Why Diversity And Inclusion In Tech Matters

This post is taken from the following Twitter thread.

Woahhhkayyyy tech makers, founders, workers, and investors. We need to have a chat about diversity.

Diversity in tech matters because companies need to be representative of the people they’re trying to serve. It’s scary when rooms of people that look/think/believe/act similarly build the tech that everyone relies on.

Narrow perspectives build narrow solutions. Exposure to diversity in teams changes our perspective, challenges our convictions and biases, and increases our tolerance. It makes empathy and emotional labour job requirements, not nice-to-haves.

When you listen to someone’s experience that’s different than yours, like really, truly listen, it’s hard *not* to empathize with them. Diverse teams force us to listen and strengthen that old empathy muscle that so many of us are deficient in.

If you’re a founder, you need to prove that different types of people thrive in your culture. I may not be a white man, but do I have to act like one to fit in? If so, you still have a diversity problem.

Because although I may be welcome even though I look different my style of working, learning, and communicating isn’t valued.

That’s also (one of the reasons) meritocracy is a bullshit excuse for not having more diversity. If I have to act like a white man to be hired, listened to, respected, and promoted…. you don’t actually care about diversity. So guess what, I’m going to leave or not apply.

If you think you’ve created a welcoming environment because you don’t explicitly say racist/sexist things or make overtly inappropriate advances or comments… No. Fixing this isn’t just about the absence of certain behaviours, it’s also about action.

We all need to step up and do the emotional labour required to address biases and imbalances, including systemic racism and sexism, in tech culture.

“She knows she’s welcome” to contribute/join us for drinks/grab a donut from the box. Does she?? Did you ask her? Did you ask her what she thought/wanted/preferred or did you assume she’d agree with the default?

(Sidebar: defaults aren’t neutral. Not in assuming how people work, not in assuming how people experience the world, and not when designing your product—what’s the default option in your dropdown menus? etc.)

“I don’t do [insert commonly know to be bad behaviour here] so I’m fine” isn’t enough. Do better.

In order to have diverse teams, tech companies need to get better at accommodating neurodiversity and people with disabilities, and we need to examine and dismantle systemic racism and sexism so that more BIPOC and women enter and stay in tech. Again, this takes empathy and emotional labour—which GUESS WHAT!!—minorities and BIPOC (the people we don’t see enough of on team pages) have in spades because *they have to to survive in this world*.

Imagine if more founders/managers took the time to ask “How do you work best?” Instead of holding meetings where you tell staff “Alright we’re in a growth phase we’re all going to need to pitch in a little extra for a bit here, nights and weekends…”

Imagine if you started that meeting with “Alright we’re in a growth phase, how can I help you make the most of your time? What do you need? What’s getting in the way? Where can I help?”

You know what that tells employees. Oh shit! You see me. You want to help me, even if my needs are different than yours and different than the person sitting beside me. You’re willing to put my needs before company objectives because you know that this company is only as strong as the people behind it.

(Sidebar: A “season” is a couple of weeks or months. If you’re asking people to work overtime for longer than that it’s not a season, it’s a lifestyle. That’s your company culture. You can’t show up every 3 months and say “keep pushing we’re almost there!!” because it becomes a) meaningless and b) I lose trust in your ability to quantify scope of work.)

Startups are often built by “engineering brains”, and anyone joining often has to take on those qualities to be able to keep up and be heard.

This is part of why I think we see a lot of turnover in marketing and customer experience roles at startups, especially first hires in these roles.

These people (more likely than engineering roles to be women or minorities or “creatives” in these “soft skills” roles) are often undervalued from a salary/equity perspective, and their way of working or thinking isn’t respected.

If that’s the case, of course we don’t want to stick around (or can’t because we burnout…). If I have to deny core parts of who I am to fit in? Thank u, next.

In 2019 I hope more founders think critically about the type of company they want to build, who they want to serve, and who can help them build the best possible version of the thing it is they want to make.

And we ALL need to look at our biases. Look at the diversity of your sources. Look at your bookshelf—what do those authors look like? Are you only reading white and/or male experiences? (This was a BIG reality check for me in 2018.) Look at your mentors, the people you follow online, the people you hang out with offline, the people you trust and the sources you cite…

The tech you make will mostly be used by people who don’t look/think/feel like you do, or experience the world the way you do.

What we build affects everyone.

We need to remember that and act accordingly.


Speaking of checking biases and as a follow up to this thread—here are some anti-racism resources I’ve found helpful specifically in examining/unpacking my white privilege, and the role I play in maintaining a system that oppresses BIPOC:

1. If you’re not clear on how your white privilege shows up in your life day-to-day, read through Peggy McIntosh’s list of 46 examples of White Privilege and Male Privilege as a starting point.

2. Layla F. Saad’s Me And White Supremacy Workbook provides 28 days worth of exercises on topics including white fragility, tone policing, white centering, tokenism, and optical allyship.

3. Rachel Elizabeth Cargle’s When Feminism Is White Supremacy in Heels article on what toxic white feminism looks like, and how dangerous our reactions can be. This is an important read for white men, too.

4. Rachel Elizabeth Cargle’s Dear White Woman article on her Patreon, which outlines white racism and systematic racism, and provides more resources for learning about those topics.

Please remember that when a BIPOC does or shares this kind of work, they’re doing an incredible amount of emotional labour. BIPOC themselves are not resources, they don’t owe you explanations and it’s not their job to keep you accountable and call you out. You can’t rely on your BIPOC friend or colleague to “enlighten you”. That’s your job.

That’s also why in a work setting you can’t turn to the one BIPOC, or visible minority, or person with a disbility to design/validate/champion your diversity and/or inclusion program.