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Tech Needs to be More Inclusive

12.11.2013
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We Are Failing to Even Have an Inclusive Discussion

The tech industry needs to be more inclusive of women and people of color. It's about having the largest pool to draw excellence from.

Sadly, most of the discussion, even the discussion that is advocating for a more inclusive culture, itself is divisive.

We Are All Individuals

We are all individuals. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We all have our perspectives that we've developed over a lifetime.

We must proceed through this discussion and all our discussions working to see each participant as an individual, not as the member of a tribe.

No, I Don't Understand You

I really don't. And you don't understand me. Most of our lives are spent approximating understanding of our family members, our friends, our partners, our co-workers, and others.

But my failure to understand you is not because I'm a baby boomer white man. It's because I'm a human.

And your failure to understand me has nothing to do with your sex, age, experience, or anything other than the fact that you, too, are human.

Let's just accept that we are all working to understand each other... to sympathize and empathize with the other participants in this conversation. But, no we don't understand each other.

I Do Try to Listen

I do deeply care about paying attention and listening to the words of other participants in this conversation. I may not always success in understanding, but I am listening.

I ask the same of other participants in the conversation. Please do care about my words and my perspective.

Statistics Are Measures Not Values

Using statistics to measure participation of woman and people of color in the tech world is a very helpful guide to see if we're getting better at being inclusive.

It's important for us to know if we're succeeding in creating the right environment to attract a more diverse set of participants to our community. But it's not about more women or women's perspectives. It's about more people and the individual perspectives of each of those people. The statistics tell us how well we are succeeding at the goal of being more inclusive. The statistics do not have meaning beyond a rough indication of how inclusive the community is. Period.

Avoiding Tribes

As humans we're drawn to tribes. We are drawn to banding together in groups and drawing "us and them" lines.

In order to be inclusive, we have to see the community as a whole. The community is not a set of "us" and "them," but instead a community of all of us.

Yes, we have to do extra work to make the community more inviting to under-represented member groups. But that does not mean that the under-represented member groups are better than or different from the tech community group as a whole. It just means that we as a community have to work harder to listen to the under-represented groups and do what we can to include them.

More pointedly, drawing lines like "feminist" and "brogrammers" and "privileged white guys" just changes the boundaries of tribalism. It does not address the larger goal of inclusion of more people so that the community has more excellence to thrive on.

And to put an additional point on this... some humans may behave badly when their sexual advances are not accepted. This goes across all gender combinations. Yes, I've been sexually stalked on the Internet. Yes, I've had less than optimal outcomes when I've politely rejected sexual advances at conferences. This is not a "man on woman" thing. This is a human on human thing. Some humans do not do rejection, especially sexual rejection, well.

And it's no different for a woman to say, "Men make wars and women make peace" than it is for a man to say, "women don't make good programmers because they are not biologically programmed to focus on tasks." Any man vs. woman statement is tribalism and is caustic to the goal of inclusion.

So, let's focus on what we want: an inclusive community.

Victims, Lionizing, and Demonizing

As a community, we have a duty to listen to the stories of people who have had bad experiences related to the tech community.

Why?

Because anyone who is willing to share deserves to be heard. Because anyone who is willing to share deserves our sympathy and empathy. Because the act of sharing helps with healing. Because we can each learn something about others, about ourselves, and about our community by listening.

But listening and lionizing are not the same. Just because someone had a bad experience does not give them an elevated status in the discussion.

We also must listen to the other people involved in a given incident. We must listen and not demonize.

Why?

Because anyone who is willing to share deserves to be heard. Because anyone who is willing to share deserves our sympathy and empathy. Because the act of sharing helps with healing. Because we can each learn something about others, about ourselves, and about our community by listening. And we might even hear an apology.

We as a community can learn from people who have had bad experiences. We can learn from all the people who engaged in a given incident. We can learn how to be a better community. Individuals can learn about how others see their actions.

Most importantly, creating an environment where everybody can speak and the community listens allows us to include more people.

What I'd Like to See

I'd like to see the following adopted by conferences and groups within tech to help promote inclusiveness:

  • Actively recruiting women and people of color to present at conferences. Alex Miller does an excellent job of this.
  • Giving discount on tickets or setting aside a block of tickets (depending on how over-subscribed the conference is) for under-represented groups would be awesome. I'd be willing to pay a 20% opt-in "helping to be more inclusive" fee at conferences. I'd even pay the fee when I'm a speaker (and speakers rarely pay to attend).
  • Being positive about the expectations at each conference. While Bill and Ted's "Be Excellent to Each Other" may sound trite, it sets the tone I'd like to see at conferences. Defining positive expectations put that in peoples' minds... and defining negative boundaries also puts the negative vibe in peoples' minds.
  • Setting aside time and space for woman and people of color to gather at conferences. As long as women and people of color represent less than 25% of conference attendees, individuals may feel isolated and that discourages participation and future attendance. DevChix did a meetup at Strange Loop that allowed women to see and talk to other woman.
  • Reducing alcohol availability. I'd like to see conferences eliminate free alcohol. Instead, find bartenders who can fix interesting and cool non-alcoholic drinks. Make alcohol available for high prices (e.g., $10/beer) and contribute the proceeds to charity. Yes, people will still drink, but not as much.
  • Ask conference attendees to blog or tweet about a new perspective they gained at a conference. Plant the seed in attendees' minds that they have a good chance of gaining a new perspective... and that will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • The tech community as a whole rewarding those who are inclusive and avoiding those who reduce the discussion into tribes based on sex, age, or skin color.

Thanks and I look forward to a positive discussion of how we can make this community one that is awesome to all.

Published at DZone with permission of its author, David Pollak. (source)

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