Making Change as an Ally

Making Change as an Ally

Making Change as an Ally

Thanks for being here to listen to my talk! My name’s Joe and I’m an Sr Engineer at Buffer where I work on the Android platform. I’m quite active in the android community and usually talk a lot about technical related topics, but this isn’t a tech talk. In this talk I want to explore Inclusion, advocacy and allyship and what we can do in our community to become better allies and make a difference not just now but in the years to come, whilst also promoting these practices to influence others to do the same.

So, what is an Ally?

And to start things off, seeing as the word is in my talk title I just want to cover what an Ally actually is. Essentially being an ally means boosting and drawing attention to an oppressed group’s own voices.
Now, there is a lot of mention around this allyship coming from more privileged groups, and the reason for this is because of the influence that they may have within their networks. And whilst I don’t agree with how this influence works, unfortunately that is how things are but we can work to change that.
It’s important to note that Allys don’t speak for or over these underrepresented groups, but more amplify the words and actions to boost presence within these networks where these people may not have that voice otherwise
An Ally can be pretty for anything that is under-represented, whether it’s females in tech, PoC, disabilities or so on.
You can also advocate for allyship too, which is essentially what I am doing in this talk - sharing your learnings and encourage others to do the same

Not everyone will want to be involved

not everyone from an under-represented group will want to have these conversations - they might not even want your input or for you to be a part of what they’re doing and how they’re pushing themselves. THat is totally 110% more than OK - and it’s important that you understand that before you get involved with stepping in. So for example, maybe something happens and someone makes a comment which you may feel has bothered someone else - before you jump in and make a scene, check with the person who you feel it was targetted at first. They may want you to say something, they may even give yu advice on how to go about it - but they might not even want to you to be involved. Again that is fine, but just be sure that you check these things before trying to be a part of something.

Privilege

Now I mentioned privilege in the last slide - this is pretty key part of allyship and can also be quite a sensitive word to bring up. But to just give the word a definition for now, this is a person who not necessarily hasn’t worked hard for what they’ve got - but how they’ve been in a position to achieve those things without certain difficulties being in their path.
So I’ve had a pretty normal life. I studied, got my degree, work experience and so on - I’m quite happy with where I am right now. I worked hard (by that I meant I studied) to get where I am - but that was all made pretty easy for me, I did it because I could. I had no obstacles to over come - I guess you could say I am priveleged. I’m a white male, no pyshicaly or mental disablilies which means there was no hurdles in my way - no unconscious bias from society to hold me back or slow me down in any way at all.
Now if I was say, female or of colour, blind - would I be in the same position I am in now? Would I have been given the same oppourtunies, support or mentorship that I have up until this point? Who know, maybe? Now whilst we can never know that answer (as we can’t change how things have happened in my life) we can look at how things are in our community. Think of your work places, your meetups, your conferences and the speakers at those conferences - think of the company photos you see. Taking that all into account, we could be sure to say that maybe things wouldn’t be the same and even if they were (or even if they were close) it would likely have been a lot more difficult for me to reach.

Privilege == a better position to influence

And all of this privilege , like I said before, puts us in a better position to influence others around us. Again, whilst I don’t agree with how society works to have these positions of privilege (it’s around for quite a while) - what we can do is work towards changing that and making these position of privilege in our tech industry a thing of the past.

But why does this matter?

But why does this matter? Why am I here today talking about this? Let’s break things down a little bit.

50/50

To begin with, the world population broken down into percentages of male / female is pretty much equal. It was actually something like 49.87 % for side and 50.13 % for the other, but this is close enough to say it is pretty much equal. I guess given the size of the sample data (being the human population) those point values are actually a lot of people. But regardless, things like the wage gap and hurdles presented in these scenarios do not represent the same equalness presented by these percentages. If this population of male to female humans, then why do we not see more female attendees at conferences? Why are more of the speakers not females? Why have the teams I’ve worked with been mostly male?

In the UK I know that only 16% of Comp science graduates are females. When Is studied I think there was 3 females in all of my comp science lectures. And the issues here do date way back.

And we can take a look at some big companies for example, within tech positions only 23% of apple employees are female, Pinterest is at 29%, and at Buffer we have 35% of engineering positions as female.

