A book club for developers.
BookBytes is a fortnightly (or biweekly) book club for developers. Each episode the hosts discuss part of a book they've been reading. And they also chat with authors about their books. The books are about development, design, ethics, history, and soft skills. Sometimes there are tangents (also known as footnotes).
(Intro music: Electro Swing)
Hello, and welcome to BookBytes! This show is a book club for developers where we come together and talk about a book we’ve all been reading and discuss it with one another. This week we’re discussing “Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech” by Sara Wachter-Boettcher. I’m Adam Garrett-Harris.
I’m Jen Luker.
I’m Safia Abdalla.
I’m Jason Staten.
So, last time we talked about… We kinda split this book up in a different way than normal. We’re trying something new where we’re doing it by topic instead of by chapter. So last time we talked about the tech, like the websites, apps, and just other technology and how they’re insensitive, or non inclusive, or destructive, or harmful to a lot of people, and this week we’re talking about the companies and the people that make this tech, and how we got here, why things are the way they are, why this tech isn’t considering all the use cases for all its users, and why there isn’t more diversity within these companies.
(laughs) “Money.” Yeah. So what do you mean?
A lot of these companies and what they’re trying to set out to do have nothing to do with wanting to specifically be exclusive or to avoid catering to diverse groups, it has more to do with how they view edge cases and their financial gains based on these things. The more that you stay interacting with their products the more they make on everything from advertising to selling your information. So, when it comes down to it, it really, really does come down to money.
I’m gonna push back on that a little bit, Jen, and say that I don’t think it’s about money as much as it is about entrenched racism and sexism in society at large, and just the eurocentric patriarchy that we have to account for that dictates a lot of the way that things are run. And I say this because there’s a lot of research that’s been done that proves that when you have more inclusive and diverse teams, you earn more profits. That when you have diverse board of directors, diverse leadership, you make more money as a business. You get more customers, you can reach out to more people. So, if this was, you know, this like purely capitalist, every owner’s just out to get the money and that’s all it was, then there would be more people who were underrepresented and marginalized in the tech industry because it is the rational thing to do from a financial perspective for your business; But, the reality is that a lot of it is centered on the fact that tech emerged as a new industry but followed existing power structures and those existing power structures were ones that tended to favor men, specifically White men and then just kind of structured everybody else as below that. And that’s kind of the way that I see it.
And I do absolutely, absolutely, agree with you on that. I think the very glossed over point that I very definitely did not make was that the racist and sexist and, you know, just the… Those perspectives are so underlying and so ingrained in our culture that it’s not that they’re trying to be that way, so much as it just doesn’t occur. And you’re right that the research shows that more diversity breeds and creates more money, but the thought doesn’t occur. It’s kind of contrary to what the culture itself has been taught is true.
So, it’s… I really like the part where the research showed that based on the fact that we are using historical data to develop data models, because of the fact that the historical data itself was racist and sexist, it’s actually continuing the perception of racism and sexism into the future. So, all of its predictions are based on the past which were more racist and sexist than we are intending the future to be, and I think that, again, that comes down to the fact that the culture is still in the process of change, and it may still be at the very beginning of change.
And all the data that we have is, you know, like… The movements are only decades old, it’s not like they’re centuries old. So, the data that we have is already sexist.
So, I agree.
And I think in addition to, you know, the data and the technical aspects of the products that are built, I think it also is, a little, a lot law about management and where… I can only speak from my perspective as a person of color, where people of color tend to end up being in companies.
So, I won’t name any names, but a few of the companies that were mentioned in the book are places that I know hire people of color, or claim they hire people of color and will like, flaunt those statistics; But, the problematic aspect is those people of color are not set up to succeed in those organizations. And I think this is best highlighted in the story that was presented in chapter 2. A brief summary of it: A woman, I’m not sure if she was a woman of color, is trying to make a case for a product decision and she’s consistently ignored and put down a little bit by her White male colleagues and you know, the product ends up flopping. But, you know the root cause of it was that she was there, she just wasn’t supported.
