For as long as I can remember, I’ve prided myself on my ability to make things happen when I needed to. Find a new job, make a new connection, bring something to life; I’d always find a way, or someone to help me out. It’s the foundations of my career, and that of the company I continue to build. Most people call this hustle.
But it’s been difficult for me not to feel like a fraud recently, as I’ve become confronted with not just the reality, but the scale, of my privilege. These emotions came to the surface after experiencing the ‘Designing for Inclusion’ workshop run by Fearless Futures — who work with organisations to engage people in critical thinking to understand and challenge the root causes of inequalities and to grow powerful new leadership for transformative change.
For 3.5 days I sat alongside senior figures from the likes of Facebook and RBS, going deep on understanding the systems that make up our world, our roles in those systems, and arming us with tools to challenge them in our day to day.
One exercise in particular stood out, where we were presented with a sheet of paper that listed 32 privileges — everything from ‘the ability to easily access any building’, through to ‘not fearing physical harm from a sexual partner’. We were asked to circle the privileges that we felt like we had.
I circled every single one.
I can be honest in that 50% of them I’ve never thought about once in my life before. The notion that ‘privilege is invisible to those that have it’ had never been so radically apparent. This moment was emphasised by the results of another participant — a young black woman and fellow founder, having circled just four.
Made for me. By people like me.
I’ve always believed I was a hard worker and that I’m the one who has made shit happen in my life. What I failed to realise is that by being a white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender male, half of the work was already done for me. My ‘hustle’ is essentially my ability to leverage and exploit a system designed for people like me, by people like me.
I’ve never had a fear of hustle
I’ve always felt like I can be bold, make a splash, make some noise. I’ve never believed my race or gender was a barrier to social acceptance, or carried with it baggage that might make hustling more of a battle that it needs to be.
I’ve never needed permission to hustle
I’ve always been the forgiveness over permission kinda guy. I just do things because I believe I’m able to do so. I only ask permission if for me it is clear that someone else is in control or has the power.
I’ve always had access to the people to hustle
It’s been easy for me to approach and connect with the people I want to. I look just like the people in power, and on the whole, my industry looks just like me.
I’ve never been discouraged to hustle
Once I started hustling, I was never told to stop. No-one ever suggested I was out of line or told me that if I continued it might not work out or I might get in trouble.
With this in mind, have I ever actually hustled? Have I ever actually had to give every inch of my being to making a life for myself? Have I ever pushed myself to the absolute limits to not just make a name for myself, but to keep a roof over my head or put food on the table?
Not even close.
For women, people of colour, LGBTQ or those with disabilities, these are everyday realities. I am starting to accept hustle is just another thing I’ve appropriated from those who actually do.
You are not doing enough
It is clear that the responsibility does not lie with those who are marginalised to be vocal and active, but for those with privilege to power up those with less power — as articulated by one of our wonderful facilitators Priya Ghai. Everything else is essentially just bullshit.
Your diversity and inclusion initiatives have no impact. Your sponsorship of women in tech events is just lazy.Your retweets of articles about inequality is a cop out. Your backing of one company with a black female founder means nothing.Your apologies for sexist and racist conduct is just embarrassing. Your research into the business value of diversity is a waste of fucking time.
Whatever you’ve done to date, that makes you feel like a good guy and that you’ve done your bit, means fuck all. I promise you. Because until you’re painfully uncomfortable with the inequality in our society, and accept your role in perpetuating the systems that keep it so, you’re an active participant in oppression.
Until you’re painfully uncomfortable with the inequality in our society, and accept your role in perpetuating the systems that keep it so, you’re an active participant in oppression.
No, YOU need to hustle
Doesn’t it make the fact if anyone other than a white man manages to make shit happen for themselves even more remarkable? You then recognise they’ve had to work 10x harder to do the equivalent of a white man. But we can’t rely on asking 99% of the human race to up their work effort. I think it’s about time we see the people with power start pulling their weight.
So if you are a white man working in tech, whether as a founder, a VC, an angel, a senior leader or whatever else, I challenge you to use your power and privilege to start hustling for the benefit of others — as I hold myself accountable to doing also:
- Don’t just sponsor events, attend them. I will show my face and be the person who initiates conversations. Then I take responsibility for following up.
- If someone asks for my help, I will create value for them in any way I can. Connect them with at least one other person who might be able to help them on their journey.
- Next time you’re invited to speak at an event, don’t. I’ll go out of my way to give that opportunity to someone who wouldn’t have been asked.
- Discriminate against other white men when it comes to extending opportunity. You heard me right. No reason why I can’t do this consciously if I’ve been doing the exact opposite most of my life both consciously and unconsciously.
- I will commit real energy and time to educating myself. Make it your priority to actually understand inequality. Google it for fuck sake. Hire Fearless Futures for your business, like right now.
The industry doesn’t need another wake up call. This is not new news. What this industry needs is action taken by white men to distribute their power and get the fuck out the way.
This industry needs white men to actually make an effort to be an active ally and be part of change. I’ll be an active ally.
This industry needs white men to not only understand feminism and intersectionality, but to be proud, engaged and supportive intersectional feminists. I am an active intersectional feminist.
This industry needs white men to be unapologetic in challenging the status quo and accept they’ll probably lose friends in the process. I’m at peace with losing friends.
This industry needs white men to have the courage to speak out and speak up for those with less privilege than themselves. I will speak up.
The technology industry has quite literally carved and defined human history. It’s helped us connect almost every human being on the planet, and it’s helped us reach the stars. It’s about time we committed some of that passion for disruption and energy for innovation to society itself. Let’s get to work.
If you want an open dialogue about this piece, you can reach me on Twitter at (at)carlmartin.
If you are a young woman, person of colour or disabled person and you‘ve got some goals you might need some help with, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and will do what I can to help you out.