There's been a lot of changes happening over the past month or so and wanted to update everyone.
I'm in a unique position in the open source community - I often joke that I'm employed by the internet. It's a nice setup - anonymous people support me through recurring micro-payments. This is good for a few reasons:
- I'm paid by and work for the community. My "employers" are people in the tech industry that believe in what I do. I provide resources for the community as whole, speak at conferences, educate people through twitter, and work with people over email who are in difficult spots because of a hostile atmosphere at their workplaces or communities. I can use the money they pay me to work on projects that help the widest audience.
- Conflict of interest and censorship potential removed. Not being employed by a business means that their concerns don't have to be mine - if the company does something wrong, I can still critically discuss the issue without it being a conflict of interest. I don't feel the need to censor myself because I worry about upsetting them. Additionally, I'm not only working on a company's problems, I can work at a larger scale.
- Minimize the risk of financial attacks. Doing this kind of work isn't popular with a certain contingent of people. Standing up for yourself can mean a company chosing to fire you for political reasons, or firing you as part of online harassment turned "hostage" situation. Without a single employer, my risk is spread out over a much larger group of people. If a handful of people are unhappy with how I respond to a situation, they can choose to stop "employing" me without a large amount of harm to me.
Unfortunately, due to various incidents I have personally had with the founder of gittip and other indirect things involving him, I have chosen to leave gittip.
This is complicated, as the majority of my income and funding for my work is received through gittip. This means a potentially huge financial hit for me, which I'm personally a little worried about. At the level I was earning before, I could afford to purchase my own health insurance and attend therapy, which is sadly a very necessary thing when doing this work. Additionally, I am paying a personal assistant to help me with travel arrangements for conferences, coordinating with event organizers, managing my email, and removing threats and abuse from my inbox so I don't have to see it. As you can imagine, these are all things I would like to continue to do.
If you were supporting me on gittip, I would really appreciate it if you would move your weekly donation from there to one of the following services:
- MoonClerk - Stripe-based, so currently accepted in these countries
- Paypal - be sure to check "recurring" if you want to give ongoing support. Takes payments for most countries, but my least preferred as they have a history of holding on to people's funds.
As of 6pm CST on June 25, about 50% of tips have been moved off of gittip.
There are initiatives to create a gittip alternative run by and for marginalized people and I will let you know when those are ready to be used. I would like to close my gittip account as soon as the majority of my donations have been moved over, so your help is appreciated here <3
If you're planning on cancelling your gittip account, contact the other people you donate to and ask them how you can continue to support them. Not everyone has the ability to move off of gittip's platform and they still deserve your support <3
Over the past few weeks, I've backed away from Twitter pretty substantially. Due to ongoing harassment, threats, and abuse I receive there and through other channels, I'll only be using Twitter for my work. I'll still post updates on what I'm working on, links to important things to read and how you can be better involved in increasing diversity in tech.
If you see that I'm being harassed or threatened on twitter, this is what you can do to help me.
As I won't be using Twitter for social or personal stuff anymore, friends are welcome to email and text me.
If you want to contact me about consulting, you can find more information on the consulting page.
The Diverse Team
I finished conference traveling in early June, ending my nearly 15 month(!) travel schedule. It's great to be home, sleeping in my own bed, and not living out of a suitcase. I don't start traveling again until September, so over the next few months I will be finishing up The Diverse Team. If you pre-purchased a copy, you'll receive a coupon code via email as soon as it's released.
I'm already working on the plans for the next book in the series, which I'll announce once I get The Diverse Team shipped.
Vines, Hair Dye, and Burrito Parties
I'm also in the process of updating the Thanks page with requested vines, hair dye photos, and burrito parties.
Diversity Speaking Events!
We are organizing a couple events in NYC and Boston coming up this fall and we need your help! We are looking for:
- local companies to donate space for a venue. Preferably fits ~75-100 people in one room safely.
- potential speakers in the immediate area with expertise and experience in diversity in tech. We especially want to see people from marginalized groups whos voices aren't as often heard.
- sponsors. We will be paying all speakers, providing scholarship tickets, and would also like to provide snacks and drinks to attendees.
If you can provide any of those things, please email me with how you can help and in which city.
As soon as we have the basics worked out for the two events, we will get event pages up so you can get tickets.
