I went to a two-day “D&I work­shop for leaders”. Many in biz will know what that stands for: Diver­si­ty and In­clu­sion. The peo­ple fa­cil­i­tat­ing were WMFDP, which stands for “White Men as Full Diver­si­ty Partners”. Hav­ing said that, on­ly one of the two was a white man, and the au­di­ence was more gender-diverse than the high-tech nor­m. Every­one was se­nior, there were lots of VPs in the room. It had a strong ef­fect on me.

Truths · In the tech­nol­o­gy space, we suck at di­ver­si­ty. We’re broad­ly bet­ter than av­er­age at LGBTQ, prob­a­bly not far off the main­stream at Under-Represented Mi­nori­ties, and ter­ri­ble at gen­der. Tech lead­er­ship is by and large aware of the prob­lem, takes it se­ri­ous­ly, and would be very hap­py if there were a lever they could pull to fix it. They are in­vest­ing con­sid­er­able en­er­gy, in­clud­ing a non­triv­ial amount of lead­er­ship time, a very scarce re­source.

Re­portage · I’ve been try­ing for weeks to fig­ure out my take on the work­shop, turn it in­to a nice nar­ra­tive with a sto­ry arc and Big Les­son­s. That hasn’t worked. But when I went back to re­view my notes I found a few re­al­ly res­onat­ed. So what the hel­l, here are the ones I think worth read­ing. Draw your own con­clu­sion­s.

Some of these are what the fa­cil­i­ta­tors were say­ing. Some of them are quotes from oth­er peo­ple. Some are me talk­ing to my­self. They start out pret­ty business-y but get per­son­al.

  1. We were try­ing to close a $100M deal, and the cus­tomer want­ed to see our D&I num­ber­s, in­clud­ing di­ver­si­ty among our sup­pli­er­s.

  2. In hir­ing, look for “Returnees”, peo­ple who’ve tak­en a break and want to come back to work. In prac­ti­cal terms, these are al­most all wom­en who’ve been do­ing fam­i­ly care­giv­ing.

  3. Short­en­ing the list of qual­i­fi­ca­tions in job post­ings can be use­ful, be­cause of men’s propen­si­ty to be as­pi­ra­tional in de­scrib­ing their qual­i­fi­ca­tion­s.

  4. When we get wom­en in­to the in­ter­view pro­cess, we hire them at the same rate as men. So we need to in­ter­view more.

  5. I am the tech busi­ness. I’ve had all the job­s, done all the things. If a di­verse pop­u­la­tion doesn’t want to join it, I’m what they don’t want to join.

  6. If you look at the For­tune 500’s di­ver­si­ty pro­gram­s, they’re ba­si­cal­ly all led by wom­en. So we’re ask­ing the out­sider group to do all the work of fix­ing the dis­crim­i­na­tion against them. A few white guys run­ning some of these things might not be a ter­ri­ble thing. There’s a par­al­lel with hus­bands who say they’re hap­py to help at home but ask their wives to do all the hard emo­tion­al/l­o­gis­ti­cal work.

  7. The ev­i­dence of bias and anti-diversity prej­u­dice is sta­tis­ti­cal­ly over­whelm­ing, no mat­ter how many in­di­vid­u­al lead­ers de­ny hav­ing it.

  8. Men will re­main in­dif­fer­ent un­less they per­ceive they will ben­e­fit from D&I.

  9. In tech, the bias is present and mea­sur­able, but is rarely ex­plic­it or in­ten­tion­al, and the peo­ple who em­pir­i­cal­ly must be re­spon­si­ble will hot­ly de­ny be­ing part of the prob­lem. (But maybe less so based on at­ten­dance at this ex­er­cise?)

  10. Peo­ple don’t know how to talk about it. Talk­ing about it is dif­fi­cult, and that’s OK.

  11. Short meet­ings are a form of dis­crim­i­na­tion  —  shy peo­ple don’t get words in.

  12. This black guy in the sales or­ga­ni­za­tion, su­per se­nior and suc­cess­ful, says “I haven’t told any­body, but I’ve been keep­ing coun­t, in meet­ings, of black peo­ple among the cus­tomers at my lev­el. Still haven’t got to ten.”

  13. “Insider culture”  —  individualism  —  low tol­er­ance for un­cer­tain­ty  —  action vs re­flec­tion  —  rationality over emo­tion  —  time is lin­ear and future-focused  —  status and rank win over cor­rect­ness.