And so, I think, it’s… Not just having people at the table, it’s making sure that when they speak they’re heard and accounted for. And I’m very salty about this because I’m one of those people who, I’m a person of color, I’m a woman of color, I do get a seat at the table and I’m thankful for that, but oftentimes I come to sit at the table and I realize that I’m not welcome there and that I’m actually the token at the table.
Yeah, there’s definitely a huge difference between diversity and inclusivity.
Yeah, and I think that’s where a lot of the conversation needs to focus on is not just having diverse companies, but have companies that empower diverse individuals to make product decisions that reach the end user. Yeah, I think… I could go on all day about this because this is like, my life story here basically.
And that makes me angry!
That’s what we’re here for.
Yeah, and yeah. Go ahead, Jason.
I was just saying, that’s definitely why I am glad to have you, Safia, and you, Jen, on the show to get your perspective. Even the last couple of minutes are an enlightening conversation to listen to.
And I would agree that a lot of the problems that we deal with can stem from a, almost a cultural blindness or a blindness of the individuals of not necessarily thinking about reaching out to someone who is different than them, because oftentimes the people that we associate are just like us in that, you know, they’re White, they’re male, they’re straight, and so when you are thinking of maybe people to hire in for job, like, those are often immediately the person that you think of. And I would say, easy, which is another reason why it just kind of perpetuates the problem of rather than stretching yourself in terms of your own personal network and your company at large to get a more diverse company set up. Instead, it’s taking in who you know and saying, “Well, you know, we got a position filled and they can do it, so that’s all we need.” When in fact, that’s a very lazy approach, I would say.
I’m curious to know for you folks who’ve been working in the industry at, I think, a variety of positions, have you worked at an organization that had some sort of bias training or workshops come in? Or has that not happened?
We’ve had bias training, but the bias training that we have is “Please click through this like, slideshow for 30 seconds and answer this super simple common sense question at the end and then you’re all done and happy.”
Yeah, right? It’s like, no. It’s not enough. I mean, the sexual harassment training is the exact same. Disappointing that they think that you can just like, read 2 sentences on the slide and read 6 lines and then answer questions and think that you’re suddenly enlightened.
Yeah. How about you, Jason and Adam?
I don’t think I’ve had training on this subject, and as far as any other trainings being biased, I probably just am not aware of that happening. And I hope after reading this book, I'm a lot more aware of this happening, and a lot more sensitive to it because it just, it feels like… I’ve never thought about it that much, it doesn’t feel like it affects me that much, but this book has just really opened my eyes and made me think about this a lot more and how valuable it is to have diverse companies and teams.
It’s been actually a recent change in Domo’s strategy actually, to strive to improve diversity within the company. As every company states, there’s a long ways to go, but they are taking a couple of good steps. Firstly they brought on, actually, a director to help assisting in getting that training initiated, so I, myself, have not actually participated in one just yet, but the program is underway and they do have somebody on that. And another thing that Domo is actually leading on is an effort that can be found at parity.org, and the idea behind Parity.org is companies can go and pledge that before they hire for any position, VP or above, that, much like what’s known as “The Rudy Rule” in the NFL where a diverse coach, or a diverse person needs to be interviewed for a head coach position, for the companies that take the parity.org pledge, they will commit to, any position VP or above, to interview at least one woman. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to hire based on some hard metric, but they will interview with that and then starting with women and branching out to greater sets of diversity, as well. I think it is a good step. I think there’s still a ways to go, but I know at least now they did a push towards a lot of NASDAQ companies and there are at least 300 companies that are signed onto that now.
That’s interesting, of like, the people on this podcast who have careers in tech, one has had just kind of like, lackluster bias training. Adam, I think you didn’t have any provided by your company, and then Jason, that’s soon to happen. Okay. See, I asked that just because I think it’s one of those weird things. It’s sort of a chicken and egg problem, at least for me personally. I find that in order for companies to be very proactive about inclusion at their organizations they need to have somebody who is some sort of marginalized individual in a leadership position who can advocate for those things and push them, but usually for that person to get there they have to overcome a lot of the biases and microaggressions that happen daily in the office so then they can change the environment that they rose up in.
