If we in this community agree, in theory, that underrepresentation is caused by an uneven playing field, what do we do about those who are not aware of or willing to accept this, and are therefore not open to solving it?
Don’t worry, I’m not actually apathetic to the Google Anti-Diversity Screed. Reading it made me do a combination of cringing, fist-clenching, tear-avoiding and everything in between. And even though Google doesn’t have the greatest track record (in other words, it may not be entirely surprising), as Erica O’Brien put it over on Project Include:
“What is new is that this employee felt safe enough to write and share an 8 page sexist screed, internally……why is the environment at Google such that racists and sexists feel supported and safe in sharing these views in the company?”
Now, there are scores of things just plain wrong about this Screed (and a lot of research to back that statement up). One of our community members wrote an insightful “Counter Manifesto” and gathered a few good stats:
“Part of the reason fewer and fewer young women are getting degrees in computer science is how the tech jobs and products are marketed and the bullying women face by males pursuing computer science degrees. NPR ran a study in 2014 that showed the decline of women coders started as far back as the 1980s, as personal computers were almost exclusively marketed to appeal to men. In 2013 the tech sector was noted as further marginalizing women by use of convenient vocabulary in hiring decisions (among other factors), which disproportionately discriminated against women.”
And yes, Google has fired the guy for a violation of the Code of Conduct. And yes, many internally have stepped up against this. I’m sure you saw the thoughtful piece from Yonatan Zunger, who recently worked at Google. One section highlights one of the deep, true impacts of it:
But this is just one, single instance (which, despite the above, hasn’t actually been nixed) of a far larger endemic problem.
Daily, persistent instances
At about the exact same time this happened I had a piece published on freeCodeCamp about why it’s crucial for women to be part of building AI. There wasn’t, I don’t think, anything outrageous in the piece (you can judge for yourself).
But I woke up to a handful of comments that made me take an initial deep sigh, before diving into having productive conversation around it. There were about six at that time, three from women, three from men. The three from women were positive, some giving a thumbs up, others diving more into discussion around some of the nuances, pushing the conversation. The three from men?
And then this gem, Exhibit C
Now, maybe these guys read the Screed right before they responded, I don’t know. And I will say that I responded to each, and one did have a nice, open conversation with me. But this is only three comments out of a lot of comments out there.
Back to Google? What about the many people – mostly men – who raised their hand in agreement?
This is honestly an almost perfect anecdote to the level of problem we have in this space (and in most spaces that focus on underrepresented groups of people).
The bulk of my frustration is twofold.
- Firstly, underrepresentation isn’t caused by women sucking, it’s caused by an uneven playing field. Most people reading this can probably mutually agree to at least this.
- Secondly, and much more seriously, this was still lost on all of the male commenters (small sample size, I know I know!). There are still so many men who don’t have knowledge on or accept this basic premise, and therefore don’t see why it’s a problem that should be “solved”.
A few problems and possible solutions
There are a few solutions that could be implemented. These are only three – there are many more – and I won’t go into too much depth on them now, as we’re doing a lot of work internally at the moment to address at least most of these (so you’ll here a lot more about them in the coming weeks).
Megan Smith, former VP of Google and CTO of the US, was on Bloomberg yesterday and had a lot to say about the Screed (and how far off base it was), but also about internal culture… if you took this Screed and threw it in a pile with everything else, you’d be “almost class action.” WOW.
SOLUTION: Reassess internal culture and policy structure to see how supportive it is of inclusion.
Of course, post Uber, then sexual harassment etc, a lot of companies are doing this, which is great. But there’s still SO much work to be done in this area. <Insert 76m solutions here>
(Are you bored with this yet?)
Most men aren’t yet part of this conversation, and, as we see above, some are downright hostile. Again, nothing new. If the reaction to this Screed doesn’t drive this point home, I don’t know what else to show you.
With many fantastic men who aren’t hostile, the results are still too often supportive (and quick) pats on the back, and then business-as-usual.
SOLUTION: Active participation of men in this conversation.
This is two-sided:
- “We” (women) need to create more room for men to have a central, consistent seat at the table.
- Men need to step up a bit more as ongoing Allies, not just give a pat on the back.
In the above piece by Yonatan, he had a footnote that makes sense:
“…One very important true statement which this manifesto makes is that male gender roles remain highly inflexible, and that this is a bug, not a feature. In fact, I suspect that this is the core bug which prompted everything else within this manifesto to be written. But the rest of the manifesto is basically about optimizing around the existence of this bug! Don’t optimize your bugs; fix them.”
Men can take this step on their own. Micah Baldwin wrote a great piece a few weeks ago in light of the sexual harassment blowup on how he personally has chosen to be an Ally:
But men can also do this together, and with “us”. We’re putting together an awesome committee on this topic so that we can get to tangible, actionable, and scalable initiatives that address this. Stay tuned.
There is a huge lack of understanding as to what creates a situation or an environment of inequality. In this particular instance, it was showcased by the Googler who just plain didn’t do his homework (and had some pretty clear prejudices as well, which never helps “open the brain”).
There is also a gap of knowledge about how being attuned to diversity actually does affect the work you’re doing. That lovely man who commented above in Exhibit C, part of my response to him was this:
“The Editor of Freecode Camp and myself felt this was an important issue to bring up with an audience of developers because it has profound effects on developers’ careers and the technologies they’re building, and having a level of consciousness about how gender gaps impact the work you’re doing (the solutions your building), is also important, whether you’re a male or female.
Career and tech solutions aren’t just about the code that’s built. [Insert: It’s about who builds that code as well.]
I hope you’ll reconsider how this viewpoint fits into your career as a programmer.”
And this knowledge gap – that your WORK is actually impacted by diversity or lack thereof – is even larger than realizing inclusion is the right thing to do.
SOLUTION: There needs to be more education and more access to that education so that people can “get woke”.
This may seem both obvious and arduous at the same time, but a quick glimpse at the situation we’re looking at proves it’s worth the focus, and needs to be looked at further. This is a great example from our friends at Code Like a Girl:
— Code Like A Girl (@Code_LikeAGirl) August 3, 2017
You know? I think I’m going to end on a high note.