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QCon Plus: Summary of the Inclusion & Diversity in Tech Track

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The QCon Plus conference is running over three weeks in November, 2020. On the first day of the conference Anjuan Simmons hosted the Inclusion & Diversity in Tech track with three talks that explored this topic with a view to advancing the conversation and providing the audience with concrete tools, difficult questions, and inviting them to deep self exploration.

The first talk was by Chanita Simms, founder of Titled DEI Is Rooted in Justice. Let's Stop Making It about Profit, she challenged the audience to put deliberate practice into thinking about and addressing diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their lives, until it becomes an everyday thing, such as breathing.

She started by explaining Diversity, Equity and Inclusion using the metaphor of a party. Diversity is about everyone being invited to the party, Equity is ensuring that everyone who is invited has transportation to the party, regardless of where they are coming from, and Inclusion is requesting your favorite song at the DJ booth, having it played and dancing in the exact way that you want to.

She challenged the need for a business case for DEI initiatives. There is definitely concrete evidence and a strong business benefit to more diverse teams and organisations but that is not why diversity, equity and inclusion matter - it’s not about profit, it is about justice. She pointed out that making a business case for DEI was asking people to negotiate for their own humanity, something that is inherently inhumane. The worthiness of a human being is not up for negotiation.

She gave the audience actionable tips on how they can foster inclusion where they are:

  • Be transparent, admit to your own shortcomings, publish your DEI data
  • Be an ally, act with and for others in pursuit in ending oppression and creating equality
  • Use inclusive language - some commonly used words and phrases can and do make people uncomfortable
  • Amplify the marginalised voices - speak up for people who may not otherwise be heard
  • Lean into the discomfort - challenge yourself not to ignore things just because it is uncomfortable
  • Self educate - do your homework, take the initiative to research and learn about these topics
  • Diversify your networks - seek out people who are not like you
  • Accept critical feedback, acknowledge that we all make mistakes and that you are on a learning journey
  • Listen and pay attention to the experiences and stories of people who are not like you

She closed by encouraging the audience to "do the work, make the changes and be better".

The second talk in the track was by Aubrey Blanche of Culture Amp, titled From Program to Process, Designing for Equity in the Workplace, exploring the harm caused because the right voices are not in the room when products are designed and built, and offering advice on how to design more equitable organisations to design more equitable products.

She made the point that equity in design needs equity in the organisation as a whole, and that there are fundamental changes organisations need to make in the approach they take to equity in the workplace, shifting the conversation and actions around equity:

  • From statements of intent to accountability for outcomes
  • From programs to structural redesign
  • From a focus on companies to a focus on teams

She then introduced the fundamental principles of equitable design:

  • Consent - people must feel comfortable in doing the DEI work, and not feel pressured or coerced in any way
  • Marginality - design for the stress case, for the extreme example of a situation, because by doing so you design for "we" instead of creating "us-vs-them" groupings
  • Community - draw on the community, rather than relying on the individual hero
  • Progression - this is not one-and-done, use feedback, learning incremental improvements and iterations to move towards better outcomes

The key question she says to use in guiding the design of processes, programs and products is does this help create equal power and opportunity? Use this to guide the work you do and the choices you make.

She asked the audience to deeply reflect and know themselves, to have the courage to examine their own history, biases, previous actions and inaction and explore why they have these behaviours. Without knowing yourself you will not be able to overcome the blockers you have in place.

Question everything and ask why we can’t choose differently. Overcome the inertia of previous decisions and accept the challenge of doing things differently in the future. She made the point that these are not new skills - they are the application of skills you already have with a different focus.

When defining the outcomes you want to achieve, she says to not use the generic term diversity, but rather be explicit about what you want to achieve; it is anti-racism, gender equity, access and disability. Move from inclusion to belonging - where people genuinely feel they belong as part of the community, rather than just being included in the group. Create a process of equity rather than focusing on the outcome of diversity - ensuring you have equitable processes the outcome is representation.

She then introduced a new playbook for process design using an example of how the assessment process can be redesigned to be truly equitable and inclusive. Such design needs to have clearly stated outcomes, be structured to achieve the outcomes, be constantly audited to ensure it is meeting the intended outcomes and have feedback loops built in so the process can evolve in response to the lived experiences of the people who go through it.

