My Technology Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be BULLSHIT!: Lightning Talk Edition


Slides at SpeakerDeck

Lightning Talk – Julie Pagano from Corey Purcell on Vimeo.

Below are some rough notes to go with the slides. They are based on my personal notes, so they may not be word-for-word with what I said (but should be pretty close). If I can get a copy of the video, I will post it and update the notes for better accuracy.

When relevant, I’ve included bullet points with some references,resources, etc. These are not extensive references – I will try to expand upon them when I have time. I have also included some anecdotal data because while it can’t stand alone as evidence (I’ve got more substantial references for that), it does let you see the human side of the cold, calculated facts. Apologies ahead of time for my resources being skewed towards women over other minorities groups. Unfortunately, a large amount of the data I could find only focused on women. I do think a lot (although certainly not all) of the conclusions they draw are general enough that they could be applied to other minority groups, as well.

Many thanks to all the people who pushed me to put this together despite my horrible fears of public speaking. I am really glad I decided to do it!

I have a lot more I would like to say on this topic, so stay tuned for additional posts in the future!

####[slides 1-2]

My Technology Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be BULLSHIT! (or: why you should start worrying and care about the diversity)

In this talk I would like to cover three main questions:

What is intersectionality? Why is diversity important? How do we improve diversity?

What is intersectionality? Intersectionality is a complex topic. For the sake of this presentation, I am talking about the intersections of diverse groups of people.

####[slides 5-7]

When we talk about diversity in tech, we often hear about “women in tech.” We should not just care about women. People fall into a variety of different dimensions. People do not fit into a single box. For tech to be diverse, we need to care about the intersections of these groups. Diversity is important for tech to be the best that it can be. A tech that does not care about diversity despite this fact, is BULLSHIT!

Why is diversity important?

####[slides 9-13]

Diversity leads to better teams. What do I mean by better teams? I mean: better decision outcomes, better performance, increased creativity, and increased innovation.

For tech to be the best that it can be, we need the best teams we can get. Without the best teams, it’s BULLSHIT!

####[slides 14-18]

Diversity helps us get more people. Identifying, hiring, and retaining skilled people is already a hard problem. Projections show that tech will continue to have healthy job growth, so the problem is just getting bigger.

How does diversity help us get more people?

It helps with the pipeline problem. Tech demographics do not match those of the employed population. Tech is missing roughly half of the female, black, and hispanic populations (and those are just the groups I could find statistics for). If we could get more of those populations interested in tech, we would have more people.

Diversity helps with hiring. People are often more willing to work for diverse organizations.

Diversity is associated with decreased turnover.

It helps with the retention problem. When I mention retention, I am talking about retention in the tech field, not just a specific job. People leave tech at higher rates than many other fields, including other STEM fields, and many of them do not return.

We are not only having difficultly with getting people into the tech field, but also with keeping experienced people in the field. Without people, we cannot hope to accomplish all that we want to. Tech without enough talent is BULLSHIT!

Diversity leads to happier consumers. The demographics of the consumer population do not match those of the tech population. A homogenous tech industry cannot hope to meet all of the wants and needs of a diverse population. Diverse tech teams will be better able to account for a diverse consumer population.

How do we improve diversity? There are things we can all do to make things better. We are all responsible for making things better because our technology will be BULLSHIT without it.

Role Models and Mentors. It helps people to see people who look like them succeeding at something they want to do. This is good for the pipeline problem and for the retention problem. Mentors in someone’s field or workplace helping them work towards future goals is a very valuable thing for retention.

Community and Events. These include things like conferences and user groups. These events need to make inclusivity a priority. Some things they can do include: having diverse speakers and having accommodations for minorities (e.g. disability access, childcare). Having an anti-harassment policy is also a very valuable tool because it sets the tone and expected behavior for an event, which makes some groups feel more comfortable attending an event.

Recruiting and Hiring. When recruiting and hiring, it is important to strive for diversity. People should not use “cultural fit” as an excuse for homogeneous teams. I talked earlier about how diverse teams are better – don’t make excuses. It is important to be aware of and try to reduce unconscious biases. One example of this is doing blind resume screening, so that you are not biased by demographic information.

####[slides 24-28]

Workplace. I think this is important for the retention problem. So what can workplaces do to encourage diversity?

They can put a focus on employee development. Allow for flexibility to allow work-life balance. Address hidden biases, which in this context includes things like equal pay and equal evaluation of employees. And decrease negative experiences. I would like to expand on that last item.

####[slides 29-36]

In a 2007 study, the Level Playing Field Institute found that subtle, negative workplace experiences, especially on a cumulative basis, cost companies an estimated $64 billion per year in expenses related to employee turnover.

A recent study from the same group verifies that these problems exist in the information technology fields.

####[slides 37-43]

What do I mean by “negative workplace experiences?” I mean:

  • Exclusionary cliques
  • Bullying
  • Sexual teasing, jokes, or questions
  • Racial, ethnic, or cultural jokes
  • Homophobic jokes, remarks, or questions
  • Being mistaken for someone else of the same race/gender
  • This is grade-A BULLSHIT!

####[slides 44-46]

What should we do about these things? DO NOT do this! If you do this and someone asks you to stop, STOP. Call out this bullshit when you see it.

I think that last item is very important. When you call out this type of bullshit, you are setting the expectation that this type of behavior is unacceptable in your workplace. This decreases the behavior and makes others feel more comfortable.

####[slides 47-48]

My technology will be intersectional or it will be BULLSHIT! and I don’t want that! Thank you.



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