I suck at diversity.

Randi Lee Harper
Tech Diversity Files
4 min readJan 21, 2016

This is my first Medium post, and it’s going to be a doozy. This was too long for a Twitter rant, so I’m just going to hammer on my keyboard for a few minutes. Who needs editing?

When it comes to diversity, I fuck up a lot. This post is going to make me seem like an asshole, but I’m an asshole that’s slowly learning how to be better, and I want you to take a shortcut and learn from my mistakes.

I’m a white woman in tech. I know how to create scalable infrastructures, I can write code to do what needs to be done, but I’m not going to be able to tell you how to fix the diversity problem. Just because I’m the only woman in the room, this doesn’t make me an expert in diversity, it just means that the person running the show isn’t, either. It’s infuriating that women and minorities are expected to have all the answers for a problem they didn’t create and don’t control.

I’m not going to tell you how to be perfect. Instead, I’m going to tell you some of the ways that I’ve screwed up.

I used to think that diversity in tech was just about the representation of women. What I failed to realize is that the picture in my head consisted entirely of white women. Diversity initiatives almost always target white women. While the numbers regarding women in tech aren’t exactly promising, it gets so much worse when you start looking at the hiring, promotion, and retention of women in color.

I have been in tech for 15 years, and I have never once worked with a black woman. It took me over 10 years to even know any black women in my field. I’ve seen quite a few asian women, but mostly in QA, and rarely were they in managerial, development, or operations roles, so I didn’t really interact with them much. Because they weren’t a part of my technical circles, they weren’t really a part of my social circles, either, so I didn’t think about their lack of representation. Isn’t it weird how that works?

I want you to take a minute and go to your Twitter or Facebook timeline. Glance through a few pages, and look at the profile pictures. Out of sight is out of mind, and if you’re not listening to women of color, you’re not going to notice the lack of diversity in your organization or at your event.

The first time I got accused of white feminism, I think my response was “what the shit is white feminism?” So I got defensive, got angry, and then I calmed down and Googled. After about an hour of reading, I realized I had a problem.

I started out by following a handful of women of color on Twitter. I’d read and retweet their stuff, and while I was able to pat myself on the back about this, eventually it sunk in that I didn’t really feel like I was helping that much. I still didn’t connect with them and their issues. If you’re congratulating yourself for promoting people that are a less represented skin color or gender, you’re still fucking up.

I started building relationships with a some of these women that I was following. I tried to build personal connections so I could understand their issues, at least as much as I was capable. I’d try to be supportive, and I would often ask myself how I would want a man to respond if I was having this conversation with him.

If you had to build a company right now, think about the team you would build. Out of all of the people that you know, who would you want to hire? Who would you have managing projects?

When I first started an organization, I picked a bunch of other white women to sit beside me. They were my first picks, because I wasn’t thinking about real diversity. I thought of the best people in my current close network. I didn’t dig for more diverse candidates. I didn’t ask around to find people. I was retweeting women of color and talking about their problems, but I didn’t apply any of this knowledge to my own decision making process. Always be critical of your own actions, even if you think you’re doing great at this whole diversity thing.

I would get asked to speak at conferences, and the organizers would ask if I could recommend any other speakers. If they were a good fit for the topic, I would always recommend the less represented people that I had been building relationships with earlier.

The problem was, these people were fairly well known. Less popular voices were getting ignored. In my personal network, I had all these token women of different ethnicities. That’s not helpful. It’s really annoying to be the token woman. I don’t like that. Why would I do that to someone else? I’m not the expert in figuring out whose voice is being overlooked, so I needed a better system.

There are a few different services that women can sign up for that some conferences will consult to find a more diverse group of speakers. I don’t like that system at all. Most women aren’t going to put themselves on that list. Impostor syndrome is real, y’all. Sometimes the best voices are the ones that don’t realize they’ve got something valuable to share.

Lately I’ve been asking the women I’ve built up personal connections with for recommendations. Who do they think is getting overlooked that has something worth saying? It’s probably not the best answer, and maybe someone’s got a better solution. If so, I’d love to hear it.

After all, I’m not the expert. I’m just a white chick that likes to yell about things on the internet.



Randi Lee Harper
Tech Diversity Files

the internet version of “hold my beer and watch this”