I've been doing this work for a while now, and I get asked rather frequently,
At what point do you think you'll have succeeded? What does success with diversity advocacy look like?
It's a great question. People wanna know when we'll have "won" the battle for diversity. Is it when we hit a certain percentage of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized people in the industry? When we see VCs funding those same groups at similar rates as they do white men? Or when they're becoming C-level execs at unprecedented numbers? When the attrition rates for marginalized people has dropped dramatically? When everyone is paid equally and has the same career mobility?
The Realities of Time
While I'd definitely love to see all of those things happen, I'm acutely aware of the glacial-like pace of cultural change. I don't know that any of that will happen during my career or even lifetime, as much as I'd like to be here to see it.
And if it does, it will be because a dramatic cultural shift has occurred; after all, it requires we hold ourselves and each other accountable for the roles we play in allowing this kind of behavior to continue. It means all of us recognizing the biases that contribute to things like systemic sexism, racism, homophobia, cissexism, ableism, and xenophobia, but also actively working to counteract those biases.
Right now I see a lot of well-meaning people that respond to studies about bias or articles about discrimination with assertions that those things are terrible!, all the while distancing themselves from them as something that other people do. I hear often that we'd "win more people over" if we'd "stop insinuating that the people to 'blame'" were the ones sitting in the room when we discuss the dearth of diversity. After all, they must be good allies if they're present and listening.
Unfortunately, it's a lot more complicated than that. It's not enough to just be in the room. The greatest challenge we have to overcome is our own lack of self-examination. We believe that the people who do these terrible! things must be terrible people to have done them; that they must be knowingly biased and discriminating against others. This provides an easy out for us: we're not terrible people, the logic goes, and therefore can't be guilty of doing these terrible things.
That's absolutely untrue.
We've all been steeped in a culture that drills into us ideas about gender roles, racial stereotypes, and disdain for things to which we can't relate. Whether you want to or not, these things color the way we make decisions, interact, and even the adjectives we use when referring to other people.
And what's worse, belonging to a marginalized group doesn't mean you won't share negative beliefs about the people in the same group. For instance, women hold misogynistic and sexist ideas in their heads, too, because they were raised in the same society. I've thought sexist things, I've said racist things, I've realized that I've judged people on things they have no control over, I've been ignorant to extra obstacles that need overcoming by people whose situation isn't similar to my own. No one is exempt from this.
Not So Small Victories
We need to stop looking at these terrible! things at an arm's length and begin figuring out why they continue to happen on our watch. We need to educate ourselves and the people around us because it's unlikely they'll educate themselves on their own. There are so many resources - wikis, articles, research papers, books, discussion groups - that you have access to. Read them, pass them around, talk to people about them.
It needs to be more important that we've taken things we've read or heard to heart over how laudable our "equality pedigree" is. Too often I see male allies stepping over women to explain why they are bad feminists or white people confronting people of color about anti-racism work, all the while ignoring the context of the situation.
I can't stress enough how much we need to resist the urge to silo ourselves away with people similar to ourselves. It should be a priority that we're meeting people who have different experiences, backgrounds, and lifestyles. In actually listening to people, we can find an easier path to empathy and recognizing where stereotypes have wormed their ways into our lives without our realizing it. We can stop advocating for what we think people need and instead give them the attention to tell us what we should be doing to help fix the problem.
Think about the things that come out of your mouth. I can't tell you how frequently I say something and realize a heartbeat later that it was wrong. Stopping, apologizing, and correcting yourself is not only a great way to ingrain that difference in your mind, but also a positive example for the people around you. You're going to fuck up - everyone does - at least let it be a learning experience. Accept that this is a part of the whole process. Don't be afraid of it, just be quick to apologize and do your best to be better in the future.
Realize that even if you've spent hundreds of hours reading and learning and discussing these things, there's always going to be more to learn. When people correct you, don't get defensive, thank them for helping make you a better person.