12-20%

Now this was a hard statistic to find and I didn’t want to give wrong data, but various reputable sites had different values for the percentage of ‘white’ people that there are worldwide. Obviously this will really different per state - for example in the US it is made up of around 70% white people. But again regardless, these values here are not represented by the percentage of people of colour that I have seen at conferences, both attending or speaking. There are so many conferences that have full white male line-ups, or even full white line-ups of male and female. THis is not a true representative of the people that inhabit this world. SO if we take the US as an example, why are at least 30% of people at this conference not people of colour? Why are the teams I both work with and see who are in the US containing only a small percentage of PoC?

And to related this further to our industry, 83% of tech industry executives are white. With “people at the top” in place, we then have to think about things like unconcious bias and how this then effects the hiring in those executive teams and then the people that come below them - where does that chain end?

15%
(1 billion people)

I also discovered that 15% of the worlds population have at least one disability. I often see a lot of talk about PoC and gender during diversity reports, but I rarely see concern for the hiring and awareness of disabilities within our industry. Now, disabilities do fall into both visible and non-visible disabilities, so you could say a workplace doesn’t have any disabilities just by looking at it - but people within that team may have mental disabilities or even disabilities that may not be instantly obvious, so it’s important to bea this in mind before jumping to conclusions.

If we take visible disabilities into example, then I’ve never worked on a team that has a visibly disabled person on. Now I’ve never worked in a huge company - my current job is around 80 employees. But because I work for a remote team, we have the whole world at our hands so we don’t fall into the issue of “Well, these stats are for the US”. We don’t have any member who is physically disabled, be it deaf, blind, or paraplegic - why not? And i’ve never been to a conference where there are people with these disabilities present - let alone seen someone talk at a conference I’ve attended that has one of these disabilities.

Human AND business issue

And finally, diversity in tech in essential for the things that we build. Different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, struggles and other things that people have gone through in their lives can have such a huge impact and influence on that things that we build.

I’m not going to call out any product names here for the negative, but there are products that have released features with things that could have probably been avoided with the right inputs from people. For example, one such feature was location sharing that was difficult to adjust the settings for - things like this make you question who their team is made up of. And I wasn’t alone in thinking this - there were plenty of twitter threads with the discussion happening, and was clearly something that could have been avoid with a diverse team.

But going onto the more positive impacts, diverse teams can create products that bear all of these things in mind. For example [google maps diverse team example from I/O]. Or maybe you have a blind developer or UX designer in your team which completely changes how accessible your product is, which in turn makes it easier to use for all of your users. Or maybe you have females on your team, who’s input (when listened to) helps to shape your product to be more inclusive and safe for all of your users. The point is you have different viewpoints into what you create, so a diverse / inclusive team is not only a moral or human issue, but it also affects your business.

But how can we change that?

So theres obviously more stats we can look at here, but I just wanted to give a little bit of an insight into some figures to show that there is something up here and i’m not just giving this talk for no reason. But I presume there were already people here who have probably noticed the same things at events, online communities and other points of interactions.

Now part of the reason for these lower numbers within the communities we are involved is because how they are currently represented. If you saw a conference with a full white male line-up, as a female would you want to attend that? Or even you are a PoC and you saw that the previous year of a conference was a full-white line-up, would you submit a talk? If you wanted to join in on a conversation online started by “Hey Guys!”, would you feel like you could join in if you weren’t a “guy”? Or if you were blind and you couldn’t see any other members of a team who were physically disabled, would you apply for a position at that company?

All of these questions tie into each under-reprepresented group, so all are affected by the above issues. And the proble is that we end up in this cycle, because nothing changes and people feel unincluded in these things, so this circle continues on and on. Do we want to be having the same conversation in two years time, 5 years time? DO we want our friends, family or partners to feel isolated from the industry we are in, hell even the people we don’t know and all the potential friends and networks that we could grow.

I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that already (well, I hope I do!). There are a number of things that we can do to push for a change here and help to magnify the voices and work of under-represented groups so that our teams, audiences and community can become more diverse and a true representative of the human population.

