Friday, October 27, 2017

Who Do You Serve?

So, I stirred a few people up with my last post, and it is worth discussing, I think.

Here's my dilemma:

  • If I want to be fabulously successful, make lots of money, and be aligned with Corporate America, I have to play nice. And playing nice sometimes means saying things I don't believe, doing things I don't like, and ignoring certain elephants that hang out in corners dying to be noticed.
  • If I want to support my chosen community of neurodiverse individuals, I need to be brave and speak up. I need to say things that are unpopular, that ruffle feathers, and that make Corporate America nervous.

Those of you who know me personally, know that I'm actually a really nice person -- I'm supportive, friendly, funny, outgoing, really smart, and would pretty much give you the shirt off my own back if it would help you.

You would also know that I have very little tolerance for bullshit (including my clients'!) and that while I can play the political game of niceness very well, I often don't choose to do so.

But, you might say -- playing nice gets things done. It builds bridges, and and can have better results long term.

Hm. I don't think so.

  • I'm 58 years old, and as a feminist, I am appalled that so little has changed with regards to how women are treated in this country, certainly in business, and particularly in tech. (Ask me about the time I got written up for swearing in a meeting and what I had to say to HR afterwards.) 
  • Before and after living through the AIDs crisis in San Francisco in the 80s, I have been a long-time supporter of our LGBTQ communities, and am appalled that we are still 'not there' with equal (and impervious) rights. My son will face less harassment than previous generations, but that is only here in this little bubble of California. 
  • My friends and colleagues of color are no better off than they were 40 years ago, and in some parts of the country, far worse off. It is appalling how little diversity there actually is in Silicon Valley. Walk downtown Mountain View at lunchtime with me some time, and see what I mean. This is not diversity, no matter what we say.

Friends, it's not that I'm just some loudmouth. It's that I'm tired. I'm tired of playing nice and seeing that nothing changes. I know that people are well-meaning, and I know that others are working this, too, but it's too slow, and we risk moving backwards without forward momentum.

So when we talk about getting Neurodiverse people into good paying jobs -- where they belong -- and I get a bit feisty, know that it's not because I want to be annoying. It's just that this is THE SAME MOVIE again, and that movie is still playing for women, for people of color, and for the LGBTQ communities. That particular movie script has not yielded great results to date for other disenfranchised populations, and I see no reason why it's going to work now.

If you see me at a meeting, or an event, or walking down the street, and if I'm making remarks that make you uncomfortable, know that I'm doing it because I feel I MUST speak out. And in fact, I think MORE of us need to speak out.

This is the ultimate 'See Something, Say Something' moment. Reach out, yes. Build bridges, yes.
But also -- speak up.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Silicon Valley, You Ain't Woke (WAKE THE HELL UP!)

I've been to two Diversity and Inclusion events in the last week, both hosted or at 'large tech firms' here in Silicon Valley, and I have to say I'm depressed. Really. Depressed.

At the event last week, there were well-meaning governmental officials, tech managers, visionaries, and many of them are doing good work. But sadly the companies they represent, the organizations they run, really have no idea how big this issue is, or what the collateral damage is. 

On stage were two people from a governmental agency, along with a contractor I believe, who rolled out a web app to be used by veterans. No one was using it. They asked each other questions. They asked the sponsors (the VA) why it wasn't being used. No one knew, except to say, "Hrm, I guess vets don't use the internet!" 

Not to be deterred, the heroes on stage decided to do the unthinkable -- actually have vets come in and use the system (astonishing! so forward-thinking, so radical!) -- and they discovered that the web app actually did not work. Like, at all. It was broken. 

This was seen as a huge win for inclusion. HUGE win. I wanted to vomit. 

[Side note: For those of you who are not in tech, or have been in tech for less than 20 years, please know that user acceptance and beta testing have been around for DECADES (nearly as long as there has been software) and are part and parcel of any good system roll out. This was not a win. This was crappy planning and misunderstanding an entire community. Humility, not bravado, would be the socially-acceptable response.]

Last night, I was at another event held at a 'Silicon Valley Giant' with a panel of employees who had hidden disabilities about how inclusive their work life was, and how accepted they were. One of my colleagues asked: "How do people with autism get in the door?" And the moderator said, "Oh well, we've trained all our recruiters to ask if the interviewee needs any accommodations." 

So, I'm sitting there, listening to how these folks (all white, all male with the exception of one transgender woman) are able to be 'their authentic selves' at their place of work, and what a gift that was.

I (finally) got the mic and asked:

"Great that you offer accommodations to people interviewing, but what are you doing to train the interviewERS and management on interviewing people who may not make good eye contact, who may have stimming behavior, or may act is some form or fashion in a way that is not understood? What about the people who never make it to a second interview because they are being 'their genuine selves'?"

Yeah, there was a bit of stammering. Agreement that more needed to be done, that management and peers need training... more to do, always more to do.

But gosh, aren't we doing a great job already? Applause. Free food. Aren't we fab.

[No one dared mention that the vision-impaired person noted that the company fell over themselves to get him any assistive tech he needed -- anything, no questions asked. The individual with a mood disorder however, had to have a note from his therapist, which had to be reviewed by two levels of management and fully vetted and discussed before it was finally approved for his accommodations. Um, no shame in mental illness, right? ]
THIS is the echo chamber I want to scream out in. THIS is the mindset that needs to change. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Apple, stop patting yourselves on the damn backs. Get to work. We have people. You need people. Stop throwing up MORE barriers to their employment by your narrow sense of inclusion and diversity. WE HAVE WORK TO DO.