But even once they’re there it seems like it would be hard for them to advocate, because if they speak up then they’re seen as abrasive or something.
Yeah. My favorite word, aggressive.
Annoying, oh boy. That’s a fun one.
Like, I worked at a company where, well actually my entire career, I have never worked with another female developer. I’ve worked, I mean, my current company has 60 developers in 2 countries and I’m the only-
You said 60?
That is 6-0? Across 2 countries, okay.
And I am the only female dev. And I finally made it to team lead and was able to start really advocating a little bit more for this, and it wasn’t very long before people started kind of freaking out. Like, they’d ask questions every once in a while about, “Hey, so what do you think about this? Is this weird? Is this awkward? Like, why is this a problem?” and try to have real genuine, intellectual, ‘I want to learn and be better’ type questions, but whenever I started really answering those questions in a way that started to get uncomfortable, everyone was just like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. We’re all done now.”
And that was kind of that. So, 60 developers and I’m the only female.
So, Jen, I’m curious. Is this the first organization that you’ve worked at where you were the only female developer? Have you worked at other companies where you weren’t? Like, what’s been your career experience with that? Being the only female developer.
Yeah, I’ve had multiple jobs and I’ve always been the only woman. Yeah, this is the largest company that I’ve been at. I’ve been at a couple of different other ones, but yeah, I’ve always only ever been the only woman developer. There’s lots of other woman in the industry, or in the companies. There’s even women in leadership, but I’ve never worked with another developer that was a woman. And you know, with that matter, the racial diversity is also ridiculously lacking. I mean, even across 2 countries, everyone’s White male. There’s a couple that are Hispanic, but that’s it.
Yeah. I haven’t had the experience where I was the only woman, but I have had the experience of being the only woman of color at an organization. I think that’s accurate to say.
So, Adam. You had mentioned that when people get into a role that allows them to be an influencer, I actually thought of a, kind of a specific, instance. There’s a transgender woman named Coraline Ada Ehmke who is a big influencer in the Ruby space, and she worked at GitHub for a year and she wrote a long blog post about her experience there of really liking what they had promised initially, and was a strong advocate for some of GitHub’s privacy and security features of like, the ‘first time contributor’ badge that you see on a pull request was a big, big thing that she contributed to
And she had some eventual issues where it was kind of the most passive way of bringing up problems where a manager gives you a poor review. And that’s something that I feel like I hear a lot of in stories, is oftentimes somebody will have a bad experience and they may not even know that there’s a problem until they kind of get a backhanded review that’s like, “You’re not necessarily meeting expectations” and it can kind of crumble from there. And that’s not something personally that I’ve had to go through, and it, at the same time, seems like a common pattern to me is to push somebody out that’s different than the rest of the company through a kind of formal means in some way to say like, “No, we’re not doing anything wrong.” It just… Kind of being, behind the scenes, sexist or racist or so forth.
Yeah, I think that’s a great point to bring up, Jason, and for those of you who are long time listeners to the podcast, you might know that I recently came out of a job search process and Coraline’s experience was actually one of the big motivators for me prioritizing asking about the review process when I was talking with companies. So, some of the questions that I would ask is, you know, what kind of metrics or dimensions do you assess in your performance reviews? How often do you do performance reviews? How do performance reviews correlate with bonuses or raises? How do performance reviews correlate with positions changes or like, you know, rank raises. There might have been a couple of other questions that I asked, but, you know, it was actually something that hadn’t even come to mind for me until Coraline’s experiences and other underrepresented and marginalized individuals started to come out about the review process and how it can be a formal way of discriminating or ostracizing individuals. And I was like, “Oh! I should, you know, try and use that as a way to vet companies and see how much time and thought they put into their review process and how it can potentially be gained to do more harm than good.”
