Lending Privilege

Presented by Anjuan Simmons at You Got This 2020: From Home

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These transcripts were captured live by a captioner. As such, there may be small errors. If you spot any, please feel free to submit a pull request with amendments.

Thank you. I cannot tell you how excited I'm to be here with the You Got This audience. I know this is weird because we are normally together and we can mingle, and, due to the current state of events in the world, that's not possible, but one thing that will always be true is my love of working in technology.

Like Carolyn said, I've worked in technology for 20-plus years, and there is just something awesome about building software, and one thing that is really cool about building software is that things always change. There is always some framework, or some new API, or some way to even test code that helps us stay on our toes and grow and develop. One change we can also be a part of is making the software industry a more inclusive and diverse industry.

Not only that, I want to make the world more inclusive and diverse. Because I've given this talk so many times, and it is an inclusion and diversity talk, I have conversations with business leaders, and they often ask me questions like, "Well, how can we change our policies to be more inclusive?" Or, "What do we need to do to be more inclusive?" And those questions are often well intentioned, but they're not the right questions. Those aren't the right things to be thinking about, because I'm here to tell you today that inclusion is coming. Inclusion is coming. So the right question is how do we make sure we are prepared for inclusion?

If you've seen protests around the world in recent days, and I think most people are waking up to the reality that the world is changing in fundamental ways, and companies are really at the crossroads inclusion. So, again, inclusion is coming, but vulnerable groups, like people of colour, and women, and LGBTQ people, and other marginalised groups, we've done this for a long time.

We've always had to balance protecting ourselves while also pursuing our dreams, even though we're doing this in companies that often don't look like us, and often don't represent our best interest. And, so, marginalised groups, we're using our power, and it's a power that is really motivated by new technology like social media; we're using our power to push into these companies despite the fact that often they don't represent us. And we are seeing companies brought to the carpet for that lack of representation, even today when companies are finding that having really homogeneous leadership and homogeneous boards, it blinds them to the reality of what is happening in the world, and how can you truly serve your customers if your products are not made by people who look like them? You know what? This is not a new problem.

Several years ago, there was a television show that had a really popular fan base. An actor on the show had a dilemma. This actor, who was really the biggest star on the show, found out that one of the female actresses was not being paid as much as the male actors. When he learned about this, he went to the studio and he demanded equal pay for this actress. Because he was one of the biggest stars of the show, he was successful. The actress got the pay that she deserved.

The show was Star Trek; the actor was Leonard Nimoy who of course played Spock, and the actress was Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura. That's right, Leonard Nimoy was down with equal pay for equal work way before it was cool. Nimoy lent Nichols his privilege - his gender privilege as a male actor but also his influence privilege with the fans. By lending his privilege, he furthered her position as an actress by giving her access to better pay. You may be thinking what does this have to do with the You Got This conference? What does this have to do with working in the software industry? We are all going through a shift where vulnerable groups, like I said before, are using our power to advance change, and we are not waiting for allies.

Software companies all over the world are going to have to navigate this incoming wave of inclusion. And, also, the dangers of a non-inclusive software industry are more apparent than ever. We are building artificial intelligence that's going to be more and more powerful, and can be possibly used to be weaponised against countries used to change elections. Having a diverse workforce with the benefit of different perspectives will be critical to managing the ever-growing power of software.

Now, I believe that Leonard Nimoy provided a model how to address the problem. Notice that he didn't wait for the studio to create a diversity programme, or a fair-pay salary programme. No, he acted based on his belief in what was right. He lent his privilege to a fellow artist to help her participate in the financial privileges that he had simply because of his gender privilege. You know what? I think there are a lot of Leonard Nimoys watching me right now, and there are other ways to lend privilege to create a more diverse and fair industry. Diverse opinions and voices are simply good for business.

Now, I typically have a few slides for the data nerds out there who like to hear research, and white papers, but I'm going to put this here. The World Economic Forum has said what we've been saying for a long time, that the business case for diversity in business is overwhelming. There's really no debate. Diversity and inclusion are good for business. If you unlock this power, your company will do better, and I think that, if you don't believe that, you can Google it yourself, and I think that if you're still not convinced, then if you're still not convinced, then I really don't think there's anything I can do to prove otherwise.