Ally is a verb

So we already covered what an ally is, and we’ve touched on advocating for things but the first thing that is important to mention is that all of this is about doing. Being an Ally is an active task, you can talk about it at work, write blog posts about it but if you are actually being involved in actively making a change and doing things like amplifying work or intervening then you are not being an Ally. And as we will uncover soon, there will be mistakes, and moments when you don’t act because maybe you got something or you had a moment of fear - we all make mistakes, but when you proactively improve on that then you will have that chance to Ally.

And with all of this doing, you shouldn’t ever expect any personal benefit from it (other than the benefits of the community that you will gain!). You won’t get a promotion, you won’t put it on your CV - but you will build a better community and you will do better work as part of a more diverse team. SO you do benefit in a sense, but not directly as such.

Language

One thing that can have a massive impact on how you change mindsets is the language which you use whilst communicating or in any form of written word. This is something that for me, was actually quite difficult at first and I know other people who have said the same thing. SOme words are so embedded in the way we speak - maybe it’s our culture, where we live, the words our family use or the things we say around our friends. Regardless of where these words are used or who they’re said too, there is always an inclusive replacement for the things that you are saying.

“Hey guys…”
“Oh man…”
“Dudes…”
“Yea man…”

For example, gender specific words can really damage the inclusivity of a conversations. We throw around the words “guys” as if we expect everyone to feel a part of it. THere are likely some eople in this room who think this might be stupid, I even know female and non-binary people who think that this is stupid - but at the same time I also know a lot of people who feel excluded by this language, left out and like they can’t be a part of the conversation.

Is this conversation just for the males here? Maybe su the once someone may not be so fussed by it, but time and time again the effects of this can build up and these people who feel excluded may never get involved in a conversation. THeir thoughts will never be shared - their great ideas never heard - their recognition never given and their struggles never heard. It can cause isolation and maybe even eventually leaving the company and seeking something that makes them feel included.

And when you do see or hear these words being used, it is completely OK to correct people on this - just make sure that it is done so in a gentle way. Most of the time there won’t be any conflict, you’re not having a go at people. And if there is any conflict that arises all you do is explain your thought process. If you’re unsure about how to handle these things, ask for help! Either from someone for example, a female if it is “guys” related or so on. Or someone else you know who allys, drop me a DM or another member of the community who pushes for change here.

The person actually replied to this tweet and corrected themselves. The reply had a good tone and they even used an emoji so it’s all good.

ANd if this happens within your company, you can always just drop someone a friendly Private Message and say “Hey next time maybe you could say “friends” instead of “guys” - or some other more inclusive word in its place.

And it’s not just the word “guys” or “dudes” that can make for a less inclusive conversation - anything that can influence some form of bias can have an effect. One particular one that stands out to me are medical terms - again, these can often be thrown around. These can not only be hurtful for people who have these disorders - but also create an un-inclusive environment for those who may be at, or in future be at, your company. In solution to this, choose another word! Using medical terminally to describe everyday feelings and actions not only perpetuates stereotypes but it promotes misunderstanding of these medical conditions.

I myself used to use these words on occasion, such as hey this crazy or yea that made me so depressed. But I’ve found myself now pausing and really thinking about what I saw, sometimes these words accidently come out and I will correct myself and apologise. Even if you do need to pause, that’s ok - if you want to explain yourself then do, or just use a word that you feel will be more inclusive for the conversation.

Even if it is a private conversation with no one else involved who may be effected, you both have a habit to build and an example to set. The words you use and the way you express things will definitely brush off onto others.

Unconscious Bias

And this leads us on to unconscious bias. Unconscious bias occurs when people favour others who look like them and/or share their values. For example a person may be drawn to someone with a similar educational background, from the same area, or who is the same colour or ethnicity as them.

A manager who wasn't successful at school may listen to, or be supportive of, an employee who left school without qualifications because, subconsciously, they are reminded of their younger self. The same can be true of a manager who is educated to degree level, favouring employees who have also been to university. This is known as affinity bias, because they feel an affinity with the person as they have similar life experiences.

Another form of unconscious bias is known as the halo effect. This is where a positive trait is transferred onto a person without anything really being known about that person. For example those who dress conservatively are often seen as more capable in an office environment, based purely on their attire.

Now we all probably have these unconscious biases and the thing is that we probably can’t help it - it’s natural and completely unintended. Now whilst this may be true, unconscious bias can have a really bad effect on the decisions we make both in our teams and within our community. But saying that, it can be mitigated.

