Why Most Conversations in Tech About Diversity Are Bullshit — and What to Do About It
The final installment of “Why Most Conversations in Tech About Diversity Are Bullshit — and What to Do About It” series, which includes post introducing this topic, the P-Word, and how the business case for diversity prioritizes greed over humanity.
“You have two things going against you in this world: you’re black and you’re a woman. So you’re going to have to fight for everything you want and work harder than your white classmates.”
I was seven years old when my mom told me this.
In the 20+ years that have since passed that day, I can’t help but notice that I’m having this conversation — not with my children — but with white women who unconsciously omit me and other minority women when proclaiming, “We want equality for women.”
Wait — equality for all women or just white women?
To the Of-Course-I-Mean-Equality-For-All-Women Reader:
If you identify with this reader, then you are most likely a white cis-gender man or woman, a man or woman who is currently experiencing the uncomfortable — and mostly likely familiar — sensation of defensiveness about the possibility of being a Of-Course-I-Mean-Equality-For-All-Women Reader. I’m asking you, encouraging you, for the sake of solidarity and acknowledging the complexity of this conversation, to hear me out.
Equal Pay. Every year in the United States, a day in April is set aside to acknowledge and discuss the wage gap between men and women. But this, quite frankly, is bullshit, as Equal Pay Day is not about women, it’s about white women, prioritizing their struggle with obtaining equal pay over minority women. The most common statistic quoted on this day notes how women make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. False. White women make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.
Every time you have a conversation about equal pay for women without acknowledging the impact of systemic and institutionalized racism on women of color, you are contributing to their oppression.
I don’t even have time to go into how transgender women, especially transgender women of color, suffer by the majority’s silence. Ah, another post for another day.
Women’s Rights Movements. There’s an African proverb that captures the essence of how history is taught in American schools, especially to women:
“Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” (Igbo, Nigeria)
You don’t realize until you’re older the absurd amount of lies you are taught in grade school about American history. I, like most children in America, learned about the feminist movements of history, the movements that demanded equality for women in the workplace, the home, and in the classroom. Yet, these movements weren’t even considering women of color in their fight for equality. After all, it was Susan B. Anthony, leader of the Women’s Suffrage Movement — wait, the White Women’s Suffrage Movement — who said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” So was I amused when hundreds and hundreds of people lined up to visit Susan B. Anthony’s grave on 2016’s Election Day under the assumption that she wanted equality for all women? Why yes, yes I was.
Here are two points to consider as you continue to wrestle through this issue:
(1) You can’t proclaim to be a champion for equality for all women without intentionally — let me say that again — without intentionally addressing, discussing, talking, and thinking about the systemic and institutionalized barriers for women of color.
(2) Many well-meaning women in tech are unconsciously repeating the mistakes of history that they were taught in grade school. Remember, “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” In other words, the hunter will always tell the story in the way that makes the hunter shine and seem like a champion for all.
To the I-Think-I’m-Woke-But-I’m-Unaware-That-I’m-Not Reader:
I’m going to keep this brief. Most white women in this conversation think that they’re “woke” because they tweet about, post about, and even speak on the lack of diversity in tech, the importance of restoring humanity to the workplace, and that we ought to view this conversation as a moral imperative. Yet, most of these self-described “woke” people that I meet often forget this: they’re still white.
Let me be clear, it’s not bad to be white. What I’m saying is this:
- Don’t waste your opportunities to leverage your privilege by always (and I mean, always) tweeting, posting, and talking about issues related to race/women in tech. Remember, people can only handle so much truth in one sitting.
- You are responsible for having these conversations with people that you know will feel uncomfortable by them. “Choose courage over comfort.”
- Be vulnerable and honest. Acknowledge that you’re still growing, wrestling and that you don’t have all the answers. It makes you more approachable and makes it easier to have these difficult conversations with you.
- Don’t feel like you need to prove to me or other women of color that you “get it.” It’s frustrating and often results in you talking more than listening.
To the Dear-God-Why-Do-We-Need-To-Talk-About-Race-Again Reader:
As an American, I am more convinced than ever that we will not achieve the change we desperately need if we continue to dichotomize politics and the state of our country from conversations related to diversity and women in tech. You can’t talk about diversity in tech — matters that affect the quality of life and capacity to flourish— without acknowledging and recognizing that we live in a country where politics is life or death for millions of minorities. Only those with white privilege have the luxury of dichotomizing politics and conversations about diversity in tech.
Minorities in America do not have this luxury; we process the horrors of Charlottesville with our families and children behind closed doors, we grieve the lack of safety both felt and experienced since November 8, 2016, we are bombarded with reminders that America — built on the backs of slaves —does not value us as much as our white neighbors … and then we go to work and act like everything is fine. Because after all, who wants to deal with the messiness and reality of humanity in the workplace?
The tech community is not immune from the infection of ignorance and acts of hatred that ooze from the rhetoric and policies of this Administration.
And for the record, I wept at work twice the week of Charlottesville. But don’t worry, I stepped out of the office and made sure it didn’t affect my productivity that week.
To the Okay-I-Think-I-Get-It-What-Can-I-Do Reader:
Some of you need to apologize. Your well-meaning posts and attempts at comforting your minority friends and co-workers might have caused more harm than good. When in doubt if you’ve done this, just ask.
Some of you need to speak up more. Every opportunity you pass up to speak against injustice, to disrupt the status quo, to challenge bias and ignorance, is one of a thousand slow deaths towards apathy.
Some of you need to wrestle through the P-Word. Here are two articles to help you along the way: The P-Word and White Privilege is Real.
Some of you need to keep up the good fight. For those of you who are wrestling, who are fighting to be a better friend, co-worker, and overall human being on the front of diversity in tech — keep going, it’s worth the fight and the struggle.
Some of you need to be brave. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Who gives a damn if you haven’t gone to X college or spoken at X events or have X amount claps/likes/retweets. If you care, speak up.