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Book Cover: The Diverse Team

Is your company struggling to increase diversity and keep it? Get my book The Diverse Team: Healthy Companies, Progressive Practices now and start making positive changes toward a healthier culture, more diverse teambase, and more profitable business.

Scientific American logoIt’s important to understand the temptations that the cheaters felt — the circumstances that made their unethical behaviors seem expedient, or rational, or necessary. Casting cheaters as monsters is glossing over our own human vulnerability to these bad choices, which will surely make the temptations harder to handle when we encounter them. Moreover, understanding the cheaters as humans (just like the scientists who haven’t cheated) rather than “other” in some fundamental way lets us examine those temptations and then collectively create working environments with fewer of them. Though it’s part of a different discussion, Ashe Dryden describes the dangers of “othering” here quite well:

There is no critical discussion about what leads to these incidents — what parts of our culture allow these things to go unchecked for so long, how pervasive they are, and how so much of this is rewarded directly or indirectly. …

It’s important to notice what is happening here: by declaring that the people doing these things are others, it removes the need to examine our own actions. The logic assumed is that only bad people do these things and we aren’t bad people, so we couldn’t do something like this. Othering effectively absolves ourselves of any blame.

Read the full article on Scientific American.

A German translation of this post is available on kleinerdrei.org

This post covers two similar questions.

I've recently found myself the target of an internet harassment campaign. Do you have any tips for dealing with this?

Dealing with online harassment is emotionally and physically taxing, which is exactly what harassers aim for. You can minimize their impact and protect yourself at the same time in a variety of ways.

As someone who faces this regularly, I opted to create a post to explain how I'd like people to react when they see this happen to me. In conjunction with a keyboard shortcut on my phone and computer (!trollresponse, which expands to that link), I can quickly inform people what I need from them and why, without having to explain it to each person individually during every incident. I also link to this from my contact page and in the footer of my site so it's easily accessible for people who would otherwise be contacting me about those things. 

Consider contacting important people in your life to notify them about what's happening to you. Frequently harassers will attempt to get to you by attacking people in your life (family, friends, employer, clients), so minimizing that risk is something to seriously consider. This isn't an option for everyone, as some people need to keep their online identity or work secret from those people in their lives, so do what is best for you. Notifying the people close to you keeps them from inadvertently revealing any information to harassers online or exposing you to additional risk. 

You may also want to discuss this with your therapist/other mental health professional or doctor as this adds an incredible amount of stress to your life. The Geek Feminism Wiki has a handy resource for therapists working with geek feminists who regularly see this abuse.

On social media in general, block liberally. Remove the opportunity for people to easily continue to harass you. My personal policy is if I feel my heart rate tick up a notch when I read something someone has sent to me, I immediately block them. We don't owe abusive people our time or attention.

On twitter considering using The Block Bot, which is a service that allows individuals to add people to a shared block list for generalized abuse. If someone says something aggressively sexist, cissexist, transphobic, or otherwise to someone on the network and they add the person to The Block Bot, the person will also be blocked for me. It's a sort of pre-emptive strike against harassers.

On facebook, be sure to regularly check your privacy settings. I have a calendar notification every 2 months that reminds me to take a half hour to make sure they haven't added new features that have chipped away at my privacy.

Consider having someone close to you screen your emails, @replies on twitter, or other messages online for harassing content. Ask them to keep everything private, but to log everything. They can block people, archive emails, and report people for abuse on your behalf (but be aware that on Twitter, reports of abuse can only come from the victim's account :/).

Any threats and harassment you receive should be documented. Know that tweets, facebook posts, etc can all be deleted by the user who sent them (or taken down if the user is suspended), so be sure to take screenshots, record links and text, and any names or aliases the person goes by. If the person escalates, being able to show a pattern of ongoing, excessive behavior may be important.

Take care of yourself. This stuff is hard to deal with even when you're at your best. Talk to people you trust about your concerns, what you need from them, and how they can help. Eat, exercise, and sleep as normally as you otherwise would. Take time for yourself to do things that relax you - read, play games, spend time outside, be with friends.

I know that you and other diversity advocates and activists face a lot of harassment online. When that happens, what can I do to help?

The way that each person would like you to react to their being harassed is different. Unfortunately, being the victim of harassment comes with more than just the obvious risks.  Respecting their wishes is the least you can do to not add to the pile of unwelcome contact they're currently receiving. If you don't agree with the way they are handling being harassed, remember that it's not your place and not helpful to tell them they're doing it wrong. Respect what they want and need.

Expose as little of another person's life as possible:

  • Ask before taking a picture of someone and if it's okay to post it publicly; tell them where you are posting it. Don't forget to ask if it's okay that you tag them.
  • Ask before checking someone in on Foursquare, Facebook, or similar geoloc services. Don't check in at people's homes.
  • Don't make private plans publicly. Ask the best way to arrange things with them - email? sms? DMs? phone call?
  • When inviting people to small events, provide a way to privately contact you so they can voice any concerns about other possible attendees, the venue, etc.
  • Ask each time before sharing private information: phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, online identity information, employer, medical information, gender/sexuality/other identity information, etc. When in doubt, offer to share the asker's contact information so the person can choose whether or not they want to share that information with them directly.
  • Never make promises on someone else's behalf.

Understand that people facing this kind of harassment may have a variety of emotional reactions - anger, depression, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, numbness. Don't negate their feelings. 

A victim of harassment may also need special consideration when planning social or professional events, so be sure to be aware and sensitive to them.


I'd like to create a list of potential speakers for conference organizers. It seems useful, but fraught with problems. What do you think?

I've seen quite a few people create similar lists that are focused at conference organizers in their communities, so you're not alone here.

Speaker lists can be a helpful tool in communities that are just now approaching the idea of diversifying their conference lineup. When a community hasn't highlighted the work of marginalized people before, it can be difficult to identify who those people in the community might be.

Unfortunately, it can also become a problem. For one, the people who end up on such lists find themselves receiving a lot of requests to speak, so naturally turn down quite a number of opportunities that could go to someone else. Organizers begin to believe that every marginalized person they invite will say no, causing resentment on their part. When someone points out that their event isn't very diverse, it's not unusual to hear organizers say "every person we asked turned us down or canceled!", effectively blaming the very people they're attempting to attract to their event. This attitude isn't going to make marginalized people feel comfortable speaking or attending the event.

Additionally, when organizers begin relying on these lists, we see the same handful of people speaking every time, which isn't helping solve the problem of representation. We should be striving to see lots of new speakers or less-"famous" speakers have opportunities at our events. It's a sociological fact that people tend to know more people like them than not; it's hard work to actively work to correct this. Because organizers can come to rely on these lists (which are quickly dated), they're less likely to do the work that they should be doing to broaden their network: getting to know more people different from themselves, creating initiatives to identify and highlight the important work that's being done in their community by people from all backgrounds.

The community becoming more inclusive and empathetic toward people they haven't otherwise given a chance to - intentionally or otherwise - is the goal. As a conference organizer myself, I know how difficult this can be, but remember that you aren't working on this alone. Reach out to the community and tell them you want to know who the unsung heroes are. Whose blog posts have helped you think about something in a brand new way? Who is doing important documentation work? Who is making a monumental effort to coordinate a re-write of a popular library?

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