Be aware
Don’t rush decisions
Backup any decisions with evidence
Expand your network
Eliminate any stereotypes

We can start trying to be more aware of the way we think and detecting if our thoughts may be influenced by unconscious bias - when we can detect these kind of things and know where they are present then it becomes easier to start removing them from the way we think.

Be aware
Don’t rush decisions
Backup any decisions with evidence
Expand your network
Eliminate any stereotypes

And this can be made easier by taking more time on the decisions that you do make, maybe it’s in hiring or maybe it’s in assigning work or selecting speakers, don’t rush these decisions and you can help to reduce or even remove your unconcious bias from the decisions that you make.

Be aware
Don’t rush decisions
Backup any decisions with evidence
Expand your network
Eliminate any stereotypes

And when you do make decisions in this situations, back them up with reasons as to why you’ve made them. Why are you hiring this person and not the other person? Why have you chosen that speaker over another? If you can come up with legitimate reasons then fair play, but if not then take a moment to consider if there may be some bias at play.

Be aware
Don’t rush decisions
Backup any decisions with evidence
Expand your network
Eliminate any stereotypes

We’ll take more about networking later, but having a more diverse network and also have people allying for underrpereented groups can help to reduce or remove bias as your mind will start to remould it’s mental representations based on these surroundings - and again, that’s not overnight but a gradual process is better than no process right? And with this expandion of your network you can hopefully start to remove any sterotypes that you may have in your unconcious bias. Stereotypes around what an engineer looks like, about what a conference speaker looks like or who would be best for that job. Stereotypes block oppourtunies and growth for employees, potential hires and your business - which can all be refrained if removed from the picture.

Amplify

ANother way in which you can be an active ally is by amplifying the work, ideas and actions which are executed by groups who it may be more difficult to get credit or recognition otherwise. Now, don’t get me wrong you should always give recognition to peoples work regardless of who they are, but specifically amplifying those who may not be as easily heard in the environment you’re in can have a huge impact, especially if you’re from a privileged position as your views and words are more likely to be heard in environments where allyship is required.
Now how might you do this? There are many ways in which you can amplify the words and actions here, for example for sake:

Share recognition during public announcements

Say we make a feature announcement, give credit where it’s due. Let your followers know who worked hard on this. Not only does this show that you have recognised this work, but it gives the credit where it’s due. It also publicly acknowledges this act - if we skip to biases of our industry, for example someone may see this feature developed and presume the WHO that has worked on it. Sharing the facts around this could help change peoples perceptions and then at the same time help to grow their network of under-represented groups

Share recognition during public announcements
Share recognition inside of your workplace

The same goes for within your company. Some companies may be super small, others extremely large, but regardless, giving the recognition for this achievements inside of your work place can have the same effect. Whilst it may be obvious to you, people may make assumptions about the WHO when it comes to the development of a feature - giving acknowledgement for actions where due again can change the perception that may be in place.

Share recognition during public announcements
Share recognition inside of your workplace
Share recognition where it’s due

As a final note, giving any recognition where due is incredibly important. Whether it’s during a conference talk, discussions within the community or just a one on one chat with someone. This will have similar effects as above.

All of these points not only give this recognition, but will show others your way of thinking and your motivations. Now, don’t do this for the sake of (or expect) gratitude, but other members of under represented groups may feel better by this, or even reach out to you when needed. If you’re not doing these things, then your intentions aren’t displayed so others will not be able to benefit from your actions. It will also set an example for other people from non-under R groups, hopefully motivating them to do the same.

Amplify voices in meetings
Amplify voices during textual conversations

- We can also apply similar actions when there are meetings going on - for example maybe we’re having a standup, team sync or company wide meeting. WHatever the context it’s important to ensure that everyone has a chance to speak and input their ideas and opinions into the conversation. Now in this case in can be good to keep an eye on who is talking and if there are any spaces being left open for people to input into what is being said. Even when I’ve been in meetings it can sometimes be hard to have my say in a conversation as some people naturally like to lead the way or say a lot - this can make it incredibly harder for everyone, especially those who may not be looked at to be given a chance to speaker usually. One of the things you can do to aid this is to prompt a response, maybe ask if anyone else has anything to say or if a specific person wanted to add something to a conversation. You can also amplify any ideas that are presented be added emphasis on what has been suggested “Going back to what [insert_name] said..”, “I really liked the idea by [insert_name]” - things like this can help people to recognise input where they may not have done before.
- The same can also be done during textual conversations within say Slack, if there is input lacking or not being listened to by others then you can do the same just as you would for an audio based conversation.

