Diversity & Inclusion In Tech. Who Bears Responsibility?

Diversity & Inclusion In Tech. Who Bears Responsibility?

To preface this discussion, there are no answers within this article. It showcases the different thoughts and opinions I’ve encountered when posing a scenario to people in my life.

The idea for this article was sparked inside a Fast-Food Restaurant outside a Cathedral as all great ideas are. My friend had interviewed a candidate that sought to become an engineering manager at their company.

During the interview they noticed a red flag. When referring to engineers the candidate only used male terminology. This never changed throughout the interview. In the interview panel discussion session afterwards, this was one reason the company decided to reject the candidate.

Upon hearing this I asked my friend, “Did you let the candidate know?” They said no.

Would you let them know?

I explained this scenario and asked the same question “Would you let the candidate know?” to several different people. This included software engineers, people in other disciplines and in management.

Reasons for No

Risk of Negative Reaction. With this topic reactions can range from the passive to the extreme. You don’t know who you're interviewing, and how extreme they may react. Could it lead to harassment or hate? Or will the candidate carry this resentment onwards and harm others who they see as the ones to blame for their rejection?

If They Know, They Can Hide Better. There are cases where, when someone learns the correct thing to say to be seen in a certain way, they will say things, but not believe them and still hold the same biases. Inviting someone like that into an inclusive space can be dangerous. Not informing them makes them easier to spot in future interviews and would the candidate enjoy themselves in an environment where they can’t be themselves?

It Isn’t The Company’s Responsibility To Inform. This is an engineering management position. Shouldn’t the candidate already be aware of something like this? If you are going to be managing over people, not being aware of your biases shows that you haven’t been a part of the discourse and are not ‘checked-in’, which in this case would make you not a good hire for the company.

If there are other candidates that already have a certain level of awareness, why would the company not pick them instead?

Reasons for Yes

The Candidate Deserves To Know. This was the main argument for yes. Even when presented with the arguments above. By telling the candidate, it gives them the ability to realize their behaviour/biases and perhaps change them in the future.

Even if there is a risk of an extreme or negative reaction, there is still the chance that you’ll be able to effect a change in someone. It gives the candidate the choice to do something with that information.

What if it was a Mistake? What if English wasn’t the candidate’s primary language? By default, some languages are gendered and if the candidate is new to English, is it worth being more lenient?

It’s The Company’s Responsibility To Inform. If a company wants to build their community to be a more diverse and inclusive space, they need to let candidates know where they stand. The Company’s stance needs to go beyond their internals. If your employees are worried that giving feedback on inclusivity will mean them and others will not be protected from backlash, why is that?

Why is it not already obvious to candidates the type of company you are trying to build and the type of behaviour that isn’t tolerated? What does your candidate pack say? Does it mention your company culture? Do you have a candidate pack?

So Whose Responsibility is it?

As the investigation went on, I would use arguments from previous conversations to combat viewpoints and strengthen the discussion.

A recurrent theme was the idea of ‘Responsibility’. The discussions grew beyond the scenario and delved into “Whose responsibility is it to create and build awareness?” If someone is unaware of something whose job is it to inform them?

For the next section I am going to abstract the discussion and create 3 ‘responsibility’ groups. The Company, The Majority and The Marginalized, and attempt to argue from the perspective of those groups using the collective viewpoints of those I spoke to.

Should The Company Have To Take Responsibility?

Why is it up to the company to educate candidates on inclusivity? The company would prefer to hire someone who already displays those traits. It is riskier to bring on someone into a management role, who may already harbor biases to certain employees and surely the candidate should already know?

We’ve already prioritized putting The Marginalized in the interview process to do the filtering for us. What more can we do? What harm is there in not doing anything more?

With the amount of talk on social media, diversity training and the current trajectory of the world, to reach a point where the candidate is unaware of what they’re doing, could be a sign that the candidate is not a good fit, since they’re willingly choosing not to build their own awareness.

Should The Majority Have To Take Responsibility?

