I Feared I Would Be a Diversity Hire; Then I Actually Became One.

A diverse hiring process may not be what you think it is

Interview. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

What does a diverse hiring process even mean?

I’m a woman. I’m bisexual. I’m trans. I’m a-spec (on the asexual spectrum). That would count as ‘diverse’ on several accounts.

Was there anything of real-world employment substance behind those titles though, given that I’ve spent over 15 years of my career performing as a man, 8 of those as a ‘DevOps guy’ and 4 as a ‘one man show’?

Stupid question, obviously. Tech is a meritocracy and a fair process evaluates solely on meritful criteria.

Right?

״It’s time to step up and do more. It’s not good enough to say we value diversity.״

- Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO

A fair process

One company that I interviewed for is a corporation which I’ll refer to as ‘A’ for the purpose of confidentiality.

Prima facie, ‘A’ was supposed to give me one of the best experiences in class. As a big corporate headquartered in the United States, being an equal opportunity employer is plastered throughout its communications. Diversity is touted as a value.

I’ve been additionally told that the company holds sensitivity training for employees.

Then again, there were other things that raised an alarm bell, as well as warranted a post in a private LGBT-in-tech forum.

In particular, the recruitment process in ‘A’ puts significant weight on past workplace experiences. One was expected to share past experiences as proof of performance, personality and fitness for employment in a tech environment. Experiences that, in my case, have all been made under the wrong gender experience.

Now, I’ve hardly been a terrible employee. Perhaps I’ve not been able to fully tap my potential, but I’ve had more than enough success (and failure) stories that supported my candidacy.

So it was me… and yet, in many other aspects, it wasn’t the real me. Or, perhaps not the me I could have been. Certainly not the me I ever wanted to be. But more importantly, definitely not the me that they would interact with anymore.

I tried to explain my point of view and my interviewer seemed… dumbfounded. As if he didn’t want to deal with such complexity, or wasn’t equipped to deal with it with the tools corporate afforded.

Perhaps it was a mix of both.

It was clear, however, what he did prefer to deal with — a genderless, strictly professional entity. Unfortunately, I couldn’t provide this and I doubt I ever will. Maybe we’re called ‘diverse’ for a reason — that we do deviate from a norm — be it cis, het, able-bodied or any such other.

I was eventually rejected. While I had felt that my technical answers were correct, I have little insight as to how my interpersonal performance was perceived. As ‘A’ is adamant about not sharing any further details, I am invariably left with my own take on the matter.

Having said that, this lack of information does not provide diverse candidates with the ability to give feedback on the process or to challenge a decision.

What it does provide, however, is a perfect cover for bias. A biased manager cannot be held accountable by those they wronged — unintentionally or otherwise. Is it better for a company to thus defend itself from a theoretical lawsuit, prioritized over a last-in-line anti-bias mechanism?

So, the presumably strictly equal, disregard-to-gender process has left me with a bitter aftertaste, because that disregard effectively meant reverting to a cis-tweaked norm and applying cis-tweaked standards.

Could it have reasonably been any different?

This brings us to my candidacy in a stealth security start-up. I was interviewing for a DevOps tech lead position, one of technical leadership. At first, my would-be colleague held a professional interview which was followed by a personal one with my would-be manager.

I was candid enough, however, to share some of my private and personal thoughts about transitioning and career path. Namely, that I had never felt that I could make a good team leader prior to transitioning for reasons of self-esteem rooted in gender dysphoria, but that I might be able to now, feeling that I have more legitimacy to express several values I believe in.

And then something magical happened, something that totally took me by surprise. They listened with intent. My experiences weren’t brushed off. All of a sudden, questions about leadership style and relevant experience popped up. It took me a while to fully realize it, but it finally dawned upon me: I was now being interviewed for a team leader position.

I did timidly try once or twice applying for such positions. I was hoping that my extensive industry experience could counterbalance my lack of management experience, or otherwise hoping that I could leverage talent crunch to make the move. It’s of no surprise that I was rejected at the proverbial doorstep.

In particular, if one were to look at the raw data without context, it would have been extremely odd to have someone who previously shunned management positions and favored purely technical ones, suddenly aspire to hold one. Or, if we were to apply company A’s favorite past-experiences model, the supposedly rational and logical conclusion would be to reject me immediately.

A different person

By that point, I had almost totally internalized that cis-norm, too. It was clear and inevitable to me that I would not be given a true and fair chance to become my new professional self, or at most, that I needed a stroke of luck combined with market pressure to overcome this.

I had internalized that my presumed past maleness was to professionally define me for the rest of my life. I had internalized I had no way to break the chains that bind me to the history I wanted to leave behind. A history of a terrible misunderstanding that I may never fully cope with.

But I am a real-world person and not a genderless construct. My professional history and future are intertwined with my gender-related experiences. I found a proverbial home in groups for advancing women in tech, my professional network is starting to change radically and I have gotten deeper into tech volunteer work.

That DevOps guy, that one-man-show, is forever gone, never to return. This is a life-altering event and nothing’s going to change that fact. Trying to hide it or ignore it requires a whole lot of pretending, just to make cis people more comfortable in not facing the trials and tribulations that a transition incurs.

When I had started my transition, I pledged to never again hide behind my masculinity. I now pledge the same with regard to my transition experiences.

Aftermath

There was, however, a time-limited standing offer from another wonderful company that had treated me fairly and whose interview process was a delight. I was in for a long night of deliberations.

The next morning, I was prompted by an instant message from… my first interviewer, asking me if I had reached a decision.

Now, by that time I had already made my call. But if I were still deliberating, that last vote of confidence and acceptance would have tipped the scale. They, too, had welcomed me as their manager.

I smiled as I broke the news to them. I chose to take the updated employment offer.

And back to the post’s original title. I feared I would be a diversity hire, because in my imagination, that would have been a factor diluting my skills and professional achievements. I feared being a token or a fig leaf. But not only was it not so, it was far more respecting of what I’ve been through than a presumably strictly identical process. To me, this is what diversity hiring is all about.

And now the burden of proof is on me and I have a bar to clear.

Proving that applying metrics that seem to be fair with regards to most cis people to trans people may not be a good way to handle your recruitment process.

Proving to cis people that trans experiences matter and trying to pretend they don’t delivers neither equality nor diversity.

And to lead a kick-ass, all-women (currently) DevOps team.

(But it’s just a coincidence, right?)

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Gil Bahat (she/her)

Gil Bahat (she/her)

A Gil, of all trades. DevOps roles are often called “a one man show”. As it turns out, I’m not a man and never was. Welcome to this one (trans) woman show.

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