Ed’s note: This post was written by guest editor Dominic Price of Atlassian.
As a 6-foot-4-inch straight white guy in tech, it might seem unusual that I’m writing about diversity and inclusion. The reason is more of us need to: write about it, talk about it, and, especially, do something about it. I was inspired by my colleagues’ recent article about getting white men actively advocating for their colleagues from underrepresented backgrounds, and figured it was time to ask myself what more I could be doing. Just looking at the nightly news in recent weeks, or a new report that underscores the gaps between how tech workers view diversity within their companies and the realities of the situation, it’s apparent how crucial it is to speak out on issues of equality. Speaking up can feel uncomfortable (and heck, by writing this I know I’m making myself a target for criticism), but it’s no longer an option for those of us in groups who hold the most power to stay silent. That approach hasn’t gotten our industry very far, has it?
My colleagues rightly point out that as a white guy, I’ve got quite a bit of privilege in this industry, and there’s lots of good use for it. So, here’s my boldest (and most public) attempt yet to make my privilege work for everyone. Specifically, I want to clear up some major misconceptions I hear from others in tech, and predominantly from people who look like me. Our position of privilege means we are the most removed from the hardships others in our industry face and need to proactively reject the myths we hear. Mind you, I still have a lot to learn myself and I’m not saying anything that lots of people have not already said. But I know any counterpoints to diversity myths held by white men are more likely to be heard if they’re said by a white guy too. At the very least, I hope this improves your understanding (whether you look like me or not) of the actual causes of underrepresentation of many groups in tech, and helps some of you learn how to use your privilege to everyone’s advantage.
Myth #1: “Why should we give women and minorities a leg up? Isn’t that unfairly prioritising one group over another?”
Standard words from a fish that doesn’t know it’s in water. It’s much easier to blame other’s misfortunes on lack of intelligence or hard work than on a lack of equal opportunities. This is a protectionist strategy by the strong and wealthy to reduce the power and potential of the perceived weak. For all of the talk about being “data-driven,” many seem to believe that everyone has an equal chance to be in tech, despite loads of evidence to the contrary. While it would be nice to think we are all treated equally, simply being a minority can mean being treated differently by others and having fewer social and economic opportunities.
Our position of privilege means we are the most removed from the hardships others in our industry face and need to proactively reject the myths we hear.
Advocating for increased diversity in our industry doesn’t mean people from marginalised groups want an unfair advantage or handouts. They just want the same opportunities that others — especially white men — have had.
Myth #2: “You have to be a minority to be involved in diversity & inclusion (D&I).”
A wonderful way to pass the buck. The prevalence of underrepresented minorities talking about a lack of opportunities is because they feel the pain every day and are intrinsically more motivated to make it right. Just because we’re not personally guilty of creating the unequal playing field does not mean we’re not personally responsible for helping to fixing it. When your child spills milk, do you say “not my mess”? Our predecessors helped tilt the playing field, and now it’s our turn to level it out. The sooner we realise we contributed to this problem (even if only passively through lack of action), the quicker we move from rhetoric to making a difference.
Just because we’re not personally guilty of creating the unequal playing field does not mean we’re not personally responsible for helping to fixing it.
There are plenty of ways to get involved: From merely drawing attention to biased behaviours you see, to getting involved in your company’s existing diversity efforts, or starting your own. In fact, check out these ideas to get you started.
Myth #3: “We just don’t have a diverse applicant pool.”
Ah, yes. A favourite of many, especially in Silicon Valley where recruiting is particularly tough — by 2020, there will be nearly 1.5 million unfilled computer science roles. But have you asked yourself why you don’t have a diverse pool? Are you hiring your grads from the same tiny set of schools with very homogeneous student populations as every other tech company? Have you searched for underrepresented candidates, or created programs to bring more into the fold? What have you changed to attract and support them? While the talent pipeline is a common excuse, in truth discrimination — implicit and explicit — constantly blocks underrepresented minorities from entering or advancing in the field; two-thirds of (predominantly white and Asian) women in STEM report having to constantly prove themselves in the workplace, with black women facing even more extreme biases and challenges.
It’s also worth examining your recruiting tactics to see if you’re doing anything that could be discouraging underrepresented candidates. From gendered language in job descriptions to playing up the office pool table versus paid parental leave on your careers page, you can inadvertently send the wrong message without realising it.
Myth #4: “This is political correctness gone mad.”
Political correctness is a real thing, but it’s also irrelevant to what we’re discussing here. Can efforts to promote diversity be merely political correctness when there’s a mountain of evidence pointing to it being a real problem in our industry? Many studies also show diversity has huge benefits when it comes to business and team performance, so it’s something we should all care about.
It’s true that diversity conversations can be very nuanced, which creates fear about saying the wrong thing. But there is a pretty simple fix, which is to ask questions. Listen to and believe the stories from people from backgrounds different from yours. Educate yourself. In the same way you’d tackle a new project or product feature, gather as much information as possible so you can make better, more informed decisions. This isn’t about stifling your voice, but creating room for everyone to express themselves in a way that helps us all do our best work.
Myth #5. “I don’t see gender or race” or “I treat everyone the same.”
This is straight up empirically false. Your brain sees gender, it sees race and it sees just about every other visible category imaginable, whether you consciously pay attention to it or not. Let me say it again: It is neuroscientifically impossible for you to not see attributes like race and gender, and to keep them from affecting your decision making. I used to think treating everyone the same was what I should strive for, but it turns out that doing so actually results in discrimination and unequal opportunity. Treating everyone the same, even when they’ve faced vastly different challenges, only serves to keep them on a tilted playing field.
Embracing and supporting diversity is something we’re all responsible for and something that, by definition, we are all a part of (a single person can’t be diverse, so diversity includes white guys like me). To move forward, we need to take the crazy myths we’ve told ourselves that attempt to justify the status quo and throw them out the door. Guys like me have benefited from this mess of inequality more than any other group, so it’s our job to actively share opportunities. We’ll all win, as a team.
But don’t just listen to me. If you’re open to learning and challenging yourself to do better, there are plenty of other people saying some really smart things on this. Here are five brilliant people I’d recommend listening to: Tracy Chou, Cindy Gallop, Karla Monterroso, Kieran Snyder, and Bianca St. Louis.
With what’s happening in the world, it’s important to keep an open heart and an open mind. The choice is yours. You can either become an active part of the solution or a stoic part of the issue in need of solving. Which one sounds more exciting?