Back at the end of September (it’s taken me a while to write this up) I did a talk at BarCamp Manchester (one of the best un-conferences around). I plucked up the courage to do a session on diversity, a topic that’s pretty close to my heart as a young, brown, female working in tech, diversity - or there lack of - is something I come across on daily basis.
So, what did I speak about?
Well, one of my favourite things to say at the beginning of a talk is: “Hi, I’m a brown girl”. It’s quite a good way to see how comfortable people are about talking about race and gender. I then go on to say, I was once told I “wasn’t allowed” to call myself brown, because it’s politically incorrect - this was of course by someone who wasn’t brown. I don’t know who’s right in this situation, but I’m quite proud of my heritage and like speaking about my culture, and huge part of that is rooted in my race. Surely, it’s okay to describe myself as brown, in the same way a white person is white or a black person is black - if they’re comfortable with that description, shouldn’t you be?
Despite my rant here,I didn’t want the open discussion to be a session of complaints about how everyone perceives diversity, but more of a chat about what we can be doing to help address, not only the gender gap, but the ethnicity, sexuality, disability and anything else that makes us different from each other, gap. Tech, and more specifically tech startups, is one of the least diverse sectors to be in at the moment. The general consensus is white, middle class, young males. As it stands, anything outside of that, is a minority.
As a group, we spoke about what we can be doing to help address diversity in the workplace. For example, people in positions of privilege, can use that privilege to evoke change at conferences. One of the attendees, refused to go to any conference that doesn’t have any female speakers, but also lets the event organiser know that that’s why he’s not attending. A small, but great way to highlight to people that, that isn’t cool.
One of the most obvious counter arguments to this, is that speakers at a conference should be there because of their merit, not to add diversity to the bill. And, in an ideal world, I’d completely agree. However there are a few reasons why this isn’t the case:
- There are people that can be brought in to speak, who are the same calibre of the bog standard white middle aged men. They might just be harder to find, less well known, or not even in your peripheral to reach out to.
- Event organisers often look for themselves in speakers. The majority of tech conferences are run by young, white, middle class males. It’s easier to reach out to an existing network of friends than to break the mould and try and find new speakers.
- It isn’t a level playing field. Access to opportunities at the moment aren’t equal for everyone and because of that, it is significantly harder for anyone outside of the status quo to reach levels of power and influence. As a result, it’s important that we help push minorities into positions of influence, so that it’s easier for the next generation to see what they can aspire to.
There was a whole plethora of great conversations, that ranged hugely from what to do when people challenge the diversity at a meetup you’re organising, to how to address sexism in the workplace.
What happened next?
Shortly after my talk, I was speaking to Ian Forrester, who at the time was organising a space at MozFest - the Global Village - where “the library” was building an event pathway that focussed on diversity. He asked me if I’d like to run a session.
I, of course, said yes.
For those of you who don’t know, MozFest is freaking awesome. Similar to BarCamp, it’s a chaotic unconference, the difference being the talks and sessions are pre-planned and scheduled in advance, rather than put on a grid on the day. It’s a two day festival, that’s literally full of fun and amazing things. From talks on what the future of the internet looks like, to a chocolate tasting masterclass, there wasn’t much that wasn’t covered at MozFest.
What was I doing there?
I was running a workshop aptly titled: Diversity In The New Economy.
We first of all went through why diversity is important and what it means, and the general consensus was that it’s important for the workplace as a way of adapting the company to society and future proofing a company. Plus, diversity lends itself to better innovation that helps employees reach their full potential through better ideas. Essentially, a company that reflects society can benefit society.
It was an hour session, that set out to build a diversity constitution to empower individuals to address diversity gaps in the workplace. So, here it goes, here were the outcomes. A list of things we can all be doing everyday to help make things a bit more equal:
1. Audit your team
A common recurring theme was the opportunity for managing teams to do audits of their employees. Not of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability or anything like that. But an audit of who has the decision making power - is it always the same people? Check it there are common themes on who gets promoted. Understand where the power lies within your team.
2. Listen to each other’s stories
A great way of helping to improve the diversity of your team, is to listen to each other. No one is the same, no one has had the same experiences and just taking the time to listen to where someone grew up, what they do in their spare time or how they like to hangout can make a huge difference to how they feel.
3. Change what ethnicity means
Ethnicity normally means not white. That isn’t what it should mean. Ethnicity encompasses all ethnicities, of which, white is one. So, we need to change the stigma associated with ethnicity and make it representative of what it should really mean. Let’s be fully inclusive.
4. Support visible role models
Help give children someone they can look up to and relate to in the workplace. Don’t make a point of anyone from a minority of being in a position of power, but equally, it’s important to highlight the fact that there is diversity out there.
5. Check into work culture
When you walk into work, you’re working into your work culture. All prejudice, judgement, negativity should be checked out at the door. If you’re homophobic outside of work, it should stay outside of work. Create a working culture that accepts everyone and rejects no one and make sure all your employees stick to it.
6. Speak out
The only way people will know that they’re making mistakes is if you’re willing to speak out if you’re made to feel uncomfortable. Slurs happen, but let people know that they shouldn’t. The more confident people can feel about speaking out about things that they feel offended by, the more people can learn from each and start to change.
7. Focus on commonalities
Don’t always focus on what makes you different, focus on what makes you the same. Simple as.
8. Make use of communities
There are loads of existing communities out there that offer support for minorities, that can in turn help diversify your workforce. There are loads in Manchester for example (hint hint, check out SheSaysMCR) but there are a tonne more. It’s a great way to voice anything that you might concerned about, in a safe environment.
9. Workplace policies
Invest time in developing a strong company culture. Translate that culture into workplace policies. Everyone in your team should be on the same page, no how the company wants to act and support each other. Having a diverse team is as much top down and grassroots and everyone should be pushing towards it.
10. Have awkward conversations
Don’t be scared to ask questions, have awkward conversations and get your voice heard! Let’s all just have a cup of tea and chat, right?
A really long read, so 100 points if you've made it to the end! If you're want to hear more about the talk, give me a shout!