Once And For All: Tech is Not a Meritocracy, a recent post by Lauren Bacon, is really on the money. A lot goes into the mix that leads to success in industry, and the loose collection of things we call “merit” are only a bit of that mix.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone would believe otherwise. Consider a few of the people you know who are in positions of power and influence. Are they all fireballs of talent? Does each and every one seem to be the best person for the job? Don’t you also know many people whose jobs seem unworthy of their merits?
Lauren’s post focuses on biases – unrealistic views of ourselves, as well as others, that stand in the way of progress for women and others. She points out that we must recognize the existence of unconscious bias as well as overt discrimination.
Ian Muir responded with a question – what can allies be doing to help? Lauren says she intends to write about that, and I’m looking forward to reading what she has to say! In the meanwhile, let me make a few suggestions of my own.
Every day, each of us has the opportunity to do a little something to help others advance in their professions. If you simply make a point of doing one thing each day for someone in a group that is underrepresented in tech, it will add up to a lot over time. Don’t think you have to be a big shot to make a difference. Every bit helps, and little each day helps a whole lot.
Let me start with an example. Do you know of a conference that is coming up, one that is a good showcase for the speakers and a worthwhile networking venue? Do you also know someone – perhaps a woman or an African American who is not [yet] well known- who would be a good presenter? What can you do to help get that person on the platform? Don’t just say, “Hey, so and so, you ought to apply.” That’s not what the good ‘ol boy network does, and we have a lot to learn from the good ‘ol boys. Instead, call the conference organizers, and plug that person. Do what you can to get them motivated to call your colleague and invite her or him to present.
Taking the conference theme a little farther, next time you are thinking about a conference – look over the list of speakers and take note of the level of diversity. If it isn’t what it should be (for example, 25% of the people in tech are women, so 10% female speakers should set off your bullshit* detector. Try suggesting some qualified speakers. If that doesn’t work, make noise about the problem in public – write a blog post, tweet, put the word on the street. Use whatever channels you like, but call them on it, and do it in public.
The next day, do another thing.
Need ideas? Here are a few. I hope you’ll respond not only by doing some of these, but also by posting some suggestions of your own.
More things you can do to help others advance [I’m going to say women here, but of course, this isn’t just for women]:
Encourage your local professional group to showcase women speakers, especially new speakers, and to place women into chapter office and key committee positions
When somebody’s hiring, suggest a women for the job
Ask others to inform you about talented women they know, or know about
Ask women what kind of help they need. If you can’t provide that help yourself, look into your network – perhaps you have a contact who can.
Prepare yourself to call others out when you hear false statements. This might mean emotional preparation, getting ready to disagree with someone in public, or research, such as learning a few relevant statistics, or other facts, that will help to make your point.
Read a good article written by a woman? Share it with others.
Maybe you know someone who has every advantage in the world already. He still needs help. Do you know a woman who can help him? Make the introduction! People appreciate those who help them, and often return the favor.
Don’t let anybody convince you that it isn’t your business to help. Yes, there are people so small and so stupid that they will try to do that. If you encounter such nonsense, just shake the sand out of your shoes and move on.
*[with apologies to dictionary.com]
[bool-shit] noun, verb, interjection Slang: Vulgar.
verb (used with object)
verb (used with object)
1910–15; bull1 (perhaps reinforced by bull3 ) + shit