As a white American woman who has worked to level up my knowledge of diversity issues, I learned to accept the responsibility that I have to educate other white folks in America, as well as share my own perspectives as a woman in tech.
I am not an expert, but I am trying to participate in making the world a better place. I am also open to feedback- the best way to reach me is to DM me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/melaniersumner).
Challenge Our Biases
A good place to start: take some of the Project Implicit tests-
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html. I think this is a reasonable place to start, especially if you’re willing to answer honestly.
Being aware of what biases I have helps me think about how I will choose to act. Because that’s just the thing, I get to choose. No matter what my biology tells me, I get to choose how I will think and act.
I know that we’ve been told to develop empathy, and that it’s a good thing. I’m maybe going to say something a tiny bit controversial here though- I think empathy isn’t the right way to look at it. Empathy is finding a way to relate someone else’s experience with one of my own- and that seems selfish. It’s still putting me at the center, it’s still putting my understanding at the center.
One of my friends told me- “you don’t have to understand it – in fact, you have to accept that you never will understand it, and you have to trust that it’s what I experience.”
I realized she was right- even though it was hard for me to accept. I want to have empathy. I want to understand! But I can also learn to trust and accept that I never will understand- and that’s good for my ego, anyway.
Read and Research
Some books to read:
Also, check out this list called “Self-defined”, by Tatiana Mac–
https://tatianamac.github.io/selfdefined/ . This list is just words- the responsibility is on the reader to look them up and do your own research.
Some Perspective: Women in Tech
As a woman in tech, I have some observations of my own. I’m going to explain the ones that have been harmful to me and the ones I have struggled, or still struggle, with.
Women and technical work
Women typically get assigned “less technical” work and become less technical as a result…and it’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to break out of, and it results in less earning potential over the lifetime of a career.
Here’s how to help change this:
Don’t assume that if there’s a woman in the room, she’ll take the notes. Everyone on the team should take turns being the meeting note taker. Quite frankly, I’m never going to be the note taker at any meeting I ever attend for the rest of my career. I spent years doing it, and that was mental energy that I wanted to spend on other things.
Assume that if a woman is on your team, she wants to write code. Not write the docs or do the QA or anything like that. The code that makes the product work. I spent years allowing myself to be convinced that this was equally as important and allowing myself to be shoved into this work. Guess what? It’s not equally important until the paychecks are the same.
Assume that if we are there, we are capable of writing the fucking code. Because I have figured it out. Every.single.time.
Check the other men on your team when it comes time to do code reviews. I cannot even tell you how many times my code has received a lot more nit-picky, opinion-based code reviews. (I even had a friend who didn’t believe it until he worked with me and witnessed it). If something needs to change, give actionable feedback that can be implemented so the code can be merged. I shouldn’t have to go find the one decent person in the building to do a code review so I can get my bugfix or feature merged.
Hiring Women in Tech
Just do it.
Pay them the same as you pay the men on your team. Pay them the same, even if their skills are different. They have spend time getting shoved into the work that no one else wants to do. Give them the opportunity to do the work. Assume they are capable of closing whatever skill gap you think they have. Try it out- you will not be disappointed. I promise.
While you’re at it? Kill the fucking white boarding interview exercises. There is a very specific sub-set of folks that succeed at that interview style (hint: I am not one of those people at all). Read: Tired: Engineering Interviews; Hired: Engineering Auditions.
Create Positive Work Environments
Here’s the thing- we need work environments that work for everyone. Ask for feedback, and be willing to receive it. Be willing to trust that what you are being told is what someone else is experiencing. Don’t discount it just because you have never personally observed it!
If you need help talking through this some more, then reach out. I’m here!