She provided advice for designing meetings and one-on-one conversations to be more effective, and ended by asking the audience to make it real - you are the one who can make changes and bring in the new ways of working.

The third talk on the track was by Mary-Frances Winters, titled Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit.

She started by defining black fatigue as:

  • Repeated variations of stress caused by centuries of racism
  • Resulting in extreme exhaustion
  • Causing physical, mental and spiritual maladies passed down from generation to generation

She explained how the cycle of unmitigated systemic racism has a compounding impact that repeats and increases over generations.

She showed how diversity is fundamentally a meaningless term which has become a euphemism for identifying specific differences we are looking for when (for instance) hiring. If we want a person of color or a woman in the role then say so, don’t talk about diverse hire.

She then explored the many dimensions and aspects that make us different and similar to each other, the things often grouped under the blanket term diversity.

She then explained importance of true inclusion - enabling people to bring their uniqueness to add to the overall cultural complexity of an organisation rather than expecting them to become like everyone else through assimilation. She discussed equality and equity and showed how equity is the goal we should be working towards.

She made the connection from diversity to equity using this diagram:

Diversity, inclusion, and equity


She then examined America’s history of racism and discussed how it has been entrenched in the society. She provided evidence of the systemic impacts this has had on black people in America, citing differences in areas including median household income, home ownership, unemployment, maternal mortality rates, and even the disproportionate effects of COVID-19.

Black Americans receive 36% fewer callbacks than equally qualified white applicants, and are paid an average of 28% less than white employees with the same positions. Black men are 2.5x more likely to be killed by police, are more likely to be stopped by police, arrested, charged and serve longer prison sentences, and are 6x more likely than white men to be imprisoned. Schools are more segregated today than in 1954, and black children are significantly more likely to be disciplined, suspended and expelled than white children.

In the corporate world the figures for black leadership have remained basically the same since 1984.

She explained how systemic racism translates to emotionally taxing impacts on black people in all aspects of their lives. In the workplace this results in the need to be on guard, fear of being accosted, feeling forced to assimilate, uncertainty around job security, pressure to apologise, code switching and not being able to relax.

She said that racism is inherent in the society and that there is a culture of white supremacy - the dominant, unquestioned standards of behavior embodied by most institutions in the United States. There is a racial hierarchy in the society.

Racial equity will be achieved when race can no longer be used to predict outcomes. Currently this is far from the case.

Racial justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all races and the proactive reinforcement of deliberate systems, policies, practices, attitudes and actions that produce equity.

She explained the levels of racism which have become entrenched in the society and how it has been reinforced over hundreds of years. She then examined where some of the drivers come from and how the monocultural or intercultural mindset impacts thinking about racism:

Exploring DEI mindsets

The majority of people are in the Minimization aspect of the mindset.

She encouraged the audience to think about things they can do to explicitly start addressing racism and provided advice.

Addressing the system requires a radical reintorientation of our consciousness. This starts with self reflection; the need to recognize and understand who I am in relation to the system of racism in order to disrupt and dismantle it.

We need to recognise that our uniqueness is our identity, and that certain aspects of our identity may afford us more privilege and advantage than other parts of our identity. We then need to explore how these aspects of identity play out, what cultural scripts have we adopted regarding these aspects of identity.

Then we need to examine the aspects of our identity that afford power, and in these places identify where we can be allies.

She introduced the 4-E(™) Approach cultural competence:

  • Exposure - Increased contact with difference
  • Experience - Creating transformative experiences to build relationships and shared meaning
  • Education - Developing new skills, knowledge and ways of thinking
  • Empathy - Practice understanding others from their perspective

She then explored what it means to truly be an ally and how that needs to be about genuine justice, not self-interest or altruism.

She provided advice for people experiencing racism using the acronym AFFIRM:

  • A - Allow yourself time to grieve and process
  • F - Find your community and lean in to your village
  • F - Focus on your sphere of influence
  • I - Identify self and communal care practices that work for you
  • R - Reject oppressive norms and systems that compromise your sense of self
  • M - Meditate and practice mindfulness

She ended with advice for people aspiring to be allies and anti-racist DARE:

  • Decentre yourself and listen
  • Act in the face of inequity and exclusion
  • Reflect on your whiteness and other identities values, assumptions and power
  • Educate yourself

The track ended with a panel discussion on dealing with the DEI backlash.

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