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.