it’s like a river with many tributaries. But I think starting locally is always a great way to begin,” Michelle suggests.
If no local WordPress community is nearby, then joining Slack or Facebook groups is a way to go.
Michelle also encourages you to visit WordCamps when you have the chance. You’ll learn a lot when you’re physically in a space with all the people that are also using WordPress, especially if you’re part of underrepresented communities.
“I would never force somebody to attend events to be a tokenized representative, because that’s not what representation means. It’s to be inclusive, and include people to be able to inspire confidence in other people to do things,” she emphasizes.
For Michelle, being regarded as “an inspiration” feels performative in many ways. But it’s different when someone tells her, “I was inspired to join this community because you showed me that it could be done.” That shows how people actually do something after seeing what she did, which she finds very rewarding.
“There are more young black women in WordPress because Allie Nimmons exists in WordPress. There are more women in headscarves in WordPress because you are wearing a head scarf and representing your community and your faith. And I think that those are very, very important things.”
Keeping the Balance
Looking at Michelle’s long list of current activities, we can’t help but wonder how she keeps the balance between work and living her life to the fullest. Especially in the era of remote working, where the line between work and life might get blurred.
“Yeah, it’s impossible to completely disconnect sometimes, right? Especially if something is happening that’s of greater importance,” says Michelle, confirming the struggle to separate work and life.
“But for me, I have a cutoff time. I am usually done with work at 5 pm. Of course, there are exceptions. For instance, I organize the local meetup for WordPress, so the first Monday of every month, my night goes until 8:30 pm. My weekends are usually not work-related, unless I’m doing a podcast on a Saturday morning – but I make sure everything is scheduled,” she explains.
One of her favorite things to do on weekends is driving to a wildlife resort to shoot nature photography. For her, having a creative pursuit is one of the ways to balance work and life.
“Doing photography makes me happy. Usually, twice a year, I’ll give back to my community by doing a day of photography. The last time was for an animal shelter. My friend dressed up as Santa Claus, and we raised money for the organization by having people photographed with Santa Claus and animals. That was really fun.”
Michelle’s passion for photography also makes way for her WordPress contribution. She’s been contributing to WordPress’ Photo team, and anyone can use her nature photo works through the WordPress Photo Directory.
Simple Tools for Complex Tasks
If you imagine Michelle having an intricate and tedious time management trick to organize her jam-packed schedule, then you’ll be surprised by her simple toolkit. Her secret sauce is just the combo of her trusty calendar, shared notes, and the habit of texting herself – plus a kick of caffeine.
“First, coffee, before I even turn on the computer,” Michelle says. “Then it’s a lot about my calendar. As long as I have a to-do list on the calendar and keep it up to date, I can ensure I’m getting accomplishments done.”
The shared notes fit well when she’s working with other people, such as when co-authoring a blog post or coaching a client. It lets Michelle and her clients or collaborators look at the same notes, streamlining the working process. This echoes the interconnected nature of the WordPress ecosystem, where seamless experiences are key.
“It’s nice to have something that’s just very quick to check, and on your phone,” she argues. Michelle also synced her notes on all her devices, so she can access them anywhere.
She uses notes to collect her ideas, too. “Every time I come up with a topic to submit for an event or WordCamps, I write it out, fully flush it there. So if I have to, I can pull out the text and use it at any time,” she elaborates.
As for self-texting, Michelle uses this method to save links to check out for later. “This way, I can remind myself to look at the websites. I also text myself links to funny stuff,” Michelle laughs.
Michelle’s resourceful methods become proof that modern problems don’t always require super-complex solutions – it’s the simplicity that enables the versatile application across the dynamic WordPress landscape, indeed.