  14. The ul­ti­mate priv­i­lege is be­ing lis­tened to.

  15. When I men­tor peo­ple, should I en­cour­age them to be more like me?

  16. Who should be teach­ing about male priv­i­lege? Ideal­ly not al­ways wom­en.

  17. Women say they have to do a lot more think­ing be­fore they get their clothes on and walk out the door.

  18. So dis­ap­point­ed at the times I’ve heard “I’m used to it.”

  19. In­sid­ers are iden­ti­fied as in­di­vid­u­al­s, not as mem­bers of a group.

  20. It’s to­tal­ly rea­son­able for out­siders to see me as “just an­oth­er white guy”.

  21. It’s not my fault but I’m re­spon­si­ble.

A con­ver­sa­tion · In one of the ex­er­cis­es, we were in small­ish groups and were asked: “Everyone look in­side them­selves and find a di­men­sion along which you’re an out­sider. Say a few words on what that is and how you feel about it.” Well… I came up emp­ty, and said so. I’m white, male, live in the na­tion where I was born, straight, able-bodied, well-paid, luck­y, and have main­stream tastes.

There was a short un­easy si­lence. Then this smart, pol­ished, ac­com­plished, per­son who un­like me is not an insider-on-every-axis looked me in the eye and said “So, why are you here?” The hon­est truth is I’m re­al­ly freak­ing sick of spend­ing all my time in rooms full of men, so I said that but it felt un­sat­is­fac­to­ry. I looked for some­thing deep­er to say but came up emp­ty.

My crazy idea · I think we in big tech com­pa­nies should pub­licly face down our prob­lem­s, start­ing with the worst ones. To start with, I’d like us to dis­close the ac­tu­al gender-diversity num­bers in our en­gi­neer­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions and take a pub­lic goal of chang­ing them, say by 5% over a cou­ple of years, and then dis­close the re­sult­s.

Be­cause here’s the thing: The peo­ple in the man­age­ment ranks in big tech are, by and large, pret­ty smart and re­source­ful. Tell them they’re go­ing to be judged on any giv­en num­ber, and they’ll fig­ure out a way to move that num­ber in the right di­rec­tion.

“It’s not my fault but I’m responsible.”



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Rich Sands (Feb 09 2019, at 16:25)

How about a bolder idea. As long as diversity takes a back seat to more traditional results like profit, this problem will be unsolved. Truth: there are fewer qualified minorities to do the work than white guys. Just how it is after our history. If you hire less qualified people, results won’t be as good. Until companies either tell shareholders “tough nuts, we are going to sacrifice financial results - your money - to social goals” or are forced to by regulation, minorities will never have real opportunity, We need affirmative action in hiring over generations of time to overcome entrenched discrimination. Anything less is unlikely to work.

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From: John Roth (Feb 09 2019, at 17:24)

There's actually a fix for # 11. While it's part of a larger system, the gist is pretty simple: The presenter gets to present with NO interruptions. Then the facilitator (manager, whoever is running the meeting) calls on each attendee in some order (I'd suggest randomizing it at the beginning of the meeting). The first round is for clarifications. No criticisms, no suggestions. It continues until nobody else wants to talk when called on. The second round is for criticism, the third is for suggestions to resolve the criticisms. Same protocol: the facilitator calls on people in whatever order; the round continues until everyone passes.

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From: Anonymous (Feb 10 2019, at 00:21)

Tim, this did touch a nerve. I really love most Amazon Leadership Principles, but there is a glaring omission of any mention of collaboration. I believe this impacts women more then men!

Women tend to be more collaboration oriented. Adding this leadership principal would be a huge step towards creating a much more suitable place for women to thrive. e.g. at Salesforce they have their Ohana (family).

As you know Amazon LPs are taken seriously inside the company. All performance and promo evaluations are tied directly to LPs. So, if there was room to reward people who foster collaboration and coach those who kill it, I believe it would make material difference.

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From: Fazal Majid (Feb 10 2019, at 01:50)

@Rich Sands

20% of engineering undergrads are women, but only 13% of the engineering workforce (https://news.mit.edu/2016/why-do-women-leave-engineering-0615). There is no reason to assume those women are less qualified than their male cohorts, and if they are hired at the same rate, the problem is one of retention, because they are not treated the same as the good old boys.

That also partially explains the low 20% ratio at university, which has actually worsened in the last 40 years—if it is well-known that women won't be given the same breaks as men, it's only rational for them to opt instead for other majors that have less bias, like medicine.

The fact tech companies are still squandering 10% of their talent at a time when competition for talent is cut-throat, at least in the Bay Area, shows how entrenched bias and discrimination is from both peers and managers.