Every time a discriminatory decision is made, every time bias is in play, I want to see someone step up. If someone asserts something based on stereotypes and fake science, I want them to hear why that's wrong with at least equal the passion we defend our choice of code editors. Gone should be the days of people believing everyone thinks these discriminatory things or that this is an acceptable practice just because no one has ever told them otherwise. Too often we let people assume that our silence is assent. How often has shitty behavior continued because everyone thinks they're the only one that feels whatever happened was wrong? Don't leave it up to a marginalized person to risk their professional, financial, or personal safety - say something. When you do, tell them why it made you uncomfortable or why it's unacceptable to you.
A snappy conclusion paragraph subtitle, just for you
So what does success look like to me? Taking responsibility for our role in creating the problem, understanding systemic inequality isn't caused by just a villainous group of people, and making it known that we aren't silently agreeing to discrimination.
LOL Bros. Will spend 24 hours straight learning latest framework but discrimination? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO LEARN ABOUT THAT ON MY OWN!?
— Kronda (@kronda) November 12, 2013
Last week I spoke with the students at Ada Developers Academy, a programming school for women. As much of my regular audience consists of people in positions of power and influence in tech - generally men - I was at a loss for what to speak about when I was asked. I found myself nervous about speaking to them, which surprised me. After all, I've been in their position before; I should be able to relate more to them than the people I usually teach.
We decided that we'd make it a more casual conversation - I would speak a bit about the work I do and then I'd spend the majority of the time answering questions. 10 minutes into the conversation, I was asked the question that always breaks my heart to answer:
"What do we have to worry about when we get out into the industry?"
A million things run through my mind - do I tell them about the harassment and too frequent assaults? The discrimination they'll face when they apply to conferences and jobs? How people will unfairly dismiss their skills, opinions, ideas, and that they'll eventually internalize that, believing they aren't "good enough"? That people will assume that they wandered into the wrong room before they assume they're a programmer? Do I tell them that speaking up against these things will cause them to lose friends, jobs, opportunities, and potentially make them targets for even worse treatment? Do I tell them that even when things are really good, when someone notices their brilliance, that it, too, will be tinged by the nagging feeling that they may have been noticed because they fill a need for visual diversity?
Raising awareness doesn't scare people, accepted rampant harassment and discrimination do.
And then I'm reminded of all of the people who get upset that we speak up about these things at all. The people that say "telling them these things is what scares them away! We can't ever make things better if people never get here!" That people see merit in this deception when it's not only unethical but downright dangerous amazes me. How is it a good idea to trick people into an industry where they may have to invest tens of thousands of dollars, uproot their lives, and move across the country or world only to find that more than half of them will be forced to leave the industry within 10 years due to harassment, discrimination, and bias? Why does the belief exist that sacrificing marginalized people to the hungry maw of tech will solve this problem?
OH: Should we be encouraging women to get into the pipeline when we know the pipeline leads to a sewage treatment plant?
— father husband monad (@ashedryden) October 20, 2013
So I answered them truthfully. I talked about microaggressions and how choosing your battles feels like a bit of you dying with each concession. I told them how it upset me to have to be telling them this because we haven't fixed this problem; that they're yet another generation of programmers that will have to fight this battle.
The other question they asked was "what can each of us do to change things?". These students who haven't stepped fully into the industry already know that the responsibility of positive change is going to be thrust heavily onto their shoulders.
Whose job is "diversity"?
Often the burden of fostering diversity and inclusion falls to marginalized people. It's worth noting that this in and of itself is a form of oppression: being coerced into attempting to solve a problem created by the people both furthering and benefitting from the oppression. Thanks in part to the history of animosity directed at them when they mention the marginalizing group is engaging in what amounts to White Savior-like behavior, they feel they need first hand participation in the efforts, a sort of nothing about us without us. This is akin to your roommate doing a shit job washing dishes because they know you'll give in and do them yourself.
It's not infrequent that a company will seek praise for their own efforts to promote diversity meanwhile noting that the only people who are contributing to the effort are women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and the few other marginalized people who they may employ. Conferences will tell you they're getting more women to speak by tweeting "Hey underrepresented friends, submit to our CFP!", but putting forth no other real effort.
Protip: Do not blindly *assign* the "diversity in tech" work to the only woman/POC on your tech team. Do not. It's everyone's work.
— Tech Ladymafia (@techladymafia) February 19, 2014
All of this is often done without compensation. People internal to the organization are tasked with these things and expected to do them in addition to the work they're already performing (which, ironically, adds to the already multiplied workload required to be viewed as doing as much as their less marginalized coworkers). People outside the organization are expected to volunteer to do these things without compensation "for the greater good" - aiding in improving the profile of the organization that while still allowing them to take credit for the effort.
