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Creating a More Equal Workplace

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Women are leaving the tech industry because they are unhappy, don’t feel valued or lack access to opportunities. We need to create environments that retain and grow employees, regardless of what they look like on the outside, argued Kate Heddleston. She provided a process that organizations can use if they want to create equal access opportunities in her QCon London talk.

Kate Heddleston spoke about the state of inequality in tech industry and how to improve workplace inequality at QCon London 2017. InfoQ is covering the conference with Q&As, summaries and articles.

A lack of diversity is a symptom, not the problem, said Heddleston. She made an analogy with coal mine workers who used canaries to check air quality. Heddleston stated that the tech industry isn’t working enough to solve the underlying problems; they are watching the canary die and bringing in more canaries.

Women who are working in the tech industry were mostly convinced by a brother, father, or male friend, said Heddleston. Very few started their career there because women asked them to join. Her impression is that women who are working in the tech industry may not feel comfortable enough to recommend it to other women.

People leave jobs when they don’t feel valued or when they lack access to opportunities, said Heddleston. She asked women why they were leaving the tech industry. Most said that it was because they were unhappy. They also felt that they couldn’t talk about that problem in their exit interview.

We can be too scared to look at ourselves to see how we are doing when it comes to diversity. You are what you measure, and if you are not measuring anything on diversity, then it says you don’t really care about it, argued Heddleston.

It can be exhausting trying to solve all problems due to workplace inequality, said Heddleston. People get a burnout trying to do this.

Heddleston provided a process that people can apply in their organization if they want to create equal access opportunities. The process consists of asking three questions:

  • What are the things that everyone on your team should have equal access to?
  • What are all the advantages or disadvantages people have that prevent equal access?
  • How can you measure and reduce points of unequal access?

She suggested to ask these three questions in organizations, using brainstorms as safe spaces where everyone can participate equally and come up with ideas to address workplace inequality.

Empathy helps you to do a deep dive and understand how people are feeling. Listening helps you to understand the problem. You have to start from the assumption that it really is a problem because people experience it, said Heddleston.

Heddleston suggested to use analytical thinking to solve problems. Engineers can improve their engineering culture and make it more inclusive by using analytical and problem solving skills that they already have. It helps if you are analytically compassionate about solving the problem.

You have to be repeatable and transparent when addressing the problems, said Heddleston. People need to know what’s going on and if problems will be solved or not. Such an approach also fosters collaboration.

Heddleston concluded her talk by stating that we are making good progress, but we still have a way to go to make the tech industry more inclusive.

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Community comments

  • Re: Nice feminist propaganda

    by Charlie Wilson,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I guess you are trolling but I’m going to bite anyway.

    Finding good software engineers is hard, and there are far few of them for the number of jobs we have. Excluding people on the basis that they don’t have a y chromes is bad business practice at best.

    Also there have been multiple studies that tell us that more diverse teams out perform less diverse ones.

    I struggle to see why you (or any rational human being) would have a problem with saying lets create a work environment where everyone can get on on the basis of merit and regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. Likewise I would like to see us promote environments that are more autism friendly (we have a lot off that in the industry) and for other neurological differences.

    When I’m hiring programmers I look for people who can, you know, code, and aren’t ar**holes. I really don't worry about if they have boobs or not. As it turns out though 6 of the 10 best programmers I’ve hired have been female despite only making up < 20% of the applicants we get.

    The relative scarcity of woman in the IT field can be traced to the mid 80s - the 8 bit home computer era - and is probably because we started marketing computers as boys toys around then. Most of the pioneers in our industry were female. It has nothing to do with ability or interest and everything to do with attitudes like the one you are expressing here which seem to be pervasive in toxic SV start-ups like Uber. And in the case of Uber, at least, it seems likely to cost them the entire company at this point, which sort of makes my point. Bad for business you see.

    I can understand why a mediocre programmer with an attitude problem might feel threatened by all this, but in all seriousness if you are any good you really do have nothing to fear. There is more than enough work to go round.

  • Re: Nice feminist propaganda

    by Charles Humble,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Hi Bill Bo,

    Thanks for your comment. Would you be kind enough to edit your profile and put in your real name?

    Although we haven’t published any restriction from using aliases, the intent for InfoQ discussions is to maintain a level of professionalism, in which using real names is an important factor.


    Charles Humble

  • Re: Nice feminist propaganda

    by Charlie Wilson,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    "And what companies do that ? I've never saw that."
    I never saw that presumably. And lots (most IT) companies do.
    It might not be a policy, on the basis that it is illegal, but if you have a work environment that is fundamentally hostile to woman, gays or whatever than, surprise, surprise, you'll have less of them over time. In Uber most of the woman left and it wasn't because they weren't good programmers. It was because it was a rubbish place to work.
    I know you won't but maybe spend 3 minutes watching this. And do some research. Ignorance of the facts makes it much less satisfying to have a conversation. There are plenty of reasons why promoting diversity in the workplace is hard, and plenty of studies that show if you get it wrong it's bad for everyone.

    "Women being less than 50% of a company and of an industry doesn't imply misogyny."
    This is a straw-man argument, and terribly weak. Nobody is advocating a target like 50% woman, regardless of ability. Literally everyone I know who is working to tackle this issue is doing so with no target in mind other than filling the programmer roles they have with decent candidates.

    "Our current industry (or more accurately the industry of 10 or 20 years ago) doesn't care about all that. Most of it only care about results."
    Actually that's still the same. But the point is you get better results with a more diverse workforce. We know this. It's measurable.

    It's not a 80s thing
    Yes it is.

    "Nope, it shows a business that struggles makes harsh conditions of work make tough workforce, hence men."
    Nope. It's what happens when your boss is a complete bell-end and creates an entirely toxic work-place. You're not Travis are you?

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