Learn-Along: Diversity and Tech


Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

LEARN-ALONG! Learn about something related to diversity, equity, inclusion, oppression, and justice, as I learn about it, too. It’s the best parts of school (learning, inquiry, and reflection) minus the worst parts (tests, grades, and waking up before the sun rises).

If you read one article today about diversity in tech, make it this one (I’m not sure how many diversity in tech articles you were planning to read today, but THIS IS THE ONE TO START WITH). My reflections, questions, and takeaways on each section, and on the article as a whole, are below. ALSO: Click on the green highlighted text in the article! These aren’t external links; they’re pop-ups with additional statistics and information that weren’t included in the body of the article but give really important context for some of the statements being made. Shout out to TechEquity Collaborative for putting this article on my radar!

THE COLLEGE STUDENT who was squeezed out of the computer science major: THIIIIIS. I’ve seen this happen to many, many young people, especially young black and brown women. Not enough seats in a lecture hall, or chairs in office hours?? COME ON, Cal. And intro classes should be actually introductory.

THE OAKLAND HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER trying to get students to code earlier: “I have a problem with computer science education being purely vocational, or solely to address pipeline — particularly at the K-12 level. The conversation we should really be having is using CS as a way to get kids to be stronger thinkers: to interact with mathematical reasoning in a way that’s fun and gives them a physical project to work on.” <– YES. This is a great conversation to have about why we’re teaching any skill. I wish I’d gotten the chance to explore CS in K-12; what if it had changed my negative views on learning math?

THE SOFTWARE ENGINEER on tech’s black tax: Networks are about more than getting you in the door: they can help you navigate what’s on the other side of that door. Who, in our lives, can we give the inside scoop to?

THE RECRUITER on why startups stay homogeneous: See network above, and WOW I had no idea that hiring your friends could get you a Tesla.

THE MANAGER on the challenge of waiting for the perfect candidate of color: I can think of an organization I’ve worked with that wrestles with this same question, but it’s not necessarily the right question to wrestle with. Hiring diverse candidates doesn’t have to equal lowering the bar for their qualifications or experience. This is either/or thinking, and I want to encourage folks to move towards both/and thinking, like, Where and how can we find qualified, diverse candidates? What do we need to change to find them? One solution: WRITE A GENDER-NEUTRAL JOB DESCRIPTION, using “you” instead of the third person. Waiting for Grammarly to catch up to the reality that gender doesn’t exist on a binary, but it’s a start.

THE HIRING MANAGER who saw nine men apply for every one woman: “One of the fundamental mistakes we make is pushing hiring managers to make compromises. The perception that men walk away with is that someone is here because of the push for diversity. That leads to workplace discrimination.” <– See above. Either/or thinking leads to compromise, which can lead to INCREASED workplace discrimination against marginalized folks. Re: men leading implicit bias classes: men and other folks with dominant identities, we need you to inform and hold your peers accountable, because women and folks with marginalized identities aren’t taken seriously. Re: women not being risk-takers: CLICK THE GREEN LINK. It’s not a biological imperative; it’s an issue of economic resources.

A VENTURE CAPITALIST who wants women and people of color to think bigger: YEP. I personally struggle with thinking bigger. I often feel underqualified for roles or projects that I know I should probably apply for. I’m actively making an effort to say yes to things that intimidate me; it’s scary AF but it’s a) helping me to learn new things and expand my skill set and b) building my confidence in being able to work in spaces that I didn’t think I was worthy of (even when things don’t go amazingly, I still deserve to be there, because fuck a made-up hierarchy). Re: coding bootcamps that target marginalized folks: STEP YOUR CURRICULAR GAME UP. Wasting marginalized peoples’ time and money on subpar, outdated coding curriculum actually reinforces oppression, because in the short term, it’s taking resources from those who typically have fewer resources / less access to resourced spaces while falsely promising them access to more resources / resourced spaces in the long term. It’s predatory. Just stop. (yes, I know, #notallbootcamps – if you’re teaching current curriculum well, this doesn’t apply to you)

THE WOMAN who quit her last tech job over unequal pay: GAHHH. How about not lying to folks you’re trying to hire about what you can actually pay them? Related: a great article about how the choice not to disclose salary range on a job posting reinforces inequality.

THE WOMAN WHO SPENT THOUSANDS on programming classes: While not as expensive as 4+ years of college, dev bootcamps are expensive and inaccessible to lots of marginalized people, even with scholarships. I’ve worked with young people who have gotten into similar situations (usually in the context of trade schools), and the debt can be crushing. It’s hard to know what you’ll be good at and enjoy before trying it, right? The financial stakes are incredibly high for this kind of experimentation, when you don’t have a lot of resources. Also GAHHH accreditation being valued over hard skills. For my people who hire programmers: tell me about the differences you see between those who have done a bootcamp vs. those who have studied computer science in college. Are people who have done bootcamps missing critical skills (or vice versa)? What does hiring look like at your company?

THE DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION CONSULTANT who wants tech to move beyond tokenism: Yep, diversity isn’t strictly male / female. And tokenism hurts the token few. Questions that arose for me: When and where can technical interviewing be taught? What other styles of interviewing can meet the same need, while being done in a way that can better showcase women’s and other marginalized peoples’ skills? And let’s get rid of these business-specific interview questions, yeah?