Events

ANother topic I want to cover is events. Whether you’re an event organiser or an event attendee, there are plenty of things that we can do to make these events more inclusive for everyone.
To begin with, speakers. If you’re a speaker and you get asked or are submitting to talk at an event, you should be paying close attention to the speaker line-up. Who’s keynoting? What speakers are speaking this year?
It can be hard to know whos’ speaking this year if you’re submitting a talk, so maybe take a look at last years and stick a question in the note section of the CFP.
Why? The speakers of an event will have a huge impact on the influence of attendees - the typical all white-male line-up is more likely to put off underrepresented groups from attending the conference, and we end up missing out on growing these groups - and conference after conference the amount that would be missed out by these people is huge.
If you’re organising an event, CFP should be done completely anonymously. There are things which can be done to do so -

Inclusivity sponsorships

To begin with we can offer inclusivity sponserships - a bunch of conferences I know of are already doing this. Offer free tickets and even a limited number of travel / lodging to under-represented groups or people who may not be able to attend the conference otherwise. Not only can this be a great way of introducing a more inclusive environment to your event, but you also do an awesome human deed!

Inclusivity sponsorships
Code of conducts and diversity efforts

A second point is code of conducts - having a code of conduct in place promotes an inclusive environment. If you don’t have a CoC then you’re essentially advertising that you don’t cater for a safe and inclusive environment. What happens if there is racism at your event? What happens if someone is sexually assualted?

Inclusivity sponsorships
Code of conducts and diversity efforts
Anonymise CFP process

When it comes to the CFP process there are things such as using anonymisation techniques that can be used to remove mentions of names, genders companies and experience so that the decisions you make when it comes to acceptances are completely unbiased. But if it’s anonymous, how can you ensure that the line-up will be diverse?

Inclusivity sponsorships
Improve your networking and reach
Code of conducts and diversity efforts
Anonymise CFP process

Now it’s never guaranteed, but the network that the conference has in the community is crucial here. who’s applying to your conference? Now, we can probably truly never know this BUT if your network consists of a good mix of groups then surely there is more chance of these speakers appearing in your line-up? If you only have white males and white females in your network, are any PoC people going to apply to the conference? Etc. The more the diverse your network is, the more chance you have of the applications being diverse - which in turn effects the attendees also.

Network
It’s easy to point fingers at conferences or people and say hey, where’s the diversity. One of the reasons why maybe conferences don’t have this in place is not having the network to reach all these different kinds of people in the first place. If you don’t have a diverse network to promote or share your conference, events or hiring plans to then how are you going to get a diverse set of applicants or attends.

A common theme we here with selection is favouring one person over the other due to a certain feature, such as being a female or a person of colour. You don’t want to purposefully just pick them because of that - and I’m sure they don’t want to be picked just because of that either. One way in which you can change this is to grow your network! The bigger and more diverse your network is, the group which you are reaching out to is going to be far more diverse.

This then becomes less about targeting specific groups of people or appearing as though you are favouring one over the over, because your reach is going to be more diverse in the first place.

At the end of the day, this is all about meeting new people and building on the friendship and professional networks that you already have.

And there are so many ways you can meet new people. Whether it’s online , at conferences, or volunteering for an organisation that promotes growth in tech from a particular under represented group - there are so many way which you can learn from, be aware of and meet new people.

After all, it is your network which defines

Assigning work

Maybe you’re part of a team and maybe you’re the one who decides who does what, you delegate the work to your team members. Maybe you’re a manager, a team lead or whatever. You’re essentially in a role that involves you assigning work to people.

Distributing work

Now let’s reword that a little bit. You distribute work, or at least you should. It can often be easy to give people tasks based off of what you _think_ might be best for them to work on based on their and the teams abilities. Now, that all may be fair and good but how do you know your unconscious bias isn’t kicking in and you’re not just assigning the high value tasks that get the most recognition to the same old people who are going to get the same recognition that they always do. Next time you’re assigning work, maybe you should consider who it is you’re giving it to.