Yeah, I think that’s great to know, to be aware of those, that you can ask those types of questions, because as a White male, you would never need to ask those questions, and so it’s sad that you have to use those kind of strategies, but it’s great to hear that there are strategies that you can use. Like, I was thinking about one of the stories in this book is about how the HR process was so terrible And so, like, maybe that’s another questions you would ask is what does the HR do about violations?
Mm-hmm (affirmative), I had not thought to ask of that, but for those of you who are listening, now you know. Ask about reviews, ask about HR processes, and I think that’s a good thing. I think oftentimes when I see like, blog posts or stuff written for developers they’re like, “What kind of things should you ask about your job when you’re interviewing the company?” It’s generally things like what’s remote work like? Or, you know, what laptop do you give? Or what technology do you use? Or hours and stuff, but I think the more developers start to ask companies, at the interview process, about their reviews, HR, how people are managed in the organization, the more companies will start seeing that as a priority and something they should improve on if they want to attract and retain hires.
Yeah, so that’s one of the problems the book talks about is that they blame the pipeline that there’s not enough diverse people coming through schools or boot camps or whatever, and then they actually have like a leaky bucket problem where even the few hires they do get they’re not able to retain.
You know, there was an additional point to that that I’ve seen recently where a lot of times the analytics themselves are biased. So, for instance, if you use like, “How many women are in technology?” Or, “How do you market these things to women?” You look at the statistics of people that are interacting with your product. So, like, Stack Overflow for instance has like a 92% men use it versus an 8%ish like, women use it, right? So, if you’re looking at that then you’d think that approximately 92% of programmers are men, and that’s not necessarily true. There’s a lot of additional factors that go into why women don’t contribute to websites such as Stack Overflow. You take that into account and then you also take into account that if you do not provide your gender that there are algorithms to try to identify what your gender is based on the sites that you go to and the activities that you partake in. So, if you’re really into sports or you look up a lot of developer websites then they may think that you’re a man, whether you’re not or you are is irrelevant. They just classify you as such. As a woman who interacts with a lot of things that would be technically classified as male dominated, they would not classify me as female and therefore in statistics I would come up as part of that male analytic, even though that’s inaccurate. So, making assumptions based on data makes, you know, gets more and more inaccurate over time.
Yeah, it’s starting off with biased assumptions, right?
It’s kind of like what you were talking about earlier where you have biased data when it comes to things like machine learning, you have to have some sort of data set and if that’s biased it’s just a vicious cycle that keeps getting reinforced.
Right, so you take that and you also look at the fact that there’s now new products that are out on the market that try to say that they’re unbiased. So, they’re trying to use generic information based on like, a profile that you’re providing to try to find better people that would match your demographic or your profile in order to improve your hiring and your attrition statistics. So, if you insert someone who’s like, “Take my best developer and I want them to also have like, better soft skills.” The software itself, based on all of this data that we’ve had before, is now looking at this person saying, “Okay, well they were in a fraternity, and they went to a high end school, and they also did these other things. So, let’s look for people like that.” These people are going to rank better for you than someone who maybe went to a state school and you know, weren’t quite as involved in as much extracurricular activities. So, you end up with breed- you know, like works with like, and you just end up with more people that are like yourself, and you really miss out on a lot of the diversity that is available and out there and would be even better than the job than yet another person that’s just like you. And so, when we’re looking at this data, and when we’re working with this data, we have to be asking those questions, and those are questions that we necessarily haven’t been trained specifically to ask. Like,what are the biases that our data is, in fact, built with? And how are we going to work with that data in order to counteract that? So, it may be unbiased in the fact that it’s doing exactly like you told it to, “Find someone like my developer but with better soft skills.” But it doesn’t do a very good job of finding diverse hires. So, you end up, again, with just the same people and wondering what the pipeline- And that was the argument against the pipeline, that’s where I was going with this. Is that when you’re looking at that, you’re saying there’s a pipeline problem, there’s only 8% of women that use Stack Overflow, which based on whether you’ve provided your gender or not and they’re just demographic profiling you based on the websites you go to, it may be more like 25% or it may be 50% for all we know, but because of the fact that the data is biased, it says 92% versus less.
