No one has to put up much of an argument for diversity in tech anymore. We have understood its importance for a while now. And if anyone needed convincing, they’ve hopefully been able to refer to the ever-growing data indicating diversity’s positive impact upon a workplace and industry.
In fact, “diversity” has been quite the trendy issue in tech for several years now. We’ve all watched as companies — from Silicon Valley to our very own Philly — have issued their responses. Separate diversity budgets. Diversity committees. Conferences that support diversity. New websites. Millions of dollars being thrown at the problem. (For example, IBM has created a tech reentry program. Apple has a women’s entrepreneur camp. Microsoft has promised millions to Code.org. Intel has invested hundreds of millions into its diversity efforts.)
Despite all of this pomp, little to no progress has been made. While tech has struggled to figure out how to move forward, it is in fact becoming less inclusive and, therefore, less diverse. In an industry that encourages moving fast, thinking outside of the box, and solving seemingly impossible tasks, it’s baffling that we’ve allowed this problem to not only persist, but to worsen.
Anyone who isn’t a white cishet male is painfully aware. And anyone who isn’t a white cishet male is quickly losing their patience.
We can all agree (I hope) that it’s no longer revolutionary to say diversity matters. What would be revolutionary would be companies more intentionally starting to put their money where their mouths are. Instead of holding the same biweekly meeting echo chamber, companies should be researching how they could be doing better. Or simply just doing better.
Real and immediate change needs to happen, unless you’re OK with the tech industry hemorrhaging minorities and women …
… which includes me.
I’ve decided that I can’t actively pursue a career in an industry that, time and time again, treats me like an afterthought. Because I’m a woman. Because I am (technically) disabled. Because I have this nasty habit of challenging the status quo.
I desperately want to stick around and be a part of the change, to continue to challenge my coworkers and companies to do better. To find ways to be better myself. To speak up when other marginalized people are too afraid of retribution — whether official or more abstract — to do so themselves. But so far this has been met with (at the best of times) disappointment and (at the worst of times) significant damage to my health.
So I have decided that I can no longer sacrifice my wellbeing to try to help fix this problem.
That being said, I do believe it can be fixed.
I know that there are fierce women, PoC, and people of the LGBTQ community remaining in the industry who are more than capable to help herald in dramatic change.
But mostly I want to get through to those in positions of privilege: These aforementioned bad-ass people are tired of having to fight to be more than merely a second thought. They deserve to feel like they belong in tech. And they need your help.
A few ideas:
1. Have an involved diversity committee.
Attend these meetings as often as you can. Encourage your friends, especially friends in more privileged positions (i.e. white, male, leadership), to attend. Ask to see the breakdown of the diversity budget and see if the money is really being put to its best use. Put it to what will help your workplace become more diverse and inclusive, not to just make your company appear that way. And if your company doesn’t have one of these groups, start one!
2. Notice behavior around the office.
What can be difficult about addressing discriminatory behavior is that it’s not always as blatant as it might have been in our parents’ or grandparents’ time. It’s all about those microaggressions today, folx. So take note of your colleagues’ actions. How much airtime in meetings is being taken up by men versus other people? (There’s actually a handy calculator that can help!) Take a minute to contemplate how your office is decorated. Does it look how a teenage boy might decorate his bedroom? Are there other elements that are simply accepted as “a part of tech culture” that could be isolating to certain marginalized groups?
3. Take a look at your recruiting practices.
Whether it’s a formal recruiting endeavor or a meetup being held in your office, representation matters. Not only does this mean having women and PoC there, but making sure that they are given voices. So, for instance, having the one woman representative from the company be the one to set up while the men speak isn’t helping.
4. Talk about your salary with your colleagues.
Transparency around salary leads to equity which can lead to retaining a more diverse workforce. Just do it.
5. Be careful of language — yours, as well as others’.
Words can have unintended consequences on our understanding of a situation. Simply stating how difficult the lack of diversity problem is, for example, could be problematic.
“When you talk about how hard something is, you push it off into the future,” Brenda Darden Wilkerson, president of AnitaB.org, an organization that works for the advancement of women in computing, told CNET. “You give yourself a pass. You say, ‘We’re doing the best that we can, and you should just pat us on the head for making any progress at all.’”
Or even just seeing these conversations happening can feel like enough. Having leaders of industry or even peers say words like diversity and inclusion can be disarming. If that’s a part of the vocabulary, if we’re constantly hearing those types of words, then of course it becomes top of mind. But it’s then easy to be lulled into a fall sense of accomplishment — that “someone’s working on that.”
The loss of one Rachel Drane might not be a huge hit to the tech world (I was never a Thought Leader nor, even more importantly, did I ever have much of a Twitter following). But I felt it significant enough to share. To put a name and a face to the statistic of women leaving.
I’m grateful to tech for all it’s given me: great friends, new opportunities, free lunches. I know that my experiences in this field will serve me for the rest of my life. They will help inform whatever path or endeavor I choose to embark upon next. All that being said, I shouldn’t have to be leaving.