This blog's been on my mind for a while, but I've never felt like I was well placed to write about it. I probably am not. Please accept my clumsy words for what they are.
It took a loooong time for me to realize how privileged I am on a daily basis. Being a white male, born in a wealthy country, with a masters degree in a very favored technical field. I'm not ashamed of it, there's a lot of work behind who I am today. But there's, let's be honest also a huge part of genuine randomness / luck and the very large support of a whole family for many years. We all need to be aware of it.
Interestingly, I was the very first one in the family to study past A level. My parents saved for decades for us to be able to study. I went to school for a while to a place where surgeons, pilots and politicians sent their kids. It's only years later that I realized why it was hard for me making friends there. It's funny because even now with both of us making very comfortable salaries we own a cheap car, never went on lavish vacations and still shop in the "no food waste" of the supermarket.
Anyways, long story short even in a field like Tech where we're all comfortable compared to many other places, one quickly realises not everyone is born equal. And I'm talking at all levels, whether it's race, gender, seniority, age, ...
In this post, I'll discuss things I see, and things I try to do to "do my part" (for the lack of a better word) at work and outside of it. I'm not an example, but maybe you can find inspiration yourself (and teach me some more!). _Note: It goes without saying that there's enough material in each of those items to write a whole book about. I try here to bring some ideas to others, and hopefully get some more, nothing else .😊
It all starts with awareness
You create the reality you're in. About 6 years ago, I realized that more than 80% of what I was reading / watching and the people I was following on the bird app were (typically older) white males. There's nothing wrong about it of course, but it's also far from great. And the thing is, that's typically self-perpetuating because that's simply how the algorithms works!
So I actively started searching for "different" sources. And honestly they're not hard to find. Start following Kolokodess and you'll discover a whole world of Nigerian and many more tech rockstars (just to name a few).
Again, the point is not to reason in terms of numbers, but honestly your day is much more interesting if you see content from a various diverse panel of people. It'll give you ideas, perspectives and motivation in many more forms; as well as make you way more aware of other people's struggles (even some you would have never imagined).
I've seen people do follow Fridays, and they're great ways to get hear about new great folks! (If you start doing those, try to spotlight some less visible folks as well. I really feel like it's always the 50 same Java profiles we see at times 😊).
Mention it when you see it, and actively help with it
The next step is to mention it when you see it. And let's be clear, I don't want to get into the positive discrimination discussions. I have opinions about it but we don't even need to go there because there's definitely enough quality content out there coming from ALL directions without having to lower any kind of bar.
The trick though (at least for me) is not to blame an event as it's happening because it's obviously too late but to try and be there early to voice it and bring solutions. And it starts locally and with oneself. I try to ask how the lineup looks like when I'm speaking/helping somewhere and I'm happy to propose other folks who I believe would bring a different light to the discussion if I see that we all come from the same types of backgrounds.
The win / win / win situations
That's actually one of the parts I love at my job : helping new voices be heard and get more stories out there! A practical example from my time at ING : We would sponsor many conferences every year and many of those conference came with a "sponsor slot". Basically a free slot for a speaker. What typically happened is that the folks from marketing were super busy, or simply less on the floor than us and would go for the same 2/3 speakers every time. Every time I heard a cool story on the floor (and check on the person she's up for talking about it), I'd inform Marketing!
It's a win / win / win situation, because ING is happy to have more speakers available, new speakers get an easy way in the circuit and the world gets to hear new stuff! Our seasoned speaker typically don't need help to find speaker slots as they already are know in the circuit 😊.
I realise I'm talking about conferences a lot, but the same applies for everything : blog writing, team creation, new projects, ...
If you're active in projects, communities, another thing you can help with is to create opportunities for folks, and try to make them less intimidating to reach.
That's why I love the shorter Bite Size formats at conference, or the good-first-issue tag of GitHub. They help make the achievement more accessible for newcomers. Don't think you can talk about a topic for 45 minutes? Hey, you can speak about it for 15 then right? How about 5? Everyone has 5 minutes of content to say about something! Another trick is to bring a co-speaker with you! I had the chance to present a talk together with Apoorva last month and it was an absolute blast! As a bonus, we only had 20 minutes of content each to prepare 😊. Don't know much about the project and new to Open-Source? This issue is reserved for you and we'll help you with it as well!
(Heck to this day even I always start my talks as bite sizes, and then move on to longer formats as I gain confidence about the topic).
There's many, many declinations to this idea. Are you a team lead? Organize internal knowledge sharing sessions, it's less scary to speak to your team first. Then make it cross teams, ... Find you own idea!
When I joined the redaction commission of the Dutch Java Magazine, one of my first proposals was to create a "tweet" format. It's intimidating to write 4 pages in a printout magazine for anyone. So start with a 280 characters thing to share something you like. You can always write an article about it later!
And for the ones in the back : This is absolutely NOT about lowering the bar. This is about simply making things more accessible. And I believe it benefits us all. The tweet format has gotten only good feedback by readers so far, they love the simplicity of it.
Keep mentoring, and start sponsoring
Most of the folks I know love to mentor others. Whether it be junior, newer employees or less represented groups. That's great, and it definitely helps. But an article from Gergely lately made me aware on the difference between mentoring and sponsoring and realise I could do more.
While mentoring focuses on teaching / coaching someone with their skills, be it programming or even soft skills; sponsoring means you are expected to give public and external support to your buddy. The difference is important, because with sponsorship you're putting skin in the game by advocating for your buddy to your management (or any other place).
