Getting real about tech diversity excuses.

This post was previously titled “A response to Reply All ep Raising The Bar re: Diversity in Tech” as I wrote it after listening to and very much having an issue with the premises it was putting up as valid reasons (excuses) for the lack of diversity in tech and specifically startup companies. I’ve changed the title to capture a wider audience who might not be Reply All listeners.

This post is about putting myths like these to bed but I would also like to make the point that when you use pho-science and mythical premises like the ones used in this radio story you are creating damage. You are arming people with excuses and giving them a reason they might feel ok about. If you tell someone that having a company filled with people who look like you is more effective than the alternative you have effectively supported it’s perpetuation. It’s dangerous and unproductive to the cause of diversity in any workplace.

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I am huge fan of Reply All and Gimlet Media. I feel like they are my people. I’m also proud and impressed by the amount of time they spend addressing issues that I care about including today’s episode Raising The Bar, but oh man my blood was boiling as I listened this morning and I have to write a response to some of the premises raised in the episode.

As background: I am a women in tech. I am mixed race, white/black. I have founded startup companies and currently am Chief Product Officer at one. So this is my world.

  1. We are not “other”.

The statement “Sameness is really good especially for fast growing startups.” was made and then a discussion about the liability of hiring folks that aren’t the same. This made me go crazy. Sure maybe if diversity meant working with someone straight from another country (maybe) but who the hell do they think we are? Who decided which one personal trait moved the needle to not “having a shared culture”? Skin color? Sex? What your parents do? Where you live? How you pronounce the word “bag”. Really I don’t get it. Who gets to decide who is other, what the otherness data points are and that any one point would affect anything when it comes to being an amazing team?

Working with “us” does not take more effort or slow the team down or make things uncomfortable because we aren’t f***ing aliens we are your peers.

We grew up watching the same tv as you, in the same carpeted living room, we love Nirvana, we have the same embarrassing adolescence stories, we went to college, we studied our craft, we interned, we got a dog, we had some kids, are parents drive us crazy, we love pizza, we love The Office.

We didn’t walk out of some jungle yesterday with customs you just can’t understand, with methods of working that my god will take years to understand. I have to call bullshit on this. You don’t get to say this.

The premise of this argument is almost more troublesome than the numbers. This is the reason? Who do you think we are? What do you think is the gigantic difference between working with a white man verses say me a mixed race woman? Having just heard this line of thinking today I’m angry, completely blindsided and horrified. This argument for lack of diversity is one the most racist things I’ve heard in awhile. I suggest anyone who has ever had this line of thinking just take a moment to realize how ridiculous this is. You can’t measure otherness, so you can’t use it as an excuse for your poor hiring practices. Unless the only data points that matter to you are white and male. Which I know is not the case.

2. Creating a company built of diverse teams is a gamble <<< This is crap.

Of all the things that would make a tech company under perform, including the speed in which they work, having a diverse team is probably nowhere near the top of the list. Poor leadership, bad technology choices, poor market fit, lack of design experts in leadership roles, market timing, too many or the wrong features, capital flow, runway, the economy, do I need to go on? And furthermore if Silicon Valley is so concerned with performance and success then why do they continue to perpetuate a system that generates so much failure. Talk about wasted energy, time and money. A system that produces so much failure in it’s current non-diverse form has no right to predict the ability of a company to succeed or fail based on prioritizing diversity in it’s teams.

Ok. That’s all I got for now.

I will end with saying, Bravo! for even talking about these difficult issues. If things are going to change we have to keep talking. So please, noone feel that when you don’t get it quite right that you should stop trying. Keep trying and we will keep honing the ideas in and sharing perspectives that should ultimately lead to better understanding of what to do.

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