07 Jul Tech, startups, design and such (pick your imbalanced sector) are and should be for *everyone*
I’m on a bit of a crusade today as I’ve been talking to and getting introduced to a bunch of new and diverse voices in design. I’ve been thinking about industry diversity and ethics a lot, in particular, driven by a couple of recent pieces published by Mike Montiero.
I’m lucky, as my industry – design – is very diverse, yet we still suffer from too many male voices. And I’m abundantly aware that many of the voices I listen to and things I read are white men.
This morning, to expand the voices I could hear in my own reading, I tweeted this:
— Stephen Collins (@trib) July 6, 2017
Wow, did that open some doors! Not just the direct replies, but the tangential conversations with a bunch of new and interesting people in my industry as well as conversations with other people in and around tech and startups.
There were a few (thankfully the number was small) who wanted me to provide evidence of a lack of diverse voices in tech and startups in particular.
Falling back on the “it’s just not popular with women” argument is anachronistic and a narrow view tainted by privilege. That “popularity” is exactly the problem that people who aren’t men see in tech and startups.
For a range of reasons, both valid and invalid (and even terrible), startups in particular and tech more generally can be a difficult and even hostile environment for diverse voices. There are not enough people of color, not enough women and other genders and so on.
Not enough of almost everything.
Those people are put off by what they see (let’s take Uber’s leadership as an especially toxic example), and they either don’t raise their heads above the parapet, or they don’t join organisations that need their voices in the first place.
It’s incumbent on those with privilege – cishet white men like me working in design, startups and tech – to do the work to make our industries welcoming and available to women, people of color, diverse genders and sexualities, diverse age groups, diverse bodies and more. We need to actively hire for diversity. We need to make sure there are a range of voices to be heard and people to be seen on boards, dev teams, design teams, at conferences, and so on.
I think it’s less about (as I heard this morning) “women who would otherwise be inclined to join tech companies or startups have not done so because of their perceptions of how they’ll be treated”, though that’s at least anecdotally very real. It’s more about how more male voices are heard, more male-centric (especially “bro”) behaviors are tolerated in some places, about how more male presence is seen.
All these things act as disincentives through something akin to chilling effect to diversity (by which I mean not only women but gender-diverse, sexuality diverse, body-diverse, ethnically diverse and so on). These people end up in these companies but don’t raise their voices because of what they imagine might happen. It’s a microcosm of society more widely.
It’s only by actively turning the disincentives on their head that we get the chance to act on increasing diversity.
Also published on Medium.