It can take many forms, like taking a new risky project, leading an analysis, taking the sponsored keynote spot at a conference... You want to amplify your buddy's successes (spread them out), boost them and give them access to your network. The effects can be much more empowering than mentoring, seen that way.
It's a pipeline problem
You've probably heard this in one form or other, maybe in several forms even. "Women don't apply to our jobs". "Only caucasian males sent an abstract to the conference", "We can't find team leads internally", ...
I'm not an expert on the topic, though it's clear by now that we don't have the same behaviours when it applies to job seeking (as well as many other things).
I won't dive into the details of writing an inclusive job offer; my main question is whether you personally accept the status quo and get on with it.
When we organized SimpleWebConf over a year ago, 97% of the 250 abstracts we received for the conferences were from caucasian males. Again, without talking about the quality of the abstract, according to statistics about 80% of the Tech workforce in Europe is male. For an online conference, we could do better! So we asked some groups to relay our CFP and also directly asked folks we knew would do an amazing job to join us. In the end, we ran an online session with 30 folks from 3 continents across many topics like accessibility, sustainability we're very proud of (dang, that's back when Fred K. Schott was just starting to introduce Astro!).
And that's also where I come back to my very first point : The more diverse your network is, the easier it is to promote your content / opportunities in various communities and create something you're proud of. (And by extension, the more diverse your CFP committee is, the easier it is to have a diverse conference... In hindsight we could have done much better there.)
The same goes on the workplace, I believe. The more diverse your workplace is, the easier it is onwards. At Adyen, we typically try to always include different people from diverse backgrounds (in all senses of the word) during the interview rounds. And again, I believe it's a win / win situation because it helps get a less biased view of the candidate, but also offer them a better inside view of the company from many different perspectives.
Be open about salary
In the Netherlands, discussing salaries is kinda taboo. And still, I do my best to be open about it (to a point where I've literally been shushed by some HR folks in the past). Thing is, keeping secret about salaries favorises only one entity : the company. Sharing salaries makes employees strong, and on good way to reduce discrepancies between folks is for them to be aware of other people 's salary to know if they're compensated fairly.
I won't go about sharing other people 's salaries, of course, nor will I blast mine out there on Twitter ( our salaries in Tech really feel disconnected from many others at times). But I'll definitely be open about it in conversations.
Respect others, and avoid assumptions
There's so much to unpack with this one, and I don't know how much it really ties into the topic. To me at least, it's very central to how I try to improve.
Being French (does it really have to do with this?), I have a very cynical humour and I am very quick to judge people. It has served me well in the past, but it's also a very big barrier to expand your horizon.
Cynical humour or edgy jokes might be fine in some context (maybe with close friends, or applied to yourself) but they also typically exclude parts of the population. One good friend one day made me realise that quite literally 80% of my vocabulary for insults had to do with people getting money for sex, or lady parts. Once you see it, it's hard to unsee. This type of behaviour definitely builds walls faster than bridges and I actively tone them down.
I've screwed up in the past, and I regret it.
Assuming things is also a great way to exclude people. "Are you from marketing?", "Where do you originally come from?" : I'm guilty of asking those. As an expat, the first thing I want to talk to with people is food and it's so hard not to ask where their origins lie to ask them about their food culture. But after having spent days on booths next to colleagues at conferences and heard the sheer amount of times the question pops out, it really made me realise how much of a burden than can be. The depth of Holly's analysis on dress code is compelling, if not saddening!
Giving space to others
Another thing that I genuinely try to improve and still have a long way to go is simply giving space to others. In conversations, in meetings, and many other settings. When talking about things, especially techy stuff, it's easy to be passionate and monopolise the discussion. And some folks find it much harder than others to raise their voice.
The meeting is closing, and you realise that damn, your newest colleague who just joined hasn't said a word about the topic. Well, ask them up. If you see someone not raising his voice at all, give them an opportunity and genuinely ask them their opinion. And ideally, make sure you don't put them on the spot. You can do that for example by texting them first in online meetings.
On that topic, one thing that I see much too rarely is simple, plain and genuine apologies. We all screw up. How life would be boring without that! Well, we have a saying in French that goes "a fault confessed is half forgiven".
There is no shame in apologising (though I do know it is a culturally loaded statement). In fact, I deeply respect the folks who can recognise their mistakes and apologise.
So make an apology, either in private to the person you did wrong or publicly, and do better next time.
We're in it together
There's one last thing I see that I do want to mention, because it pains me. I was raised to be polite to everyone, whoever they are.
It's crazy the amount of people who won't greet the barista, the cleaner, the receptionist or even the bus driver. Personally, it gives me the same feeling as if I saw someone littering. Damn, I wish I could make coffee as good as my barista. I have so much to learn from them. Without the cleaners, there's no way our office could function for more than a couple days. They deserve the same, if not more respect than others!
So next time you run an Meetup, go the extra mile for the person who has to keep the building open for you and bring them a can and a piece of pizza. Have a chat with them. You wouldn't be able to be there without them.
I knew this article would be waaaaay longer than I expected. There's much to say about the topic, and still I feel like I have so much more to learn about it. I'm keen on hearing how I can further improve. It might sounds cheesy (and it may well be), but at the end of the day I'd genuinely like all those differences between us to simply not matter.
Whoever we are, we enrich each other. It's really exhausting to me to see how polarised we are becoming online and offline. I really wish we simply could coexist and improve day by day. And to go full circle, I once again realise how privileged I am to be able to say that...
Hit me up on Mastodon or Twitter (for the time being) and let me know what I missed!
Have a good one,