Civil, inclusive dialogue for all

Five ideas that promote diversity in tech in a purple America

Maps of the 2016 US presidential election results, by Mark Newman at the University of Michigan. Shown from left to right: 1) a typical US map colored according to the electoral college at the state level, 2) a map showing shades of red and blue at the county level, and finally 3) a cartogram incorporating color shading and states drawn proportional to the number of their inhabitants. It’s hard to find ways that different perspectives are not helpful and important.


The week after Trump’s presidential election has been, to put it mildly, rough. With so much uncertainty, white nationalist violence, and hateful rhetoric over the past 18 months, people — myself included — are understandably fearful and worried about harassment and basic human rights in Trump’s America.

This election should have been about actively supporting and advancing the rights and welfare of women, minorities, and LGBTQ-folk, not just keeping the status quo. Instead, we risk the status quo falling back in time.

For transparency, I am a gay, white, former-vegetarian, only-bikes-to-work millennial UX designer in San Francisco. Zero agenda, promise. I voted for Bernie in the primaries and then Hillary (duh) in the general election.

I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be Muslim, a woman, a trans person, or a member of any other minority group in America right now.

Looking for ways to engage and participate, I attended a panel on diversity in tech. The five panelists shared a lot of amazing ideas to bring back to the workplace. While we cannot change bigger problems with segregation in our communities, voting districts, and schools, we can immediately foster diversity and inclusion at work with our coworkers and future hires, which is something desperately needed given our election results.

If I were the artist of this map, I would title this “Melting pot realness”

Change in tone

So where were we? Oh, right… the nasty election results. The day after the election, I heard a lot of my progressive and liberal friends all around the country threaten to grab their passports and just go. People were shocked, sad, and angry.

Two days after the election, however, the tone changed.

The election results woke people up. People from all parts of my life and team at work started talking about doing the hard work that needs to be done.

  • A coworker called up the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to offer her technical skills to audit and update their website
  • Another coworker launched a free Chrome extension just two days after the election to help combat people sharing fake or biased news on Facebook
Shown above, this simple browser icon allows you to check the news bias of a publication, according to Media Bias/Fact Check — by Jeffrey Carl Faden.
  • Many friends donated money to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Sierra Club; another friend suggested people plan to donate any future tax savings from Trump’s tax breaks (I’ll believe them when we see them) to worthy causes
  • A longtime family-friend and her daughter are booking tickets to the ‘Women’s March on Washington’ to peacefully protest Trump’s ‘incendiary remarks about women and minorities’ on January 21, 2017 in DC
  • A friend in DC started pitching human rights, women’s organizations, and Democrats to launch a podcast to keep voters and constituents engaged, despite knowing her efforts will likely not win over the working class
  • Another friend in Oakland decided to leave his private sector job to work in environmental policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
  • Inspired by Hill-dog and Bernie, multiple friends have pledged to get involved in local politics

Truly an inspiring sense of fight instead of flight.

Shown here: marching on Market Street in San Francisco on 11/9/16 to show that love trumps hate. My previous march down Market was for the Orlando shootings back in June 2016.

We realized how complacent we have grown in recent times. We took things for granted, especially with the Obamas in the White House. In our blue-feed bubbles, we completely forgot about the struggling Rust Belt.

It pains me how friends in minority communities have been trying to warn us this whole time. But even the Black Lives Matter movement did not motivate us to step up and take action.

African American women have been respectfully pointing out to non-blacks in groups like Pantsuit Nation on Facebook that whites are “just now getting it.” While the sobbing white communities were in disbelief the day after the election, the African American communities expressed much less shock and devastation.

Emphasizing this sentiment further, Kali Holloway, a journalist at AlterNet, posted on November 13, 2016 that “the only people who were surprised by white people voting for white supremacy is other white people. Muslims, black folks and other people of color have been petrified of this outcome for a long time now, because we know how white power will do anything to preserve itself.”

Even if Hillary had won the swing states, the election would still have been a narrow escape, with roughly half the voters still pulling for Trump. Had Hillary won, we would have felt victorious, as if the underlying, systemic problems of our divided republic suddenly vanished for the next four years.

With Trump as the president elect, it is my hope and belief that we are waking up. We are (and have been) required to actively support and advance the rights and welfare of our fellow people, not just those within our blue-feed bubbles. Keeping the status quo isn’t enough.

The bad news and some good (ish) news

(But at least not fake news…)

The bad news: Our communities, voting districts, school systems, and housing policy are segregated.

The good (ish) news: Despite what my elderly conservative uncle in Seattle thinks (again, ugh), a lot of us have jobs that we go to everyday. And we see people at these jobs. And occasionally, we even hire new people to join our teams. And it got me thinking…

I encourage you and me and everyone to focus on fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Shown here: Panelists at General Assembly’s diversity in tech event on 11/14/16 fielding questions from the audience.

