I have written about how I personally feel about improving diversity, equity and inclusion:
In summary, my experience is that having a wide range of people on my team(s) with a lot of different viewpoints, past histories, and experiences has greatly improved the performance, and team coherence. But my experience is not what I am writing about here.
I noticed a curious yet predictable pattern when DEI entered the workplace lexicon. Most people I know and worked with were appreciative of the recognition that yes, indeed, tech is full of white dudes, and that women and people of color were significantly under-represented. This was true when I started in Silicon Valley, and when I moved to Arizona, and whether I work for a US based company, as well as when I worked for a Canadian based country.
Well and truly, the landscape in tech was and is very pale, and has both X and Y chromosomes.
It still is.
While you would be forgiven if you assume that sometime in the early 2010’s was when DEI became a thing, it really traces its roots back to the 1960’s and the rise of equality in employment in conjunction with the passage of the Civil Rights Act1.
But the modern intensity of the movement has picked up to the point that most of the major employers now track and report on it.
Of course, not everyone in the general population of employees (or even in the executive suite, re: DHH) agrees that diversity is a worthy goal.
During the initial phase of Covid, around the time of the George Floyd riots, my employer had regular all-hands meetings to provide commentary from the senior leaders on the tragedies, and the resultant social upheaval. To be honest, I was surprised by their willingness to take it head-on, and to come out in favor of the BLM movement, and the need for more social justice.
As with all large groups (and we have a LOT of staff), there were some who were less than happy about the whole DEI thing. Many of them were exercising their free speech rights in the the chat, and saying many really racist and frankly shitty things2.
I was not surprised. I have worked in tech a long time, I have seen this play out, and this behavior replicate over and over.
What does one who rails against DEI look like?
There is an archetype of person who rails against DEI.
By and large, they are middle aged white dudes. They were born on second base, with a right handed pitcher so are able to take a huge lead towards third base, and they completely feel like they have earned their station in life.
The truth is, they are neither special, nor gifted. They are mediocre in general, and when they open their mouths, it is clear that they are petty, insecure, and borderline overtly racist.
Naturally, they are fully convinced that the system is out to get them, that they are being heavily discriminated against for their “whiteness” and that they are justified in railing against leadership. One does not have to try very hard to hear these sorts of grumbles in most workplaces in tech.
Truthfully, they are the most privileged people, and there is still a long way to go before there is any reasonable equity in the workplace.
Worried you might fit this mold? This is how to tell if you are one of these retrograde people:
- Are you threatened by women in the workplace?
- Have you ever complained out loud about there being too many black people in the office?
- Do you think that women can’t do the job?
- Have you ever used the term: “diversity hire” in a sentence?
- Do you get upset that people complain about your blue jokes?
- Dis you have to remove your pin-up calendar?
- Have you ever had a complaint filed against you for creating a hostile work environment?
- Have you complained out loud that a woman or a person of color got promoted before you?
If you can answer yes to any of these, then you might be the insensitive asshole. You can change, but only if you want to.
I am well aware of the advantages that I have had throughout my career because of my sex and my race.
Way back in 1996, when I was an Applications Engineer, I worked with a really good application engineer who happened to be a woman. Susanne had a degree in physics like I did (she studied high energy physics for her M.Sc. at UCSD) and frankly, she was smarter than me. But one day, she was doing some work with our microscopes, and she had an issue she brought to the engineering team, and they treated her like a curiosity, questioning her observations (I had made them as well, and verified the issue) and in general not giving any weight to her findings.
She was pissed, and I watched this whole episode unfold, powerless to do anything other than complain to the owner. At that moment, I realized that I needed to help elevate those without my advantages. And I have many times throughout my career.