So not only are marginalized people having to personally fight this battle for themselves, they're now guilted and pressured into doing it for others while not being compensated equally for things that are actually in their job description, let alone things outside of it.
Whose fault is it when attempts at diversity fail?
@ashedryden Imagine if that was the answer to "why doesn't your company have a QA department?"
— Tim Chevalier (@eassumption) February 25, 2014
I believe that the biggest issue the movement for increasing diversity in tech faces today is this: no matter the cause, the blame of failed attempts are always put back on marginalized people.
Asking why they think there are so few women and people of color in tech? "Their parents and teachers aren't encouraging them to go into tech; it's out of our hands if they never get here."
Asking about the heinous attrition rate? "They choose to have children." "The ones that leave are making it harder for all the ones that come after them."
Asking a company why they have a homogenous engineering team? "We would love to have other people, but they don't apply." "They don't have the skill levels we need, they're all too junior."
Why is a conference's speaker lineup devoid of diversity? "We asked these two women that speak at every conference, but they turned us down." "Well, we tried, but they cancelled."
Underlying this is a pervasive feeling of “we have a toxic, abusive culture, but expect marginalized people will put up with it in the name of diversity.”
All of these things contribute to the guilt so many marginalized people feel. The guilt that we're not doing enough, that we're trying to have it all or that we don't believe strongly enough that we can have it all. It becomes a moral failing on our part. When we fail it's because we aren't trying hard enough, not because we're frantically trying to run up a down escalator.
There's a profoundly un-empathetic line of thought that goes: "Diversity is good. This woman is adding to diversity in STEM. Her leaving decreases diversity. Therefore, she is bad to leave." No one said this to me in as many words, but when you've been sitting with your own guilt for weeks, it comes through clear as day. - I didn't want to lean out, Frances Hocutt
This piece by Frances Hocutt perfectly illustrates all of these problems.
I don't know anyone who's been in this position who hasn't thought about leaving tech or about what they'll pursue when they finally do. The overwhelming thing that I hear about why they haven't yet is they worry they'll be letting the people who fought before them and the people who will come after down. They are sacrificing their physical safety and mental health because they feel they owe it to someone else to put up with the abuse and discrimination - that we just need a couple generations of people willing to tough it out long enough to prove that we deserve to be here and suddenly people will start taking us seriously and treating us as peers.
I've seen people deal with the idea of confronting the systemic injustices by doubling down. I've seen others attempt to mime the genuine efforts taken by others. I've heard conference organizers resentfully say "I'm just doing this so the internet hate mob doesn't get my event cancelled for having no women". These things worry me. If you don't understand why you're doing this and don't genuinely care about the outcome, you're just painting a condemned house: it's not any safer, but hey, it looks nicer.
Where we need to be
As an industry and as a community, we've made some strides to correcting this behavior. I've seen more people of privilege take up these causes and fight for them follow the direction and needs of the people they're fighting for. On top of that, more marginalized people are finding the platform to do this kind of work and to be compensated for it.
What can you do to help their efforts?
Stop blaming marginalized people. They know the forces they have to combat just to stay in the industry. The guilt we put on them is neither individually helpful nor a solution to the larger issue. Instead figure out what you could be doing to remove some of their burden.
Educate yourself. A ton of time and effort has been put into creating educational resources so you can learn more without tiring out the people most affected by these problems. I highly recommend the Geek Feminism Blog + Wiki as a starting point. Twitter is also a great source for things; there are a ton of great people talking about the importance of this stuff that you can follow to learn from. Consider reading some books to learn more about issues and philosophies that frame the movement.
Stop devaluing the efforts to increase diversity by funding it. Don't ask marginalized people doing diversity advocacy to work for free or discounted rates. Don't ask your marginalized employees to do this on top of all of their other work. If they don't personally accept payment or donations, ask them which organization you can donate to in their name.
Stop appropriating the work done to increase diversity. Credit the people who are, among other things, doing this in their free time and risking professional opportunities by doing so.
- Lauren Bacon: Women in Tech and Empathy Work