What Men (and Everyone, Really) Can Do To Support Gender Equity in Tech

Syndicated

I recently received this thoughtful question about the role of male allies in solving the gender imbalance in the tech industry:

As a guy in the tech industry, I honestly don’t know how to fix most of the issues… I do want to help, but like many other guys I don’t know the best way to do it. I recognize and accept that there are biases and barriers in our industry, but I don’t on know what can be done.

bridging knowledge
Bridging knowledge to health by Paul Bica via Flickr

This is quite a common question, and I’ve attended several conference panels on the subject – though I confess that after a bit of googling, I’m not finding much on the subject in writing. (Anyone have links they’d like to share?) Of course, it’s not only a question of what men can do, but rather what everyone can do to make a dent in a huge, systemic problem.

My take on this is that the best approach depends on your position, i.e. what you have the power to do, and on what sort of stuff comes most easily to you. There isn’t one thing you need to do, any more than there is one way you can solve climate change or stop people from behaving badly on public transit.

But in the interest of giving you more actionable advice than, “It depends,” here are some thoughts.

If you’re a conference organizer:

  • Read these posts: Increasing Diversity at Your Conference, by Ashe Dryden (amazing roundup of resources – if you read just one, make it this one); Solving the Pipeline Problem, by Sarah Milstein and Eric Ries; and How to Ensure Speakers Diversity at Your Conference, by Julius Solaris.
  • Get as much diversity as you can on your selection committee.
  • Actively brainstorm lists of women, people of colour, GLBTQ folks, etc. who you could invite to speak and attend. Reach out to them individually. Understand that they may need more active encouragement and coaching during the submission process. Make it easy for them to propose talks, and let them know their perspectives are wanted.
  • If you’ve had a lack of diversity at the podium in the past, or harassment/safety issues, step forward and admit it – and make a public pledge to do better. We don’t need you to be sorry, but we do need you to make it clear that you’re aware of the problem and actively working on it. Invite input into what you can do differently this time.
  • Adopt an anti-harassment policy (more here), and make good on it.
  • Do a post-mortem analysis of what worked and what didn’t. Write it up as a blog post, speak about it where you can, and help others learn from your experience.

If you’re an employer:

  • Check out what Etsy has been up to in their successful efforts to recruit more women engineers.
  • While you’re doing your research, here’s Google’s approach to hiring and retaining women employees.
  • If your team is currently all-male (or if your only women employees are in non-technical roles), recognize that many women won’t apply for a job with you until they feel confident that it is a welcoming environment. Yes, this means that recruiting your first female, technical employee could be extra challenging. So you will need to comb through your address book, ask everyone you know for referrals, and dig deep to find promising candidates – and then actively encourage them to apply.
  • It never hurts to put language in your job postings that explicitly states that women, people of colour, and GLBT candidates are encouraged to apply.
  • As with conferences that have had harassment incidents in the past, some workplaces have a reputation as “brogrammer” hangouts. If that’s the case for your company, consider making a public statement (like this one from Klout) to let women and trans people know that you are working to change your stripes.
  • Check your job postings for gendered or exclusionary language: Yes, this means dropping “ninja” from job titles.
  • Review your hiring process with an eye to making it gender-blind.

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