Yeah. I think there’s another dimension to the pipeline problem, and I think it’s the fact that oftentimes underrepresented and especially so marginalized individuals are expected to achieve higher standards, or be better, in order to even get the chance for an interview, or a preliminary review or something like that. I don’t know if we’re calling out companies in this podcast, but this is-
Well, the book does.
Yeah, but do we?
I’ll… They're a big company and I think this was like, public commentary on it, but there’s like little search engine company called Google, and a while back they started this program with Howard University, which is a historically Black College, and the program was sort of like an extension school/summer program. The idea was they would have Google engineers come teach classes at Howard, and then some Howard students would come in and, I think it was like quasi-internships at Google, I really don’t want to mess up the facts on any of this, but my initial reaction when I read the information about it was this feeling that the kids at the historically Black College, HBCU, had to do more to get a foot in the door at Google, than somebody from MIT who could slap their resume into one of Google’s application pages and like, check all the boxes on their automated filters. And like, I get it. I get that, as marginalized individuals, sometimes you need extra support and help to get to a point where you know you can get into the door, but I don’t know, sometimes for me personally it feels like that thing where people are trying to support you and, you know, give you resources, the tone of it can sometimes mean, “You’re not good enough, so we need to give you these things to be better.” Not, “There is a system that oppresses you. That is not your fault. So, we’re going to attempt to improve the situation by giving you these resources.” And sometimes the blame can be put on the marginalized individuals themselves to adhere to the standards of the pipeline, not on like, the whole system that disadvantages certain individuals. And maybe that’s just a tone that I’m reading in some of like, the programs and things that I get emails about, but sometimes it feels a little bit like, “You gotta do more, you gotta be better.” Not, “We failed you.”
That’s one of the exact reasons why I’ve always been angry about the, you know, the… Suddenly I’ve lost my words. So, there was a program that became like, federally standardized that had to do with making sure that you had like, certain types of racial and gender quotas in order to fill, before you could start hiring like… Or start adding White males to your schools, and I was always really angry about those because I always felt like they had to make special accommodations to allow women in, when they’d much rather be just having men in. And I always dreamt of that ideal of it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter.
You’re going to hire me because my skills are good, and that’s why you’re hiring me, because I’m smart and because I work hard. And I’ve always really felt like I’ve had to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.
And it just- It still makes me angry that it’s almost required that we have these things just to tell people to treat people with some modicum of respect and to actually look at their skills.
Yes, I think that’s a great way to phrase it. And I’m gonna cover my-- Excuse my language a little bit on this. I’m not, you know, speaking out against the individuals who participated in Google’s program, or the Google engineers who helped put it out or any of that. This is not targeted at individuals, it’s just, you know, an example that sticks out to me about how sometimes I perceive the tone in these things.
I think the way that you perceive it is perfectly valid because no one can tell you how you feel is wrong, you know what I mean? Like, that makes perfect sense. And Jen, when you’re talking about having to work twice as hard, I was gonna mention that. Like, not only is it harder to get the job or get your resume looked at, but even once you have the job you feel like you have to work twice as hard, like you said.
And I feel like I could do nothing for a week and my employer would be like, super happy with me.
Yeah, no. Absolutely not. It’s even difficult to ask questions sometimes. You get to the point where if you ask a question it’s not just that, “Oh, she doesn’t know that thing, she needs more training.” It’s, “Oh, god. She must be stupid and doesn’t know anything.” It’s like, everything that I’ve done up until then can get just completed discounted because I didn’t know something, that my facts were wrong once I’m completely unreliable for who knows how long.
