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Lending Privilege for Increasing Diversity and Inclusion

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We need a grassroots movement to increase diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. Everyone has privilege; lending it to marginalized groups can make it happen, claimed Anjuan Simmons. If we have a diverse tech industry we will all win, as lending privilege increases value for everyone.

Anjuan Simmons, technical program manager at Questback, spoke about lending privilege at QCon London 2017. He will give a modified version of this talk at Craft 2017. InfoQ is covering both conferences with Q&As, summaries and articles.

Simmons started his talk by stating that it is important to make technology the diverse and inclusive industry that we want it to be. Everyone has privilege and can lend it to marginalized groups in tech to make this happen, he said.

He explained the difference between diversity and inclusion using organizing a party as an example. You can increase diversity by sending invitations to a variety of people; whereas inclusion means that the people you invited feel welcome to your party. Inclusion requires empathy, said Simmons. While diversity is easy to achieve, inclusion takes more work.

There are studies that prove the value that diversity and inclusion bring, but many senior managers in corporations still don’t believe it. As a result, they won’t work towards it; therefore, we need a grassroots movement, argued Simmons.

He gave an example based on one of the first books on open source, The Cathedral and the Bazaar. This book shows how individuals were empowered and given tools to create an operating system from almost nothing. One of the lessons from this book is that given enough people, any problem can be solved, said Simmons. There’s a history of grassroots movements in open source, so let’s harness that movement towards a positive change.

Privilege is about providing access to benefits. It is human nature to share privilege with people who are like us, but it is far more powerful to lend your privilege to those who lack it, argued Simmons. Lending privilege increases value for everyone.

Simmons provided three ways to lend privilege:

  • Credibility lending: lending visibility to those less privileged, for instance by inviting someone to the next board meeting.
  • Access lending: an example is sending someone to a conference where you have access and can provide an entry to share their expertise.
  • Expertise lending: for example by appointing a person to be the lead of your next project.

Lending has to be a philosophy of life. If we have a diverse tech industry we will all win, said Simmons. He stated:

Once you start doing this and get to know people from a different race or gender and find out who they are, you will probably see that they are very similar to you, more so than you expected. You will see that they care about the same things and find ways to help them.

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