How to Be Excellent to Each Other in 3 Simple Steps

Learn the obvious tips you cannot ignore if you want to organise an inclusive conference or build a diverse team

Two weeks ago, we shipped the largest WebCamp Ljubljana so far.

It was exhausting and glorious. We’ve managed to get a diverse crowd of amazing people to attend and speak, and then get them drunk on chocolate, technology, and, eventually, beer.

I had an absolute blast. There was just one thing that, let’s just say, dampened the mood.

“Especially if you are white, male, straight, and cis, please try to actively listen instead of talking.“

This was a part of the description for the LGBTIQ+ meet-up I (with the indispensable help of a good friend of mine) held at WebCamp.

Regrettably, what was supposed to be a safe space for queer folks to share their experiences with their identities and how they relate to the workspace, quickly became an AMA session for non-queer humans.

We even had one dude busting into the room mid-session asking for “a trans” who would “explain a few things to him”.

Not cool bro. [described]

Straight people are assholes.

Are straight people assholes?

Putting a question mark at the end of an offensive sentence doesn’t magically make it non-offensive.

I have two problems with questions.

One is that not all members of a minority are able to answer questions — it’s a matter of division of labour if you will. Just as a programmer will not be able to answer all questions about programming (even if many StackOverflow users seem to think otherwise).

The other is that educating every single person one-on-one is completely unscalable (not to mention non-DRY). Especially about a topic that is so important for humans who want to live in a society where everyone is nice to each other, which should be all of us.

And, I get it. We’re all too busy to read and learn, unless it’s about what Kim Kardashian had for lunch today.

But come on.

It is your own personal responsibility to get on with the program.

OMG👏 Thank👏 You👏

Members of social minority groups are not responsible to provide this education to you. There are humans with the education, the right vocabulary, time availability, and patience required to give thought-out responses. They’re typically called activists.

Some of the rest may not be comfortable or even able to respond to your probing questions. It’s not everyone’s job to have a queer FAQ memorised and be always ready to pro et contra with you.

Your questions have been answered numerous times before, and responses have been recorded for everyone to learn from them. And if you read this post all the way through, I promise you will — sadly — know more about inclusivity than 80% of your peers.

And then we’ll just point you out next time someone asks a question.

#1: Consider

Inclusivity is nothing more than a way to be nice to all humans.

Most of us hang out with humans that are similar to us. This tendency made a lot of sense when we were still living in caves.

But in the time of remote work and business meetings at Starbucks this concept no longer makes any sense. And while we wait for our brains to rewire with evolution (just a few thousand more years to go!), it’s up to us to force ourselves outside of our comfort zones and consider humans different from us — whether or not they are in our immediate social circle.

If we don’t even think about all the different ways to be human, how are we going to be nice to each one of them?

Let’s think about ways humans are different from each other.

Ways in which humans are different from each other [described]

How do some of these even apply to my startup, I hear you ask. Surely, who I sleep with is none of anyone’s business at work?

Teams largely consist of humans. While this will likely change in the following decades with the rise of automation, right now the living, breathing, feeling humans write code, design interfaces, and ask annoying questions about your plans for the weekend.

Maybe I like staying at home watching Netflix, Margaret.

Btw, inclusivity is not just fuzzy feelings. It’s good for business.

To keep on top of ever-changing customer base and their needs, you need a diverse team to offer input with their individual life experiences. If your company lacks in inclusivity, it’s likely because your team is super homogenous, which repels humans that may seem different — and so the cycle continues.

But don’t despair. We’re only two steps away from building your venture into a diverse and inclusive place!

Can you tell I work in marketing?

#2: Learn

What follows is a carefully picked collection of links to help you understand the different groups of humans we’ve mentioned in step #1. The list is far from exhaustive or final, but the articles should help you dip your toe into the water.

Inclusivity

Feminism in tech

Race

Gender & sexuality

If you’re not fucking around

#3: Apply

Remember when I talked about how it’s not efficient to educate everyone one-on-one?

