This week opened my eyes to a lot of things. This is one part confessional and one part call to action.
Note: this is not comprehensive or authoritative. I have biases. Always use multiple sources, and please tell me if I've made any mistakes here.
It would be hard this week to be unaware of the systemic racism in our country and that among all marginalized groups, Black Americans have a particularly rough go of it. (I'm taking a US-centric perspective here, sorry!)
I'll be honest. I haven't always felt this issue deeply and I have never experienced it personally. I'm a white guy from rural Ohio. My school growing up was the furthest thing from diverse you can imagine. I always knew what was right (equality) and wrong (racism) but it did not feel like it was around me, like it was an issue that affected me or that I could affect.
This week opened my eyes to the pain and suffering so many people go through on a daily basis, whose peoples have gone through this pain and suffering for hundreds of years. I listened to Black coworkers stand up and courageously speak about what they go through, what they fear, and graciously educate me and my coworkers when that is not their job, when they should not have to educate us. They should not have to do that, but they did it, and it takes so much strength to do that when you're already exhausted from everything going on.
I learned quite a lot this week, and I won't type all of it here. I will share some of what I've learned, some personal shortcomings, and what I'm going to do better in the future as well as what you (a person in tech) can do to help. I'm focusing on a work setting here.
Venture capital is systemically racist. I knew this in the academic sense, but I hadn't thought about what a large impact this has on the work environment for every marginalized person. If you don't have leaders who look like you, your work experience is going to be far different and far worse. And if you consistently give millions of dollars disproportionately to white founders? This leads to incredibly low diversity among leadership teams as a whole. Going forward, for any job I take, diversity of the leadership team will be one of the primary criteria for accepting or declining an offer. I will vote with my feet, and I encourage you to do the same.
Unconscious bias is a big problem in hiring. This is another thing we probably all academically know but don't really put into practice. None of us believe (I think) that we're racist or have biases — if you think you have a bias while you're hiring, you counteract it as best you can. But the fact is that we all have biases. You cannot simply decide not to have them. You need to measure outcomes to determine if there's a bias in your hiring or not. In the past, I just felt I was a good person, so "of course I'm not biased." That doesn't cut it. From now on, I'm speaking up: any engineering team I'm on is going to have diversity as a measured outcome in hiring plans. Diverse teams are the best outcome morally and economically (not only do you land on the right side of history, your team will make better products!), and I want to be on a diverse team. I'm going to make sure that any hiring process I help with measures diversity at all stages of the funnel to identify and eliminate biases in hiring.
You can help by speaking up. Spend your privilege on what matters. If you look like me, you have a lot of privilege. You have to use this by speaking up on issues that matter. You have to challenge people on things like hiring plans, public positions of companies on issues, or even what software you use. I'm pretty consistently a loudmouth at work and will say what's on my mind, but I was hesitant about saying things like "Black Lives Matter!" at work because I thought I'd be branded as political and it might interfere with my career or something. You know what? Screw that. Saying "Black lives matter" is not political — it's compassionate, and it's something that should not be controversial. If you have privilege, stand up and use it to support the just position. It's not easy and it's certainly not comfortable. You might even get reprimanded for it, and sometimes you'll want to be careful about how you approach things. But stand up and throw your weight around if you can, and let's push society toward what's right.
I'm no saint. I've spent too long not speaking up, not pushing hard for what I believe in. That is over. I hope that if you're in a similar position, you'll join me in standing up for what's right and taking small risks for the good of so many people who have been pushed down for so long.
So many of us, me included, have not been standing up until now, until things got to this boiling point. That's not okay. It's on us to keep this going, to keep standing up for what's right instead of letting this fade from our consciousness until the next time there's a news story about an innocent man being murdered by the police.
Have a nice weekend. Talk to you again in two weeks.