Get Marginalized Folks in Tech and Keep Them There
Short URL for this document: https://git.io/f4dcf
What can be done to encourage more marginalized folks to get into, and stay in, technology?
- Sponsorship / Mentorship / Self-Advocacy
- Tell your manager what you want to do in your career and ask them to help you make a plan to achieve it; if your boss won't do it, do it yourself and constantly check in at your 1:1s, whether your boss brings it up or not. Do not hide your ambition. If your workplace does not support your ambition, you need to be ready to find one that does.
- Find a sponsor before you find a mentor. Find someone within your company who is in a position of power, who will advocate for you and your advancement. This might require some politicking; this person does not have to be your direct manager or even in your department sometimes.
- Find a mentor, but vet that mentor. Don't just ask any senior engineer; you need to find someone who will support your goals, not someone who's looking for a junior to fluff their ego. Sometimes it's hard to tell at a glance, so put thought and effort into it, and ask around work (especially ask other folks with your shared identity) who has been supportive of them.
- Start a grassroots group for your coworkers around your shared identities, or join a Meetup for people with your shared identity in tech outside of your job. Your company might use this as evidence that they've done the "diversity thing," which leads to my next point:
- Be vocal about diversity and inclusion in your workplace. In fact, be vocal about it when you are applying for jobs. The companies that ignore our desire to work in inclusive environments do so at their own peril, and you need to be flexible enough to make your own way in the world if you can't find an corporate environment that will support you. This might require settling for some time, but don't kneecap your career because you don't think you can find a company who will support diversity (or you can't make an effect on diversity in your existing awesome company). You have power, and you have to be willing to wield it.
- Here's the big takeaway, and it's not very heartwarming, but I hope you find it inspirational: advocate for yourself. Make your career what you want it to be. Nobody else is going to do that for you. You have to carve your path, and where you meet resistance, find another way or find another job. You may be treated poorly or disrespected or discriminated against, but until we all hold companies to higher standards, the good ol' boys club will remain in place, and it's on us to fix it for the young folks coming behind us.
Expose young marginalized folks to tech early, from childhood
- Send young marginalized folks to tech summer camps.
- Sponsor and protect tech classes in elementary/middle schools - get on a school board and make sure you vote to keep the budget for technical classes.
- Don't let the young marginalized folks in your life put themselves down about their STEM abilities. Give them age-appropriate pep talks about how stereotypes against smart/STEM-interested girls are harmful.
- Often an elementary/middle school library will work with professionals to offer tutorials, speakers, after-school clubs, etc. Get one started at your local school.
- Girl Scouts has a wishy-washy policy on transgender youth, so bear that in mind when taking this advice. If you feel comfortable attending or working with Girl Scouts, they have tech/STEM badges: https://www.girlscouts.org/en/about-girl-scouts/girl-scouts-and-stem.html (and while we're at it, they have financial literacy badges too, and if you want to know how to make young folks successful, teach them how to manage their money early). You can help by leading a troop, coming in to be a speaker or educator, or encouraging the young marginalized folks in your life to participate in Girl Scouts.
- Buy young marginalized folks tech/coding toys and puzzles (even if they haven't explicitly asked; do you normally wait for an explicit ask before buying other presents? If not, go for it.)
- I worked with the Fox Valley Girls Coding Club which was started by a young woman who liked to code and her non-technical mother.
- A group of young women in high school just organized the first GirlCon for young women in tech at Northwestern University and about 250 high school students showed up. Encourage the young marginalized folks in your life to do something similar.
- The more professional marginalized folks in tech we have speaking to young marginalized folks, the easier it is for those young marginalized folks to see themselves in tech. Representation matters.
Challenge outdated attitudes in academia
- If you are in college, teach tech classes at a college, are an academic advisor, or know anyone who is one of those things, stay vigilant. Challenge stereotypes. Challenge the myth that women are inherently worse at math than men. Challenge the pervasive attitudes that make academic tech toxic for marginalized folks. This is systemic and has to be addressed. Speak up when you hear it.
- Are you thinking about going for a bachelors or a masters in tech? Great - ask them how many women, trans folks, people of color and disabled folks are in their program. Ask them how the students who are marginalized fare in the program. Ask them for their retention rates and what they are doing to actively promote marginalized folks in tech. Don't forget - with any college or job, you are also vetting them. Hold them accountable for supporting marginalized folks in tech; the more they hear it, the more likely they are to do it. If you can't get an answer from the staff, seek out a woman on the faculty - she will have intimate knowledge of the outlook for marginalized folks in the program. If you can't find one, well, you might be able to infer the outlook for marginalized folks in the program from that information.
Re-evaluate your processes
- What are you really hiring for? Technical skills, cultural fit? Make a rubric to grade candidates on. It doesn't eliminate bias but it goes a long way toward reducing it. Here's a resource if you need somewhere to start: https://medium.engineering/engineering-interviews-grading-rubric-8b409bec021f
- If your job post encourages people from non-traditional backgrounds, make sure the rest of your hiring practice backs that up - don't expect people to do 48 hours of coding homework or coming for 8 hours of in-person interviews on the same day (or on separate days for that matter). Be flexible with candidates. Marginalized folks are far more likely to come to tech from a non-traditional background, so support that if you want to support diversity.
- I know of companies that say publicly they will hire from bootcamp grads, but tell their recruiters to only pick from Ivy League grads. This is a waste of everyone's time (including yours) and is diversity theatre. If you genuinely want to hire diverse candidates, you must commit to making changes that actually improve diversity.
- Companies should be transparent about the fact that they know there is a diversity issue in tech, as well as transparent about what they're doing to fix it. See Pinterest/Etsy for examples. https://newsroom.pinterest.com/en/post/building-a-pinterest-for-everyone
- Transparency is the fastest cure for bias. Experiment with transparent salary bands and transparent corporate processes. Publish your evaluation rubrics for employee evaluation. Start by being transparent internally and get radical from there. https://buffer.com/transparency
- Foster an inclusive environment, not just a diverse one
- During employee evaluations, score your employees not only on their technical ability, but on their ability to collaborate and be inclusive towards their teammates. For an example of this, see: https://chelseatroy.com/2018/05/24/why-your-efforts-to-make-your-company-inclusive-arent-working/
- Some marginalized folks are searching for these qualities in roles: https://twitter.com/jyhsu/status/972944247694348289 - does your org fit those requirements? (Namely, mature leadership, content senior marginalized folks in engineering, remote-friendliness)
Put marginalized folks in leadership roles
- The adult case of Representation Matters; the more marginalized folks you have in leadership the more marginalized folks will aspire to leadership.
- For anyone who complains about quotas and other concerns, I usually say this: "Do you want our product/service to serve a diverse population? Then we need a diverse workforce to support that. If you only want cis, abled, straight white men to use your product, and you're willing to give up every other demographic as a source of income, keep doing what you're doing."