Diversity within us comes out better when there's diversity in our team.
November 3, 2014 2:45 PM   Subscribe

The most recent episode of the Ruby Rogues podcast — #179 Accountability and Diversity with Meagan Waller — is a treasure trove of insights and info about unconscious biases, diversity, employment, culture, tech, and more. The podcast page features a timestamped topic outline of the discussion, as well as many links to the Ruby community websites, projects, studies, conferences, and controversies they discuss…

Some highlights from things covered in the episode:

"A Woman’s Room Online: An immersive experience of the daily harassment women face online, created by Amy Davis Roth (a.k.a. “Surly Amy”) is a room, a small office space — four walls and a ceiling and a floor, a desk and a computer, a phone and a wastebasket and a clock and a plant — covered in real-world, publicly posted messages of misogynist hatred, abuse, and threats, aimed at women on the Internet."

When Women Stopped Coding is a 17 minute Planet Money segment that looks into reasons why in 1984 the number of women in computer science flattened out, and has drastically declined ever since.

The Tech Industry Has Gone 0 Days Without An Incident is one of Meagan Waller's sites, and includes an impressive list of links to people and organizations working on fixing a toxic culture, as well as a list of informative essays, articles, and blog posts about toxicity in the tech industry.

Loyalty and Layoffs is a blog post by David Brady about where to place your faith at work. (previously on MeFi)

Increasing Diversity at Your Conference, by Ashe Dryden, is a comprehensive post culminated from google hangouts and roundtable discussions between several conference organizers. The post starts by looking at what diversity is, then delves into the need for formal policies and diversity statements at conferences, and goes on to cover how to improve many other aspects of the conference experience, from CFPs to afterparties and beyond.
posted by iamkimiam (5 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
The post title was a paraphrase from this comment in the podcast (about 4 minutes in):
JESSICA: There was something at a conference. It was at Distill in San Francisco a few months ago. And one of the lightning talks, a woman got up and she is a theatrical, she’s a psychologist but she particularly works through theater with teams. And she did a great little presentation, the key takeaway of which was when your team is more diverse it’s not just that you get different ideas and new ideas from the members who aren’t like everybody else. It’s that everybody on the team produces more ideas than they would in a homogenous environment.

MEAGAN: Yeah, absolutely.

JESSICA: She said that when a team is a group of people who are a lot alike, then in their actions they emphasize that commonality. And when you add in some people who don’t share those same common things, like the common geek things or aren’t men or aren’t white, then everybody starts bringing out the parts of them that don’t fit in with the crowd the same way, that there’s a diversity within each of us that comes out better when there’s an obvious diversity in our teams.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:49 PM on November 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

Also along these lines, Liz Henry's Unlocking the Invisible Elevator: Accessibility at Tech Conferences (linked to in Ashe Dryden's post) is fantastic, and it offers some concrete ideas that conference organizers can follow up on.

Being explicit and direct about accessibility up front is also a good idea - a conference I went to recently had this just one link away from their front page, and it felt really welcoming: "[Mention that conference venues are wheelchair accessible, mention that travel guides to the conference are forthcoming.] However, we are aware that accessibility issues are diverse and this does not cover everything. If you are interested in [conference], but have any kind of accessibility problem that needs to be resolved before you can attend, please get in contact." It says that the organizers are already thinking about accessibility and are prepared do more if needed; and it gives you a point of contact to go to with those questions, instead of having to hunt around.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 3:13 PM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Planet Money story on why women stopped studying computer science is right on:
computer science professors increasingly assumed that their students had grown up playing with computers at home.
So when Ordóñez got to Johns Hopkins University in the '80s, she figured she would study computer science ... Then she took her first intro class — and found that most of her male classmates were way ahead of her because they'd grown up playing with computers.
This happened to me, and to other women I knew. I stuck with it, but there was little joy in it.

The internal logic of programs and algorithms was always easy for me, but practical problem-solving was incredibly difficult because "everybody knew" where to find out how various weird input/output techniques were accomplished, or vocabulary that I'd have to pick up on the fly. Relating to the other students was difficult anyway, and the lack of a common background -- and attitude -- made it just unpleasant.
posted by amtho at 6:04 PM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah that story rang lots of bells for me too. It is hard to be aware of how much "assumed knowledge" there is once you get into specific technological domains - and how easy it is to alienate and denigrate people who are lacking in that knowledge. I work in a wildly interdisciplinary field, and rarely do I find that it is easy to bridge the gaps between people's divergent knowledge and experiences. Certain disciplines are better at it than others. . .
posted by ianhattwick at 7:22 PM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good stuff.

Randomly, I was doing some work setting up riemann today, and I watched the video introduction: it's worth a view of the first minute or so when Kyle Kingsbury drops some thought-provoking (if, frankly, obvious) comments at the beginning. Made me happier to be using the software, I gotta say.

As a straight, male, white programmer I really hope we are at the beginning of the expansion of the tech field from one dominated by white dudes to one inclusive of and represented by people of all races, ethnicities, genders, and sexualities. There are going to be people in the way, but if we fight together we can change the way things are for the better.

And yeah, re: that "When Women Stopped Coding" link, it's worth remembering that the history of computing is one where women played a major role.
posted by dubitable at 5:47 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

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