Next steps to take back to work

Cutscene to the panel I attended last night at General Assembly about diversity in tech. The five panelists were super generous to share their thoughts on the election results, diversity, and the role tech companies and individuals have in engaging, listening to, and understanding each other.

Here are five key takeaways:

Homogeneity is the devil. It’s dull, too. Teams work better when teammates bring different perspectives to the table. It’s that simple.

So let’s get to the source: hiring.

To hire more diverse people for our teams, we need to consider writing job descriptions that are more inclusive. At the panel event, women and minorities expressed frustration that many job descriptions only use masculine pronouns and have phrasing geared only towards men, which deter women from applying to a job in the first place.

Pro tip for hiring, part one: if you are white and are responsible for writing a job description, hire (and compensate) your mom or a friend who belongs to a minority group to review and edit your job posts. He or she might catch phrasing or language that hurts your team’s chances to attract a wider range of applicants.

Without well written job descriptions, it is hard to hire diverse candidates. Reviewing your job post with your mom or a friend, for example, helps transform your thought process over time; by writing more inclusive job posts, you will not constrain yourself to expect homogeneous applicants while conveying your team’s inclusive culture to prospective candidates.

Pro tip for hiring, part two: When interviewing someone new to the team, give the candidate the chance to speak with anyone on the team of his or her choosing. This provides women and minorities the opportunity to connect with folks of their choosing to ‘scope things out’ so that he or she feels more confident about joining the team.

Pro tip: Create an executive sponsorship program and make available to women and minorities. According to Entrepreneur, executive sponsorship programs are an “intentional sponsorship where existing leaders are paired with a diverse employee of the company with leadership potential, and takes co-ownership over their career development.”

This idea was coined by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist and professor at Columbia, in her 2013 book “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor.” With sponsors, women and men are more likely to ask for high-profile assignments, pay raises, and promotions.

As a member in the audience, it was painfully eye opening to hear folks say they often do not speak up at work in fear of risking their job.

The panel agreed how important it is for a company’s leadership to create safe spaces for women and minorities to speak up, since other teammates often speak before or over women and minorities.

The panel also suggested creating a safe space for white folks as well, to encourage non-minority folks to participate. Encouraging minorities does not mean discouraging white folks. On the contrary, the aim should be to make the workplace safer and better for everyone. The panel acknowledged that “diversity as a common language” is hard for everyone. Both sides need to come together to learn and support one another to make any difference.

Pro tip: When creating safe spaces in the workplace, make sure all people on the team know that diversity is hard, but worth it and safe to express out loud to the team. For a team to truly be inclusive, everyone needs the chance to participate, speak up, and be open to learning and growing in a safe space.

If sharing these ideas at your workplace is not possible or is not your style, I totally get it. Maybe you freelance or work remotely. Maybe you are introverted and just love when extroverts like me push my pushy agenda on you :). Fear not, there are other ways to help.

Pro tip: Check out organizations like Taproot Plus, a national foundation that connects nonprofits in need of tech, design, and communication volunteers, to help design and build websites. After interviewing nonprofits and finding a match, you can volunteer as little as 5 hours per week. You can make a huge difference while simultaneously sharing and honing your tech, design, and communication skills. Or like my coworker, consider reaching out to organizations that matter like the ACLU to directly donate your time, resources, and skills.

The panel moderator, Josh Silverman, closed the event with ten fundamentals about fostering diversity, which was also relevant to the topic of diversity in tech.

Closing thoughts

Thanks to Trump’s 100 day plan, I am embarrassed to admit I learned about “sanctuary cities:” a city that protects illegal immigrants from federal or state prosecution, either by expressly prohibiting or never requiring legal inquiries about immigration status. There are more than 300 sanctuary cities threatened by possible federal funding cuts under Trump, which could have tragic consequences. And this got me thinking, too…

In the spirit of sanctuary cities, I urge folks to treat their jobs like a sanctuary workplace, fostering a safe and kind workplace environment where people of all backgrounds can belong, learn, and thrive together.

Diversity in tech needs less buzzwords and more action. Buzzwords without the right intention fall flat, which lead to fruitless corporate meetings producing yet more buzzwords.

Everyone has some preconceived notions about race, gender, and identification; admitting it and committing yourself to inclusiveness is the first step. Results often are not immediate when tackling this big of a problem. But learning from these constructive tips from the diversity panel is something actionable that you can start to incorporate now.

We are not working towards the next election; we are working towards a better, more integrated future for a very purple America. The benefit of a more trusting society is hard to quantify, but not hard to feel. In the meantime, we cannot desegregate our cities and schools immediately or sort out our voting districts until 2020, but we can make a difference today in our workplaces with our teammates and future hires.

And finally, thanks for doin’ you

Lastly, a huge thanks to the amazing panelists last night at General Assembly for sharing their stories and perspective on diversity in tech. I learned so much from all of you. We have more clarity and hope thanks to these awesome folks:

We have so much work to do. If you have other thoughts or ideas, please share!

Product designer focused on UX/UI and user research (he/him)

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