THE FORMER SILICON VALLEY EXECUTIVE who thinks the diversity debate is overblown: This guy frustrates the depths of my soul. As a consultant who does DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) work, I can tell you that I’m not doing this work for personal gain. In fact, I’m sacrificing a hell of a lot to do this work, so sit down, Steve. “It’s not as though there are more candidates who are women and minorities and we’re not hiring them. If you try to hire more of them, then by definition you’re lowering the percentage of the other candidates you let in and discriminating against white males.” <– I really don’t buy that there are so few women and minorities (aka members of the global majority) who are qualified for these jobs. Yes, there are fewer than white men, obviously. And yes, it’s partially a pipeline issue, absolutely. But how about looking at how and where we find these folks? How we assess their applications, how we interview them? Where to look, outside of our immediate networks? Also, BOO HOO WHITE MEN WHO APPARENTLY AREN’T GETTING THESE JOB INTERVIEWS even though you just said tech companies primarily interview white men. As if there aren’t an ABUNDANCE of job opportunities for educated white men in this country. CRY ME A RIVER STEVE. “It’s ludicrous to think that companies like Apple, which is run by an openly gay man, or Facebook, co-run by the woman who wrote Lean In, would have institutional bias.” <– This isn’t how institutional bias works, Steve. The word “institution” means just that: it’s an organization, not just one person. An institution is a collection of people, processes, rules, unspoken norms, and values. Having one leader who holds a marginalized identity doesn’t automagically make the institution equitable for all. DEEP SIGH. “I started from nothing and worked my tail off. I took personal responsibility and moved up the chain very fast. I wonder if I would’ve made it in this world or even gotten into college with this level of angst against white males.” <– This is a great example of the myth of meritocracy (or, the illusion of equal opportunity) in action. Steve “started from nothing” and “worked [his] tail off” and “took personal responsibility”. I don’t know anything about Steve’s childhood but statistically, it’s likely that his family had significantly more wealth than a black or Latino person’s family, by tens of thousands of dollars. Also, did his parents own their home, or at least live in a neighborhood of their choosing? Was he able to focus on school as a kid, or did he have an afterschool job, or need to watch his siblings? Steve’s got a pretty white-sounding name; was it tough for him to get job interviews? All of this is to say, the “nothing” that Steve started from is probably a much more resourced places than the “nothing” that many low-income, black and brown, women, immigrants, disabled, queer, etc. people start from. Also, notice how he’s implying that other people aren’t working hard or taking responsibility for their choices, unlike he did. Steve’s blaming the individual (in fact, a lot of individuals, whom he doesn’t know personally), when in reality, there are many, many systemic roots to individual struggles. Again, I HAVE ZERO TEARS for the “angst” that white men apparently face today. White men aren’t being murdered by law enforcement, incarcerated for minor drug charges, or otherwise treated as “dangerous” at nearly the same rates that black and brown men are. I’ve spent far too much time on Steve; apologies, and I’m moving on now.

THE SOFTWARE ENGINEER on returning to tech after a three-year maternity leave: Similar to the “black tax”, this is an example of the “woman tax”. Whether it’s getting pregnant, having kids, or returning to work after maternity leave, it’s easy for women to get left out of the workforce, or at the very least, miss out on opportunities for professional growth. How can we reimagine workplaces that go beyond being “family friendly” to actually ensuring equity for women who choose to start families? Yay tech internship programs for women!

THE VENTURE CAPITALIST saved by the baby at the conference: You have to see it to be it. The question here for me is, how can I be more public about what I’m doing professionally (running my own business), so that other girls and women can envision themselves in this role, too? Also: change takes time. Unrelated: I’m sure that baby was great, but “saving” someone is a stretch.

A WOMAN OF COLOR on the struggle of raising capital: If you’ve got capital, BE THE FIRST INVESTOR. Take a chance on someone who may not get a lot of chances. How do we better support women through each stage of raising capital?

AN ENTREPRENEUR on why growing up poor makes it harder to launch a startup: Ooof, our relationship with money matters. It shows up everywhere, even (and especially, in this case) when you get a ton of it. And the model minority stereotype is alive and well.

THE SENIOR ENGINEER who thinks the problem is geography: Location is important, and finding affordable housing in the Bay Area sucks. This isn’t breaking news, but it it helpful to consider where people will and won’t live, especially as it relates to having a marginalized identity. Safety matters, first and foremost.

WHAT I LIKED: I loved that the whole article was first person perspectives from black and brown people, immigrants, executives, parents, recruiters, engineers, etc. I dug that there was no “expert opinion” about the “right way” to address this issue – because it’s a complex one, with no one perfect solution. It was also really interesting to hear from industry folks about an industry I have no personal experience in.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE, or what I would have changed: I really would have loved it if they’d included perspectives from queer, nonbinary, non-native English speakers, fat, and disabled folks. Diversity isn’t just about women (and women with kids) and black and brown people, which represent a majority of the marginalized perspectives in this article. Also, this article primarily focused on training / education and hiring; I would have loved if it had addressed retention and what meaningful inclusion really looks like, when the dominant culture of a company is white, male, Ivy-educated, etc. The pipeline matters, and I’m glad it’s being examined and challenged, and, it’s only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to creating equitable workplaces, within the tech industry or outside of it.

RELATED RESOURCES, or, what should I read next?:

I realize that two of these three resources center on race and gender, exactly what I didn’t like about this article! This reflects my personal focus on issues of race (specifically, on whiteness and oppression), and a larger cultural focus on writing and scholarship around these two identities. I’m working on finding more resources that reflect other marginalized identities, and I encourage you to do the same.

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