It can be really, really hard to, you know, admit that I’m wrong or to admit that I don’t know something, and since we’re CYAing all over the place here…
The company that I, you know, where I’m the only developer in 60, they’ve only interviewed 3 women, and by interviewing I mean they brought in specifically, kinda sorta skipping most of the interview process to bring in the only 3 women that have ever applied.
In the 6 years that I’ve been there. So, for me I feel like they’re looking at this saying there’s a pipeline problem because there’s only been 3 women to apply. However, if you look at like, the company profile and you look at how the job posting is worded, I can tell you exactly why women aren’t applying, you know? Let alone people of color in general. I can tell you why. But that’s also something that’s really difficult to overcome when those job postings aren’t just the realm of me, or my boss, or even my boss’ boss, or my boss’ boss’ boss, and it goes way high up in the heirarchy of “Sorry, but we’re dictating this and this is just how it’s going to be.” And it really, really sucks because the place that I work is really fantastic. They’ve been really welcoming, they’re great with training me, and supporting me, and promoting me, and you know, I’ve never felt like the fact that I’m a women, let along the only women amongst that many develoeprs has ever been a hindrance. And it’s really sad that there’s this great place, and they have openings, that has a really hard time hiring women. So, I mean there’s even good companies out there that are available and willing, they just can’t get applicants.
Yeah, and you highlihgted this really interesting point about kind of like, the sped up interview process to get women through the door.
And this reminds me of a situation that really upset me, and this happened about 2 years ago. I was attending, we’re just CYAing all over the place. I was attending this conference for female developers. You know which one it is ‘cause there’s only one.
And you know, at this conference it’s all entirely for women in computing, and there was a ton of young women there who are attending universities, majoring or minoring in computer science, and a lot of companies with booths who want to hire. And I remember I was, you know, just like going around talking to young women who were my age who were at universities, majority of them private colleges like your MITs, and your Stanfords, and your Northwesterns, like, you know, they’re not… They’re talented and smart individuals. And these companies were just not being… How do I phrase it? Like, the questions they would interview them with were way below their level, it was almost patronizing was the interview process for a lot of these organizations, and that really upset me, because it was the kind of thing where it was like… I can only relay this secondhand, but a lot of the girls that I talked to felt like the questions were patronizing and that the companies were trying to give them easy questions to get them in through the door and say that they hired X number university women for internships from this conference process. And this is like, I guess another aspect of the whole like, “You need to be better-”
“In order to sit with us.” Is the like, “Oh, we gotta like lower the bar for you. Or give you this really easy interview because that’s all you can handle.” And I’m like-
And I hate that!
These are computer science majors from really good schools! Not saying that’s what you have to be to get a job in the industry, but these are smart individuals! You can challenge them and they can succeed! You don’t have to patronize and demean their intelligence because you want to say you hired women. Aaah! So frustrating. I’ve been (laughs)-
I’ve been keeping that story for such a long time and I think that this probably still happens at this conference. It’s just… Like this… They don’t care. It’s a game to them. It’s a game of numbers.
You know, and I actually had a story that was similar. Similar type of hiring status, similar type of, you know, bring women in and have them all interview with these various companies, and this one woman walked out and she’s like, “I didn’t get anyone to call me. I didn’t get anyone to- No one would take my resume and the ones that did just kind of stuck it in the pile with all the rest.” And as I’m walking out of this conference, there were all of these other women that were talking and giggling and saying, yeah they got offers from these, and they got offers from those people, and they have interviews set up for all of these other ones, and the only difference was she was a woman of color.
That’s the story- Is that the story from the book? Or is that something different?
It might be a story from the book, actually. Now that I think of it.
Yeah, yeah, I believe that’s in there. It’s a-
But it made me even more angry that… Ugh, again it’s like, why does this have to matter? Why does my reproductive organs and the color of my skin have to matter? What does this have to do with my ability to do the job, or my ability to provide beneficial, accurate feedback on product development.
Yeah. Yeah, why can’t they just respect people and take them seriously?
Yeah, and I think-
Oh, go ahead Jason.