This links closely with the amplification that we spoke about earlier. Imagine the impact that the decision will have, and not to mention the recognition and the change of perception from others, that will come from an underrepresented group smashing a high priority and high impact task. For example, if you’re a male heavy team and the males are always doing the hard stuff or the stuff that get’s the most recognition - the female colleague on the team is going to just be working on the not so great tasks and never get the recognition that they should, even though they are going to be capable to do so because you hired them for this reason!

Be Open and Listen

Another important thing is being open. Now, maybe you’re already super open to everything around you - but if some of this is a bit of a change for you, or you’re trying to advocate this to someone who may not be so open usually, then this needs to be something that takes time.

If someone is used to doing a lot of talking or being a key input in conversations, that also needs to change. As an Ally, you’re not doing the fighting, you’re not leading a conversation - why? Because it’s not your fight. You have to be open to listening, more than talking.

Being a better listener will help you to better Identify uncomfortable things because you’ll be more focused on what other people are saying and doing, rather than having your say and input in a conversation. This higher level of awareness

Intervene

Whilst we may make mistakes throughout the times we can make rights in some situations. If you're already, or once you get better at detecting moments or situatison where someone may be uncomfotrable or language being used isn't inclusive for exmaple, then you have the oppourtunity to say something. Intervene is a strong word, but most of the time this will be subtle - for example, we could see intervening as jsut lightly pointing out these mistakes by people. Maybe they used the word guys and you want to lightly reminded them that there are females also or non-binary people in this conversations. like i showed earlier in that tweet, I wasn;t publically calling them out specifically, or shaming them or saying WHY Did you say guys what are you doing. I casually corrected them as part of the conversation - and in most cases people will either agree and change their lanugage or just brush it off and ignore you.

Now, there will be other cases where you can do similar things - be it at work maybe for similar cases, maybe work isn't being distrubted as it should, or credit isn't being given where due, or you detect some bias towards a certain group - these should all be pointed out and how you handle it will likely depend on who it is you're talking to. But there will also be other situations which arise which may be a bit more serious and tricky to deal with. i recently read an article about some experiences at wwdc that someone saw... now these can be tricky, as for example you might be completely wrong and embaress yourself or cause some form of conflict with the people you approach. But what if somethng is wrong? What's worse, you being embarresed and making a little scene or at attendee going through some big discomfort with no easy way out of it? it's easy reading from the outside, and there have been situations (not simialr) where i look back and wish that I had said something to someone. These same things not ony happen at conferences, but what about work dos? Concerts? Clubs, bars and so on. But in this specific situation what could you do? If I was really unsure amybe I'd wait for a moment where they were alone and jsut check in, i'd start a dual convo in slack to some females or simialr that I know and ask for opinion, or if I was pretty sure something was up I would intervene.

And like I said, you will make mistakes. And maybe these moments will be mistakes, but maybe also they will be succeses

You will make mistakes!

And like i said at the start of this talk - you will make mistakes! And if you worry about making mistakes, if this experience makes it feel like you’re walking on eggshells or makes you worry about being misunderstood, imagine feeling like that a lot of the time.

You will make mistakes!
But mistakes can help you develop empathy.

This temporary experience can help foster empathy and help you make sense of why these negative reactions might occur.

Create an Inclusive environment

And at the end of the day, whether you work somewhere where this isn’t in the core values and you really have to push to try and make a change, or people judge you for some reason for being “that person”, it’s important to remind people that everyone benefits from these changes.

Everyone benefits from a workplace that fosters an equal share of work and recognition, building a stronger team that works better together and more in place with giving this positive feedback with one another - allowing everyone to not only grow technically, but also grow in areas of people skills and other growth opportunities.
Everyone benefits from being able to spend time with new family when fair and equal parent leave in place - having a new child is something that is a part of both parents lives, if a good amount of leave is enforced then both sides benefit from this\
Everyone benefits from the increased quality in work that has been bought in by the diverse view points from the team. This increased work brings the business more money which maybe allows you to hire more, sponsor conferences, have more retreats etc.

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Joe Birch

July 21, 2018
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