Well, it’s the same with company culture.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply hire one token woman, have her join your all-male team, and expect her to take on the role of sexism police at your startup.

Let’s take a look at a few steps you can take to start making your company or conference more inclusive.

Rules

Inclusivity means different things to different people.

Establish exactly what inclusivity means for your company or conference. A document that covers these rules is normally called a Code of Conduct:

“An explicit code of conduct for a conference helps to establish social norms for that conference.”
code-of-conduct-why
  • have a Code of Conduct
  • make sure the team is familiar with it
  • sanction hate speech and non-inclusive behaviour

Environment & swag

Signs & swag at conferences are often done last-minute. This makes it easy for mistakes to creep in.

Then there’s startup bro culture. Pool tables and PlayStation in the office are fine. Posters of Sasha Grey however? Save it for your locker, or the garbage bin.

Venue signages (as well as office “decor”) are the first thing people see as they walk into the room. It will set the mood for the entire duration of the event — and the freebies that attendees carry home will remind them of your event for months to come.

In a way, venue signage and swag could be one of the most important elements of your messaging. So why leave it to chance?

At WebCamp, we provided attendees with men’s, women’s, and unassigned bathrooms. Obviously, sometimes, space constraints disallow such interventions which just requires a slight dash of ingenuity.

Language

Spoken and written words are the primary way humans communicate. This makes language the perfect vessel for inclusivity.

When we talk about a specific role in the company, we automatically have one gender in mind — and it’s normally either male or female. This may not be deliberate or even conscious, but it still affects how we see and treat workers who don’t fit our image.

Lots of professions even have gender implied right there in the name. Can you imagine a cis male housewife? Female repairman? Fortunately, we now have equivalents for pretty much every gendered term.

A few examples, snatched from The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly [described]

Which finally brings us to the controversial topic of pronouns. What pronoun do I use for this person? What if I make a mistake? Am I supposed to guess? Am I supposed to know all the different gender identities? Why are you making me learn things???!

Calm your tits. Here’s the super complicated solution to Pronoun Problems™:

Use the pronoun a person you’re addressing uses.

Glad we cleared that up, moving on.

Design

Peer-to-peer communication can make a huge difference. Equally (if not even more) significant is the communication outside the company. This includes branding, advertising, and public relations, as well as UI design and copy.

Every ad, microcopy, and landing page is an opportunity to position the company as a place where everyone has a good time and is being respected for who they are.

For example, have you ever noticed how non-diverse most stock photos are? Things are improving, but people of colour, women, people with disabilities, etc are still hugely underrepresented. This gives off the idea that these groups are simply not a part of the business ecosystem. Which they are!

Design is far from just pixel pushing. While inclusivity is not exactly being taught at design colleges, designers and copywriters can’t shed the huge responsibility laying on their shoulders. Communications are a powerful tool. We must use it wisely.

How different apps ask for users’ gender (Snap doesn’t do it at all!) [described]

Take feedback

If I had a penny for every “not all men”. Taking criticism is difficult for everyone, let alone — Anyway.

Deflecting negative feedback is not going to help change the world. It’s going to help keep it exactly the same as it is right now. No bueno.

  • when you feel the urge to say “not me”, shut up and listen.
  • encourage respectful discussion

Farewell

Queers are not your personal Wikipedia.

We live in a time when information is literally at our fingertips. There is nothing standing between you and your better self but some motivation and time required to understand the topics discussed in this article.

It’s our duty to challenge our assumptions and stereotypes and constantly question what we’ve been taught from the day we were born. It’s the only way to make our teams and society at large nicer, happier, and more productive.

Consider, learn, apply. And be excellent to each other. 💛


NB This article was written by someone who is not personally affected by all the personal circumstances listed in this article and as such, biased towards LGBT+ and feminist causes and likely lacking in the topics of race, disabilities, and the rest. I’m happy to discuss and include more resources on these topics, please reach out to recommend them!

Thanks to Alja Isakovic and Anja Koletnik for help on this article.