(laughs) Poor Jason’s been trying to talk for a while.
Jen and I are really passionate about this.
And I love it. I… Keep at it because I feel like it is more important for me to listen than constantly just keep talking because, you need to be heard. Just thinking about the having to work harder to feel as if you need to work harder, or having to deal with softballs getting pitched at you in an interview just to make the interviewees feel good, It makes me think of a story about a man named Daniel Kish, who is sometimes known as Batman, where he can use sonar to ride a bicycle because he’s been blind since he was an infant. And there’s a podcast episode on “This American Life” about him where one of the biggest challenges that he and many other people who are blind face is that people’s expectations of them are lower than that of somebody who’s sighted. Like, the fact that he’s able to ride a bicycle being questioned by people when in fact, I mean, he’s well equipped other than having immediate vision, but he has a fully functioning body that can do thing. And what can often happen is people who are disadvantaged for, whether it be gender, sex, or disability, or anything else, is that the expectations of people around them can even set them up, or people can fulfill those expectations, and instead do worse or think to themselves, “I’m not cut out for this field”, because people have expectations that they’re not going to be, maybe an amazing developer, or a successful developer. You know, if they’re constantly getting, just given low bars to achieve over, like, that’s all that they can strive for. So, I think even in one way, like people may feel like they have good intentions, and that they’re trying to get somebody in that is diverse, at the same time, by lowering that bar, it’s actually a hindrance to that person. So, I love that you both brought that up, so thank you for sharing.
Yeah, and I think-
Speaking of lowering the bar, I have a cousin whose wife is deaf and because of the fact that she was deaf there were major concerns with everyone in the hospital when she had her baby that she was going to be an incompetent mother. She’s a college graduate, she knows sign language, she can even speak. She was nervous about being able to hear her baby and she was kind of afraid to go home because she was afraid about being alone with her baby and not hearing her baby cry, but the hospital staff themselves were all like, terrified to send this baby home with this women who’s intelligent and capable and competent, because she was deaf. And my mother is deaf and the concern was also there. My mom had 6 children and you know, the question was always, you know, is she going to be okay taking care of this child? Is she even capable? It’s ridiculous. And might I also add to this story, speaking of companies and diversity and product development that I was able to find one baby monitor that would vibrate more and more intensely based on the volume of the baby crying.
So, if it was a whimper it would not vibrate very hard and it would show a light that would only go so high, and then as the baby’s crying got more and more intense, the vibrating on the baby monitor got more and more intense, and it was a wrist watch essentially, it was just a wrist monitor.
So, she could go to sleep, safely knowing that when her baby started crying this baby monitor would vibrate and wake her up. I found one.
I’m so surprised that those don’t exist more often. Wow.
And, it was being discontinued.
That’s the worst. I wanna… This might steer away from the lowering the bar conversation, and I think there’s like, an interesting contradiction to it, which is sometimes the bar can be raised a lot to an obscene amount when you’re an underrepresented or marginalized individual. And I’m thinking about this specifically in the context of a recent event that occurred as we’re recording this podcast with Theranos, which is a startup company that ended up being a huge hoax, and you know, was basically a waste of investor money and there was a lot of deception and stuff associated with it. And some of the commentary that I’ve been seeing in the community of Black women who are also in the startup world, whether as founders or as investors, is the fact that sometimes the bar can be raised to a very high extent if you’re an underrepresented individual, that people won’t invest in you. And I think that maybe it is lowering the bar/raising it, but people won’t invest in you or, you know, task you with managing that big project, or hire you because they believe that you can’t do it, and because they believe they can’t do it they end up more rigorously questioning you, you know, they want to know everything about your company’s financials. They want to know every flaw in your product or your team, and just this incessant grilling on your business, which is fair. Like, companies can do their due diligence, but that same level of rigor and examination isn’t often afforded to organizations or opportunities that are given to individuals who, in the case of Theranos, are White women or individuals who are White men. That sometimes you do have to respond to like, severe inquiry and doubt before you can get in somewhere, which I guess is kind of the reverse of lowering the bar. So it’s weird because, you know, sometimes… And I had this with my interview process recently, like, I’ll go into a company and I won’t know if they’re the kind of place that thinks I’m not worth it and is going to grill me really hard, or thinks that I must suck so they gotta make it easy for me. And those are like, 2 different approaches, or 2 different experiences that I’ve had which is it’s either lowered or raised. Which is confusing because you can never tell what you’re getting into.