I don't know how much maternity leaves account for the 20% vs. 13%. If it is a high proportion, the answer is requiring employers to provide free childcare, as is the case in many European countries.

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From: Rob (Feb 10 2019, at 09:37)

Almost everything can be explained by the dire and highly related phenomena of the Peter Principle & the Dunning-Kruger effect. Hiring people, and promoting people, is actually insanely difficult.

Its pretty clear-- nobody actually knows how to do it. All the super fantastic secret sauce systems with weird tests and psych games companies use (tech is just the latest iteration of this, corporations have been cargo-culting in this area for a VERY long time), the research pretty convincingly shows, produce results that are not much different than random chance; that is, when they don't result in a marked tendency to select for psychopaths (psychopaths LOVE gaming systems).

From an evidence based point of view, there is only one proven way to get better organizational diversity: C-Suite diversity, and to a degree line management diversity. It isn't perfect, it isn't guaranteed, it isn't totally unproblematic, but there it is.

b-b-b-but! Howabout recruiting brilliance and selecting for the best and yadayadayada? Um, tech is turning out to be a fairly inherently monopolistic industry, Peter Thiel is absolutely correct. Forget all that free-market/libertarian/neo-con moonshine, it don't apply. Monopolies don't need brilliance and risk taking, they need stability and quality assurance. ie fewer psychopaths and more 9-5 moms.

"Disrupting" and "Moving Fast & Breaking Things" and so on usually results in Enrons and Bear Stearns and BCCI (or Theranos for that matter, yes women CAN play with the big boys). (I can see FaceBook joining that list in the not too distant future.)

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From: Doug K (Feb 11 2019, at 16:32)

"If you look at the For­tune 500’s di­ver­si­ty pro­gram­s, they’re ba­si­cal­ly all led by wom­en. So we’re ask­ing the out­sider group to do all the work of fix­ing the dis­crim­i­na­tion against them."

-

As a woman in tech once observed on her weblog, now sadly gone,

"I think it’s going to do more for everyone if the house is cleaned up

first, before inviting more women over and asking them to clean it up."

I started working in IT in the 80s. In those days half the professors in my CS graduate school were women, and slightly more than half our class. In the workplace the same proportions held. It was a much much pleasanter place to work than IT today, which has a remarkable number of toxic asses fouling up the place. There's nothing inherent in tech that makes it hostile to women or minorities. That is a problem of culture. The pipeline isn't the problem.

Two things I saw happening in the 80s that turned the workplace toxic:

1. home PCs and video gaming, marketed to boys exclusively.

2. IT/CS became a place where fortunes could be made. This attracts a different character from the geeks who just like to code, and creates a brutally competitive environment.

With Github it is in fact possible to have blind auditions for programmers. Guess what, turns out to be the same as blind auditions for musicians – seem to be a lot more good women once the gender bias is disarmed. How odd.

https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/05/gender-bias-in-programming-2017/

“Programmers who could easily be identified as women based on their names or profile pictures had lower pull request acceptance rates (58 percent) than users who could be identified as men (61 percent). But woman programmers who had gender neutral profiles had higher acceptance rates (70 percent) than any other group, including men with gender neutral profiles (65 percent).

78.7 percent of women’s pull requests were accepted, compared to 74.6 percent for men.”

It’s certainly not a pipeline problem either. As Fazal mentioned, there are more CS women and minority graduates entering the workforce than are getting hired. This includes graduates from the highly competitive universities where the tech companies do all their recruiting – MIT, Stanford, Harvey Mudd, etcetera.

These statistics are quite simple.

From 2014,

https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/10/12/silicon-valley-diversity-tech-hiring-computer-science-graduates-african-american-hispanic/14684211/

From 2017,

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2017/08/facebook_s_employee_diversity_numbers_are_not_a_pipeline_problem.html

Every time a study of this kind is done, the results are the same.

We are forced to conclude that the gender/minority disparity in tech is due to rancid dimwit techbros like James Damore, and the hostility they engender towards women and minorities. In my experience women in tech tend to be 2-3x better than the men – they have to be in order to survive.

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From: Tim Converse (Feb 14 2019, at 23:07)

Tim --- It's interesting that you racked your brains and couldn't think of an outsider dimension for yourself, because I can think of an outsider dimension that I share with you:

Age, as a worker in a tech company. Especially, age, as a worker in a tech company that still does hands-on technical work. (I don't any longer, and I think I'm just barely younger than you.)

Maybe you're correctly overwhelmed by all the other dimensions along which you are insider and/or fortunate (all of which I share). But surely there must be times where you sense that you are the other, for this reason only.

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