Diversity — What really is it?

Diversity to me is when you can look at me and see an engineer. Not a middle aged chatty overweight woman. Its when you can take on a admin girl and see the potential for them to do a technical onboarding role with some training. Its when you can look at a resume with a guy’s name clearly indicating he is Indian and still invite him for interview. It’s when you can employ a transgender because she is the best programmer for the job.

But this is what it’s not. Its not about a woman being artificially elevated to a position of power she isn’t ready for. About changing a board just to bring in a female even if there isn’t someone suitable for that role. About shouting about a tech conf not having enough women or black guys. About just taking photos of different races/genders so you can ‘pretend’ you are diverse.

Because you know what, in tech there are a lot of white young male developers. And a lot of white male middle-aged (usually with slight tummy spread) managers. Its a reality. Just like when I go in a hospital there are a lot of female nurses. Or in HR its overrun with women. On a building site mainly men. Truckers, surgeons, need I go on?

As a women in tech I know how hard it is to stay in tech. I decided to work in tech at a pretty young age and I remember as an impressionable 20 year old trying and failing to get a job at Amstrad (you brits will know that one), probably for the most part failing because I was female. I remember a significant investment bank knocking me back after 18 interviews because ‘my face didn’t fit (aged 32 married —aka prime baby producing time)’ ; just to ring me up 2 years later and pretty much offer me a job over the phone because ‘diversity was now a thing’. I was on my 1st day of a year sabbatical at that time, I looked down at my 2 children then told the woman on the phone to ‘go take a running jump’.

I know how hard it is. Bloody hell, just being from a ‘cockney’ background used to hold me back in London with some of the public school types, I remember once in London getting the comment from a close friend ‘you are from the lower end of society aren’t you’. Even my father didn’t want me to goto Uni as they were worried it would affect my ‘class’ (and for good or bad it did).

But you know what I just go on with it. Because I know I’m good at what I do, and ultimately at the end of the day I believe that shines through. If I have to work a bit harder to get recognition so be it. If that developer from Eastern Europe thinks I’m stupid then more fool him for not engaging in the conversation with me. If a guy from India calls me Sir in email/chat I tell him I don’t have a penis yet. Kind of works. If a Texas guy rings in a huff and asks to speak to ‘someone technical’ I pass the phone right along and neglect to tell him I’m the Tech Architect (so love those calls).

Because I built a product, and I proved myself, both as an engineer and a company owner. You try do it Mister I say. I’ve got nothing to prove.

And this is what I liked about Jessica Herrin from Stella & Dot at Magento Imagine. She said ‘stop being a victim’, and she was right. It was also very evident after about 1 minute of her stepping on stage that here was a brilliant entrepreneur, business person, and an inspiration. The fact she was female was totally utterly irrelevant. Just like when I heard Malcom Gladwell, or Steven D. Levitt speak, the fact they were male wasn’t in their story.

Women don’t do IT for a reason, you know what for many women it just doesn’t appeal. Its pretty lonely sitting in front of a latop all weekend, and in general (I’m trying not to generalise here) women are social creatures, its not something they did so much when they were young. I know I def slacked off between the ages of probably 16–22, I was too busy getting wrecked (aka beetles/boys/nightclubs/uni). But I was lucky, as I’d learned to program at a young age, I was effectively able to coast it a bit. Not many people can do that.

And when you have children priorities change. I know they change for Dad’s, totally get it, but they change, someone has to take primary responsibility for those children, thats a fact. I was incredibly lucky in that my husband agreed (very reluctantly I might add) to give up his career to care for our 2 children. Its not been easy, reversing roles, especially with a guy who has been used to grafting all his life and is from a traditional Yorkshire family, well its hard. And I suspect a lot of women exit because of reasons like that, god sometimes I’ve wanted to exit too!

Diversity is a wide topic. I want to be treated for me, Karen Baker, the mum, the software engineer, the architect, the educated risk taker, the drinker, the friend and all in between. But don’t elevate or put me down. Don’t throw me on stage to get your numbers up, put me up there because I have something important to say.

Treat me the same as you treat your other colleagues, with respect, dignity and occasionally with banter. Bring me a nerf gun, I’ll knock your block off. Bring me a beer, I’ll prob drink you under the table. Bring me a software problem and I’ll solve it. Diversity. Let’s embrace it and not contain it.