White men in digital — our privilege is blinding

We’re proudly sponsoring the Women in Drupal event at DrupalCon Dublin 2016. This prompted me to reflect on our own track record on employing and advancing women.

Of course our own house is in order. Right?

No, it is not.

Including our current hiring round, in our team of 40 people:

  • 0% of our four most senior posts are held by women
  • 10% of our full leadership team is made up of women
  • 20% of our developers are women
  • 30% of our overall team are women

I would describe our approach to creating a representative, safe and welcoming workplace that facilitates everyone being able to thrive as ‘well intentioned’.

No one in the team has raised any concerns about our approach.

I also haven’t spent much time ensuring that we understand how to address these complex issues. Or that we’re serious about rooting out the more insidious aspects of discrimination.

So — passive, ill-informed and well intentioned.

Privilege

On further reading I realised a little more how my personal privilege contributes to my blindness on this subject.

I’m a white male, in an industry dominated by white men and I’m the most senior person in the organisation. An organisation where the four most senior roles are held by white men.

In what scenario would a feeling of being ‘other’ likely occur for me? Let alone the reality that I have personally experienced discrimination?

So it’s impossible that it’s only women that we’re failing

By failing to engage with and acknowledge our bias, we’re not actively including all people across differences in sex, age, gender, race, sexual orientation or disability. I’m pretty sure therefore our recruitment process needs deeper thought.

Organisationally we’re likely to reveal our implicit bias through our lack of representation of some communities at a senior level — test yours here.

And the likelihood of that being a perpetuating factor for our failure to represent the wider community within the organisation seems high.

A lack of awareness of this bias is also likely to hurt our work — our UX, design and development practices all require empathy and different perspectives to deliver results.

And that means we’re not proactively developing a culture that ensures that everyone knows they’re welcome, that they will be respected as themselves, that they can thrive and belong here. How will they answer the question ‘Can someone like me be successful here?’

For example, our lack of diversity at a senior level means that we don’t interpret the signals the way that some people might about our recruitment proposition.

Harmful consequences

Aside from the fact this feels ethically wrong as a state of affairs, this every day passivity is harmful in terms of the following:

  • Our ability to have a truly diverse workplace where everyone feels welcome
  • Our ability to attract the widest range of potential candidates
  • Our ability to progress people to a senior level
  • Our performance as a company

Let’s start closer to home than the pipeline issue

The industry approach has been on occasion less than insightful: ‘if they don’t apply for our jobs, then we can’t hire them, so what can we do?’.

It’s a pipeline problem that’s not our fault, right?

This ignores the appalling discrimination that people have experienced in the industry. Which, for example, contributes to a shameful retention rate of women who have chosen tech as a career.

And if you can’t see people like you succeeding in the industry how attractive (or safe) would it feel as a career choice?

Of course it’s important and positive that the industry backs initiatives that help support poorly represented communities. But we shouldn’t ignore the inconvenient and more directly addressable truths closer to home.

Do we really need to hear what another white man thinks about equal representation in tech?

On the one hand, no. The tech industry is disproportionately full of our opinions on this topic already. But, as others have pointed out, under-represented communities can’t fix this on their own — those in positions of power need to make a stand alongside them.

The target audience for this post is really other people in positions of privilege and power who, like me, somehow hadn’t woken up to the fact that being passive and ill-educated on this issue perpetuates it. That it may be painful and uncomfortable to acknowledge that you may have passively perpetuated discrimination within your organisation. That you might need to challenge your thinking.

Before you decide this is an issue you feel comfortable ignoring — reflect a while or maybe digest some more people’s experiences in the industry.

If you disagree with a specific point is it OK to just disengage? Or could you take positive steps on the areas that do resonate?

How are Deeson going to do better?

I’m going to make it a standing issue on our leadership team’s agenda so that we can monitor progress and maintain an active discussion. We aren’t going to get better overnight.

We’re going to immediately:

  • Begin annual salary audits to check for bias and rectify imbalances
  • Report on our progress when we do our quarterly planning
  • Implicit bias training for everyone
  • Stop attending conferences that don’t have a credible Code of Conduct
  • During hiring, take a more nuanced view on whether a developer has made open source contributions
  • Stop participating in all male conference panels
  • Improve our Careers page, including clarity on parental leave
  • Stop asking for previous salary during hiring — it can perpetuate pay inequality
  • Create dialogue and feedback channels within the company to offer better support
  • Stay informed and signpost groups working in the industry

Can digital agencies and the Drupal community do better?

I think they can. I’ve worked in the UK’s digital agency sector since 2001 and I’ve been involved with the Drupal community since 2007. The impression I get is that inequality is a problem across the board.

The Drupal community is at least doing its best to redress imbalances — there are initiatives that support poorly represented communities in STEM subjects through coding clubs, ambassadors and advocacy, for example. But is it enough, and is it working?

Digital agencies, perhaps because they’re less in the public eye, are lagging behind in terms of these initiatives. As we’ve seen, CEOs, CTOs and founders are largely oblivious to their own white male privilege, and this needs to change.

So, how should this change come about, and what is your organisation doing to increase diversity?

I’d love to hear your opinions on this, whether you work in digital or you’re a member of the Drupal community. Leave a comment below this piece, or tweet me at @timdeeson

Background and research

I couldn’t have written this post without the material I have referenced and for the wider reading that made me realise the extent of the issue. The material they have written has been written for no personal gain by people who have had negative personal experiences of the tech industry. They bear the disproportionate burden of both suffering the consequences of these issues and making significant efforts to improve the situation for others.

Thank you to Lisa Armstrong, our acting Marketing Director, for her support with the post and for our conversations that prompted me to realise that not everyone has the luxury of my ignorance. Her current experience as a startup founder in the fintech field has not always been positive.

Also, in order to develop something more likely to be helpful rather than harmful I approached Meri Williams. I took part in a training workshop she gave a few years ago, the depth of her expertise on managing people at work taught me lessons that I use every day. She turned down paid consultancy but generously offered to discuss writing this post with me pro-bono. What’s useful in this post is likely to be there through her leadership and the writing of others that I’ve mentioned. She has a workshop coming up soon.

And thank you to the team at Deeson for their thoughts and input.

Originally published at: https://www.deeson.co.uk/blog/white-men-digital-our-privilege-blinding