The Only Thing of Consequence
In the Marine Corps, there was this saying about how it doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white, brown, or yellow. It was one of the first concepts drilled into our minds from the moment we stepped off the bus at the Recruit Depot in San Diego, California (Yes, I’m a Hollywood Marine.). If we were going to be part of the world’s most fierce and elite fighting force, that’s how we were going to have to operate. I’m sure that sentiment was echoed in other military branches too. There was only one color. That color was green. You were a mean green fighting machine. And while there might have been different shades of green, we all bled the same and were prepared to fight for that woman or man standing to our left and military left. There was no right. We may not have always made the best decisions; but contrary to popular belief, we’re only human. Our humanity was the only thing of consequence on the battlefield.
I’m reminded of this notion because a friend of mine recently shared a link to a website for newcomers to the tech industry called: Out of Office Hours. This website, while I don’t intend to tear down the original idea for its founding, was started with the goal of linking people who are new to the tech industry or are interested in exploring opportunities with those currently in the field. What was curious about this website, were the survey questions to become a mentee or “newcomer”. It seems the website’s creator was focused on serving more underrepresented groups — which gave me pause and sparked me to write this piece because I’m apprehensive towards any focus on a particular group, whether it’s underrepresented or not. People shouldn’t have to identify with being part of one group or another.
Time and time again, I think that questions requiring people to answer for whether they’re gay, straight, Catholic, Islamic, veteran, African American, Caucasian, Asian, or even Hispanic tend to alienate certain groups and foster bias more than they bring us together. I’m a human being and that’s all that should matter. I’d want the same opportunities to achieve excellence in any industry as anybody would — regardless of my background or affiliation. If I’m successful, it’s because I earned that success through hard work and commitment. In the same way that the Marine Corps doesn’t hand out the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor to just anyone, we shouldn’t be handing out jobs, rewards, or other advantages/opportunities to someone who didn’t put forth the effort. It doesn’t make sense.
While it might be true that our sense of identity plays a huge role in whether we’re successful at accomplishing our goals, it shouldn’t be used as a crutch to get to where we want to be. When I applied for my first career after leaving the Marine Corps, the process flowed seamlessly and faster than usual — particularly since I had to obtain a clearance like many federal employees. I remember talking to my roommate, at the time, about how fast everything seemed to progress. I even ventured to say that I couldn’t believe how they hired me. I didn’t feel I deserved it, and he said something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. He essentially said that they probably hired me because I’m a minority or veteran and were fulfilling a quota. I wasn’t offended by his comment. In fact, we burst out laughing because his comment was insightful yet unbecoming of an HR professional. I still consider him to be a good friend. However, it made me wonder about whether I would ever achieve success due to my actions and not because of what I am or might be to satisfy some federal mandate or social construct.
I’m not experiencing an identity crisis. Nor am I seeking to undermine the federal policy on affirmative action or the government’s efforts to foster diversity and inclusion. The issue of diversity and inclusion is important for the thorough cultivation and innovation of ideas and betterment of society to be sure. In truth, I enjoy being different or diverse — if that’s what we’ll call it. My Spanish last name, brown skin, and Mexican background should make me more interesting, unique, and even peculiar. But, identity questions have no place on an application of any sort. It shouldn’t matter. Not if you want to hire, reward, or offer advantages/opportunities to someone genuinely worthy of it. If America or any country for that matter is to be great, we must put issues of identity behind us and move forward. Our humanity should be the only worthwhile consideration (and, of course, ability to do the job) in the same way that it’s the only thing of consequence on the battlefield.
P.S.: By completing the Out of Office Hours survey, I was hoping to find a mentor to answer some questions and serve as a guide into the tech industry. Who cares that I’m of Mexican descent or underrepresented? I don’t need special favors or treatment. I’m different because society says I’m different. Otherwise, I would never think of myself as innately different. In any case, we shouldn’t be trying to reach supposedly underrepresented groups for STEM — unless the field is made up of a bunch of wild boars, which I guess it could be argued, because we’re all human. We should be trying to reach people period — as diverse as they come of both sexes. I recognize that’s kind of an oxymoron, but it should solidify my point.