WISE women in computer science

Pitfalls for Men Talking About Diversity

Odd one out
Credit: Flickr / David Spinks

Lately I’ve been watching more men give talks about diversity. Personally I’m in favour of this, because 1) If women could fix this, we would have by now – making “diversity” a “woman’s issue” is a way of perpetuating the status quo. And 2) there is clearly a subset of men who won’t listen to women talking about this (or maybe anything), and perhaps they won’t listen to men on this topic either but it’s worth a try.

That being said, I’m seeing some things reoccur and I think they are problematic. So, I offer some suggestions.

1. Do your Research

White men in the tech industry benefit from assumed credibility in any number of areas: writing code, productivity, dubious management practises, and entrepreneurship being a few examples. Welcome to one area where this is not the case. You actually need to know what you are talking about – you need to have read the research, the articles, the personal blog posts and you need to have talked to as many women as possible, Women you are not related to, married to, and who do not work for you.

Think about how much research women do before asking technical questions.

2. Cite your Sources

I don’t care if you think you came up with it, on this topic there is almost certainly a woman or a person of color who said it first. Find them. Cite them. Don’t follow your talk with a blog post like this.

Think about the way that women get criticised for not being a “team player” when they own their achievements.

3. Skip the Pipeline

Everyone knows that girls in high school aren’t enthused about learning to code. It’s 90%+ of the communication from tech companies as they release their homogeneity numbers. Try for novelty, it makes for a better talk.

Given the extent of the problem elsewhere and the number of women who drop out mid-career, giving the pipeline no more than a cursory mention makes for a more accurate talk.

4. Diversity > Women

I’m not here for the fight to get 50:50… and the women are all white (and hetro and cis). We have data about white women, and it’s clear because white women have made massive gains in other fields that the tech industry is lagging behind. OK. Now learn about the challenges that people of color and particularly women of color face. Learn about the rampant discrimination against LGB and trans-people.

As far as I can make out, if jerks tell you “you’re being racist against white people” you’re doing something right.

5. Be Credible

Your keynote on this topic shouldn’t be the first time people discover you give a damn, you should be able to show a track record. Involvement in organizations that support inclusivity in tech, money donated to such organizations, money invested in women/non-binary/PoC entrepreneurs, better than average diversity in your team or organization.

Think about how much harder it is for women and PoC to make it through resume screening.

Seems Hard?

It is. Welcome to being a minority with an opinion. Now, do the work.

108 replies on “Pitfalls for Men Talking About Diversity”

Diversity is indeed much bigger than just women, thanks for drawing attention to that as well.

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