That time you failed to follow up on diversity


In March, we celebrated International Women’s Day. My Twitter feed was full of people talking about diversity, how to be better allies, and how to better support Women in Tech.

For many of us, IWD is complicated. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see so many people talking about sexist BS, naming it, and calling it out. On the other hand, it’s one day out of 365.

It takes on this strange Hallmark card holiday feel where one day a year we’re supposed to remember that 51 percent of the humans on the planet are female.

What about the other 364?

Shame is a powerful yet fleeting motivator

Remember that time you got all excited and fired up about addressing diversity in tech? Remember how you planned to ride in on your horse and save us all? The implication that diversity is a problem with a clear solution that the rest of us just haven’t been clever enough to spot. That is, until you and that horse came along…

I remember when you misspoke at a company-wide event. Your staff complained that you were out of touch. You wrote to me, embarrassed, close to an internal mutiny. You said you were serious, you wanted to make changes, and be a better ally.

If you fail to follow up in favour of more compelling, more pressing, or otherwise more urgent work, you don’t care about diversity.

You told me that you weren’t opposed to more women or minorities in tech. You thought that all seemed swell. You felt the people who had called you out for putting your foot in your mouth were being overly harsh. Very unfair.

You asked for advice about how to support greater diversity in tech.

I grimaced.

Being asked for free labour to educate people who already enjoy incredible privilege is part of the problem. It feels an awful lot like supporting the busted system that created that lack of diversity in the first place.

But fine. I care about this stuff. I bit my tongue. I dusted off my favourite links of things people who are trying to get smarter about diversity should read. I sent them along and offered to connect again if you had questions.

And you, in this moment of eager fix-it-ness, expressed gratitude and said that, of course, you’d follow up.

Except you didn’t. You still haven’t. And you won’t.

Not because you didn’t start with a good intention. Not exactly because you don’t care about diversity. It’s just that life got busy. And your calendar is full. And diversity work is somehow different than regular work.

And this is how the patriarchy wins.

Diversity is not an extracurricular activity

For many startups, diversity efforts are like intramural sports — participation is optional and if you flake, no biggie. And just like that Ultimate Frisbee team you planned to join in college but didn’t, it doesn’t hurt your GPA to opt out of diversity work. At least not in ways that you can see right now.
So let’s talk about those things that you can’t see.

Diversity and inclusion is hard work. It is tiring work. And, too often, it is thankless work.

Let’s talk about this continuing nonsense about the pipeline problem. About how there aren’t enough diverse candidates applying to your roles. Or enough internal folks who qualify for those merit-based promotions.

Let’s talk about Uber. Again? Yes, again. And then let’s enjoy a collective navel gaze at SXSW where we wonder aloud how this keeps happening.

Let’s talk about the biggest elephant in the room. The one where we accept the broken, fucked up system that we ask women and people of colour to endure. And then we extend it. Not through a small handful of misogynistic bros who want to talk about the developer with the fine ass. Rather, by the complacency of people who would otherwise swear up and down about how they are making the world a better place. How they would love to help the cause, roll up their sleeves, and put in the work.

If only they could find the time.

How you use your time is how you prioritize

If you or your organization cannot find the time for diversity work, it’s not important to you. It’s not because you are jazzed about it but super busy.

If you fail to follow up in favour of more compelling, more pressing, or otherwise more urgent work, you don’t care about diversity. And it is only from a place of marked privilege that one can deprioritize the righting of an inequitable system.

If you say you want to help and then fail to follow up, that’s worse than not reaching out in the first place. Don’t feign interest and passion after getting called out, only to lose focus after the dust settles.

If you care, you need to care all the time. Not on Hallmark holidays. Not when you fuck up and someone notices. And not when you hire your first female partner. All. The. Time.

Diversity and inclusion is hard work. It is tiring work. And, too often, it is thankless work. The people who are doing this work day in day out are disproportionately the people harmed by our collective lack of progress.

I’ve written before about my own failings on this front. So has my co-editor. We talk openly and painfully about the times we fell on our faces. We put the words out into the world even though it’s embarrassing.

Waking up to and owning your own privilege doesn’t happen overnight. Fucking up can be a powerful first step in making changes.

But only if you stick with it.

This article was syndicated with permission from The Co-Pour


Melissa Nightingale

Melissa Nightingale is a founder and partner at Raw Signal Group. She is co-editor of The Co-pour and co-author of a book about modern leadership (coming fall 2017). Melissa’s been a startup warrior since the first dotcom boom and has the branded t-shirt collection to prove it. She has held senior leadership roles in marketing, pr, and strategy at several fast paced startups, including Wattpad, Edmodo, and Mozilla. Melissa moved to Toronto after more than a decade of working in senior tech roles in Silicon Valley. She is gradually adjusting to seasons.

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