At this year’s Women in Technology Luncheon at the PASS Summit, the event took on a larger discussion about overall diversity within technology. As a member of the LGBT community, I found it commendable, because inequality and exclusion seem to be prevalent in the tech industry at large. (Note: this is based on my own anecdotal evidence from others, mostly women, that I follow in blogs, Twitter, and Hacker News.)
Overall, the event was a success. We had a great slate of panelists: Gail Shaw, Kevin Kline, Cindy Gross, Rob Farley, and Erin Stellato. There were a lot of good stories shared, and I wanted to pull out some of the quotes (paraphrased) that stuck with me:
“I watch Star Trek and play D&D… I can’t be bothered to fit in!”
“What other people think is irrelevant. Make your own successes.”
“Teams model themselves after their leaders. Oracle is cutthroat due in part to Larry Ellison being cutthroat. Microsoft, on the other hand, is more of a meritocracy due to Bill Gates leadership style.”
“Lead without being the leader. Reach out to your team and others. Build relationships [on diverse teams] by finding common ground.”
“If you see something you think is wrong, you have to stand up and say something about it.”
I ended on Rob’s quote because I think I see something that could be improved in these events going forward. This is a difficult post to write because I consider these people to be friends, and I don’t want to discourage the movement we’ve had on the topic. But to progress further and affect change, we need to review our efforts.
While the event attempted to tackle diversity at large, I felt it cast a different perception. It may be difficult to see since we’re (collectively) trying to do better, and we’re having the conversation at all. But diversity would have been better achieved had the panel had a greater mix of individuals.
For example, I would have expected some persons of color or a member of the LGBT community represented on the panel. But there were none. I make this note in fair confidence, as I know many of the panelists on an individual level. And while the LGBT community has a wonderful, strong ally in Cindy Gross, it isn’t quite the same thing as having an actual representative.
There were some details about the panel event that struck me as odd. It felt that the men on the slate were receiving more questions and taking more time to answer than their female counterparts. Granted, I’m never one to shoot for absolute parity, but it did seem unbalanced especially in the first half of the event.
Another odd chord came when one panelist mentioned issues with religious diversity. The panelist identifies as Christian, which leads all religions in number affiliated both in the US and globally. I would have preferred that any other, non-majority faith would have been given a view point.
I think that future events can be stronger by not only talking about diversity, but actually achieving it through the individuals invited to speak on the matter.
This is a point that has bothered me for years: how do we move beyond talking about diversity and begin working on the issue. Don’t get me wrong: these panels are a great forum for sharing stories and personal advice about overcoming adversity, and it does have its place. But I feel like we’re in a holding pattern, and we never move towards solutions.
And yes, this exact question was asked at this year’s Luncheon, but I felt the answers were less than satisfying.
It isn’t our fault however.
I believe that we need to look beyond our borders to solicit advice for fostering and growing diversity. As it was stated by Kevin Kline (paraphrasing again), “We spend a lot of time solving difficult problems, but little time in trying to understand others.” Just as we traveled to the Summit last week in order to learn from the experts in our community, we should solicit inclusivity experts in order to gain repeatable, teachable lessons in tackling this issue. And given that we’ve shown up to the lunch of our own volition, we’re already primed to make the most gains from this kind of training.
What do you Think?
I love learning from others, whether it’s about SQL Server or simply how another person or culture exists, grows, or reacts to the world around them. It’s why I’m drawn to the grittiness of my neighborhood, and to DC as an international city. I learn more about myself and others because my surrounding world is so diverse.
I’ve been amazed to see how the Women in Technology movement has grown within the SQL Server community. Compared to other tech communities and conferences, it’s (literally) astonishing. But the goal of diversity is too important to settle, and we need to keep growing our community in an open, accessible, and inviting way as possible.
What do you think? Am I off base in my assessment? I’d especially love to hear from anyone that listened or attended the panel.