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.
We were trying to close a $100M deal, and the customer wanted to see our D&I numbers, including diversity among our suppliers.
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.
Shortening the list of qualifications in job postings can be useful, because of men’s propensity to be aspirational in describing their qualifications.
When we get women into the interview process, we hire them at the same rate as men. So we need to interview more.
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.
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.
The evidence of bias and anti-diversity prejudice is statistically overwhelming, no matter how many individual leaders deny having it.
Men will remain indifferent unless they perceive they will benefit from D&I.
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?)
People don’t know how to talk about it. Talking about it is difficult, and that’s OK.
Short meetings are a form of discrimination — shy people don’t get words in.
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.”
“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.
The ultimate privilege is being listened to.
When I mentor people, should I encourage them to be more like me?
Who should be teaching about male privilege? Ideally not always women.
Women say they have to do a lot more thinking before they get their clothes on and walk out the door.
So disappointed at the times I’ve heard “I’m used to it.”
Insiders are identified as individuals, not as members of a group.
It’s totally reasonable for outsiders to see me as “just another white guy”.
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.”