As controversial as this may sound. Technically, The Majority doesn’t really have to. The privilege of this position is you don’t really have to do anything.

In this scenario, the candidate could easily move onto a different interview process, where members of The Majority are the only ones who interview them and likely won’t be able to see the same biases or red flags. The candidate can carry on as they always have.

You don’t really need to know about the plights of The Marginalized and depending on how you build your circle, you never need to hear about it, and if occasionally it’s ever brought up, you can pass on the responsibility to others without there being any negative effects on you. If you aren’t exposed to any of these things, can you be blamed for not knowing about it?

If there are ever any changes that make things more diverse or inclusive the ‘worst-case scenario’ for The Majority, is equality, which isn’t all that bad, really. Additionally, there are benefits to keeping the power imbalance, because well, you would have power.

Should The Marginalized Have To Take Responsibility?

Why does it have to be The Marginalized every single time? They weren’t responsible for the circumstances of their birth, but now they need to know, learn and research all this additional information as well as constantly struggle just to be considered to be on the same level as The Majority.

Even then, The Majority can overlook and ridicule The Marginalized. By speaking up, it can paint a target on their back to be harassed and to be torn down simply for wanting to be treated the same. Why is it always on The Marginalized to inform The Majority of the same things, over and over and over again? Especially when it is potentially dangerous to do so?

Are The Majority incapable of learning by themselves? Are they incapable of helping? Or are they being wilfully ignorant? Or does The Majority simply not care?

So, Nobody Should Do Anything?

Well, we have spelled out a bit of a conundrum. If it’s possible to argue yourself into not doing anything for Diversity and Inclusion, why is it that people still choose to try? How do they do it?

How Do You Take Responsibility?

People choose to try, because they see an unfairness in the system and make the choice to rectify it. This next section covers some of the different ways people try to take responsibility and take action when raising awareness.

How The Marginalized Could Take Responsibility

Sharing Experiences. One way to effect change is to let it be known that change is needed. There have been many examples of someone sharing an experience that they were unsure of, only to find they weren’t the only one to experience it, and it turned out many others had gone through similar things.

The fear here, is depending on where you share your experience, there could be backlash and not everyone can have the strength to fight against it, at least not alone.

Building a Support Network. It’s easy to feel you’re on your own if you’re the only person, like you, that you know. One positive of the internet is that it’s made it easier to find others who are in your same situation and connect with them. If these communities don’t exist, they can be built.

Having a space where you can share experiences, without fear of reprisal, or meet others who are further along than you is incredibly valuable. Eventually, you may even become the inspiration for others. A voice can become stronger when unified.

Standing Up. If you want change, let people know about it. However, this is one of the more difficult ones to do. As there will be arguments and backlash. Hence why having a support group and a place to share experiences can be so valuable. Standing up can be as small as correcting a friend or being as large as highlighting a massive injustice.

How The Majority Could Take Responsibility

Make the choice to be more aware. Though you can’t live the same experience as The Marginalized, you can choose to take the time to learn about it. Listen to those that are in your life. Learn from those that are in the community. By having an increased understanding of what’s going on with people around you, you may make a better ally and be able to fight with them through their struggles.

Speaking up and Showing Support. It's very easy to say that it’s not your fight, so why bother? But more often than not, by being a member of The Majority, your words may hold more weight to The Majority. Be the person who speaks up with the one other person in the room, who feels like they have to speak up.

Though remember, there is a difference between speaking up with someone, and speaking for someone.

Accept That You Will Make Mistakes. Grow From Them. Some of those who I spoke to, who were a part of The Majority, were worried about trying to help, but doing the wrong thing. Ultimately, deciding that it’s ‘safer’ not to do anything. Or, to pass on the responsibility to others.

If you make a mistake, can’t you use it as an opportunity to grow? You can listen, you can try, you can fail, you can learn, you can try again. If you’re genuinely someone who wants to help, are you really going to give up at the first hurdle?