Yeah, and it can be hard to know.
Yeah! You can never know what you’re getting into.
Well it can be hard to know if they’re doing that to you because you’re a woman of color or if they do that to everybody, because I’ve had some really, really easy interviews.
Yeah, that’s a good point. Yes.
I don’t know why. And then I’ve had other ones that were like, grueling, and I thought I did terrible but I got the job.
And so, when you go into an interview they’re probably, hopefully, doing the same kind of interview to every candidate and then judging them based on each other how they did. So, they may be really hard and you think you didn’t do very well, but you did way better than everyone else.
Yeah, and I think context is definitely key in the situation that I mentioned earlier with the conference and the hiring. Like, I think that was very obviously bias in play.
But yeah, that’s a good point. So, anyway, that was something like, I guess relevant news that’s going on that I figured I’d include in the podcast to make it interesting for y’all listening.
So, to go along with that, I also found that even if they do have the exact same interview process, the perception is different between one candidate versus another. So, male candidate who admits they don’t know something are seen as, you know, promising and willing to learn and look up things. But a woman who’s seen as not knowing something is seen as inexperienced and it can be not just, it’s that subconscious bias that also comes into play. So, even if the questions are the same the perception can still be different. And we really, really have to step out of ourselves and be very conscious of our own unconscious bias in order to try to circumvent that process, too. It can be quite difficult.
Yeah, and the other thing is men and women just communicate differently. So, men are less likely to admit they don’t know something. They’d rather go and research it, or guess. And I think like, if you don’t know something it’s better to ask than to just go and guess.
That was one of my favorite bits of insight that we got when interviewing Dave Hoover about “The Apprenticeship Patterns” and what he would change about it. And given his answer being that he was mostly satisfied with the way that it is right now, but he would like to review it from the perspective of someone with a different level of privilege than him. I was talking to you the other day, Jen, about exposing your ignorance and that can be a different pattern for me to take action on than for you to take action on.
That where mine could be perceived as having a level of humility, that you could be received as, “Oh, Jen doesn’t know anything.”
Having a level of ignorance.
So it can- Yeah, it’s very much to… It can be 2 very different animals, you know? It’s just we’re perceived completely differently and like you said, the communication between the 2 can be different, however you could be perceived- You know, if you say something straight at someone it can be seen as being direct, whereas mine is seen as being blunt.
And, you know, even if we have the same communication styles, the expectation is different.
Yeah, yeah. And it does-
You know, their concern is why don’t I smile when I say these things? No one cares if you smile, but I have to smile. I have to be kinder and softer. I can’t raise my voice because then I’m going overboard, you know? Even in leadership there’s a certain level of expectation that I have to be calmer and quieter and more reserved and more willing to let others dictate to me how things should be, and you know, be more of a delegate and more of a democracy type of team; Whereas, if that were a man, for instance, then they’d been seen as wishy-washy and you know, not taking control, you know? So, what’s expected of me is different than what’s expected of you in even a leadership role. So, sometimes some of the feedback I get is very much based on that. It’s like, “Well, you know, you were pretty stern about that…” And sometimes it’s, “Well, you weren’t listening and I had to get stern in order for you to listen to me.” Whereas, watching someone else do that on a similar team, but he’s a man, on his team he’s seen as taking control and leading the charge, and it can be exhausting trying to both be a leader and make my team better, while also fulfilling the perceptions of what other people think I should be.
Yeah, that sounds like so many extra responsibilities that you have to think about.