This is my first time writing an article like this and I can 100% guarantee I’ve written something somewhere that someone could see as incorrect or even offensive. But, how else am I supposed to know without giving it a shot?

How A Company Could Take Responsibility

Build An Environment That Allows For Safe Discussion and Support. Having an environment that allows The Marginalized the ability to speak freely without the fear of reprisal or overtly negative reactions.

This can help foster discussion and allow for previously hidden view points to be displayed. This could help with widening perspective and perhaps alerting those in The Majority of their potential biases, as well as ways they could help.

Do Not Tolerate, Intolerance. Paradoxical, but as mentioned above, there is a reason The Majority would want to keep the status quo the same as it is now. Why rebalance power if you are the one with it?

There needs to be a level of confidence that there will be consequences to a person who acts in an inappropriate or abusive manner. If they can remain and act in the same way, even after being reported, what’s the point?

Show Your Support. Openly. Actions speak louder than words. So, why not do both? There is the common idea that companies want to be more diverse and inclusive, but no-one who checks the box of a ‘diverse-or-inclusive’ person seems to apply. “There aren’t any, so what can we do?”

Do you know why you want your company to be diverse and inclusive? Do you genuinely care beyond simply meeting a quota? Do you help fund programs, or support communities that assist those that are marginalized?

Can you look upon your hiring processes, where you source candidates, your company environment and management structure, your company benefits and the agency of your employees towards these matters and say that your company is an inclusive space? Do you share any of what you do beyond your own spaces?

If you’re able to show your working and the results are the same, that you’re able to show your working is more than most. Perhaps people could offer advice as you could be doing things in the wrong way, as mentioned above.

If you’re actively assisting The Marginalized community, even if your workplace is solely The Majority you wouldn’t need to worry about simply wanting to hire The Marginalized to help tick a societal box. A box that only exists because of the many people who suffered and struggled to get society to that point, likely without your prior help.

So, Would I Let The Candidate Know?

Before touching on that, I want to go over why I asked my friend the question. You see in this space, which is tech. I have the pleasure of being both The Majority and The Marginalized. It’s weird.

In truth, when my friend originally brought up this scenario it was my first time hearing about something like this. I thought back to the few interviews I’ve done in my time, and the even fewer interviews that had a female software engineer present and I honestly couldn’t say if I had ever made a similar mistake or not. For the few times I’ve interviewed anybody, nobody has trained me to look for biases.

So yes, I’d let the candidate know. Because, I personally would want to know if I’d made that mistake.

However, I didn’t consider the many reasons someone would or wouldn’t want to tell the candidate because of my own biases towards this scenario and my unawareness towards my position in tech.

Still, I can’t deny that being informed of this scenario, even passively, has led me to hours of conversation and discussion simply gathering different viewpoints on something that at first seemed like a simple yes or no.

If it hadn’t been for that late night Fast-Food conversation, how long could I have gone without thinking about this. How long have I gone without thinking about something else I don’t currently know about? When will I take responsibility for it? Is anything stopping me?

So, What’s Next For You?

As mentioned at the start, there is no real purpose to this article. Because to get down to brass tacks, I would prefer a more equal society, but I would say that wouldn’t I? Have you seen me? But, what exactly have I done to usher in such a thing?

Nobody I spoke to had extreme viewpoints, because I keep company I enjoy hanging out with. So most of the people who raised these opinions, raised them through the lens of people who have given this topic at least a level of thought. A lot more than I did, apparently.

I guess with Diversity, Inclusion and ultimately Equality, at each step there will be those that try to effect a change in one way and those that try to effect a change in another. Depending where you are on the scales, the responsibility you have can shift.

However, at all levels, you can choose to take responsibility and you can do your part. It's easy to pass on the buck onto others, especially if you’re not affected by it. Yes, not every single battle needs to be fought by you. But, conversely, you don’t have to fight these battles alone.

If a fight shows up, however big or small it may be. And you can fight. And you want to fight. What will you do?

For me? Well, I guess that’s up to me. Just like whatever you choose to do, is up to you.

Thanks for reading.