Now, I've been using the terms "diversity" and "inclusion" interchangeably, but we need to distinguish those definitions. Diversity and inclusion are linked, but they're not the same. So let me talk about diversity. Let's say you're throwing a party. Diversity is sending invitations. You may include your college friends, maybe a few people from even high school, maybe a few people from work. It's really easy. You just invite people to your party. Inclusion goes further than diversity. Inclusion means that the people who drove a lot further to get there, you're really nice to those people. It means that if there are people who don't drink alcohol, then you provide non-alcoholic beverages for them to consume. Inclusion requires empathy. Diversity, you just need a stamp.

While software companies are trying to help our industry become inclusive, or they're trying to ride this current wave of openness and intent on really solving a lot of the injustices that have forked our society, particularly in the United States and the world, companies have been trying to lead here, but I think we can't rely on them. It's far too easy for companies to play the HR and the marketing games, and try to run the numbers, and really not do any action, not affect any change. I really believe that, if we're going to make technology a more inclusive and diverse industry, it's going to take a grass-roots movement. We're going to have to mobilise a lot of Leonard Nimoys throughout our industry. The cool thing about working in software is that most of us know about open-source software.

If you know open-source software, then you understand grassroots movements. One of the first books on open-source software was written by Eric S Raymond called The Cathedral and the Bazaar, and it was written because Raymond had just experienced the miracle of Linux. Now, many of you are way too young to remember how Linux was this really controversial, a wild project where everyone could take this complicated kernel and do the work of making it into an actually functional operating system, and it worked. And so Raymond began to take the principles of open-source software that he learned from seeing Linux and he applied it to his own projects, and he began to distil the lessons from those projects into this book.

Now, Raymond linked closer software development done by companies at the time like Microsoft and Apple like a cathedral where they have control, and he contrasted open-source software where power was distributed evenly among multiple contributors, and he called the open-source movement this bazaar, this loud, babbling boisterous bazaar, where everyone shared power. And spoiler alert: the open source model produced better results. Now, the lesson that most people take from The Cathedral and the Bazaar is this one: given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. If you read the book, you see a more defined version of that. Given a large enough beta tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterised quickly and the fix obvious to someone.

This is written in kinds of decades-old terminology, and I think Eric S Raymond may not agree with me, but he's really making a statement about inclusion. What he's saying is that, as the size of the people working on software grows, our ability to solve problems also grows, and what is innovation other than the ability to solve problems? I really think that, if we want software development to be this big tent, we want it to be this babbling boisterous bazaar of people who are involved in building software and they're dedicated to making it better, then there's really no problem we can't solve. That's the promise of inclusion.

But the sad reality is that the repositories are protected by passwords and permissions are often companies are protected by privilege, and there are voices that we keep out of this bazaar, and we don't make space for them to take part in our projects and in our companies. There are certainly groups that have a really hard time lending their voices to this bazaar, because they lack privilege. And this is really tragic, because no matter what problem you have within your company, within your source code, within your deployment process, there's someone out there who can fix it. But all too often, they are denied entry into your company.

Now, to understand how this works, and what we can all do to make things better, we have to understand privilege. Before we do that, it's really important that we understand what privilege is not. Privilege doesn't mean that you have had it easy. It doesn't mean that you haven't worked hard.

In fact, just to use an example, and a metaphor, let's say you're riding your bike up a hill, right? You're pedalling hard, maybe it's hot, you're sweating, you're getting a cramp in your right leg. You're working hard trying to get up that hill. But there are other people trying to get up that same hill, but they have obstacles that you can't even see, obstacles that you are not even aware of.

Your privilege not only allows you not to worry about those obstacles, it also gives you benefits. The benefit of not being pulled over by a police officer and wondering if the colour of your skin will make this the last drive that you'll ever make. The benefit of being seen at a bar with someone you love and being seen by a co-worker and wondering if your fellow colleagues will think less of you. Or the benefit of not wondering if your hearing aid malfunctions and someone sees you as possibly a risk to the DevOps team. Or the benefit of not having the to change your clothes multiple times in the morning before you go into work when you used to be able to to go into work, wondering if this outfit will have my colleagues think differently of me simply because of how I'm dressed.

Really, that last example shows how women in technology often have to fulfil two roles. The role hired to be a developer, or an architect, or a tester, but then there's the other role: the role of finding all the stereotypes, the horrible stereotypes that people have about women. That second role is exhausting. And why don't we just empower women just to do the work that they can do so well without the burden of sexism and misogyny? I think that lending privilege can help do this. So now that we know what privilege is, let's get a good definition of privilege. Privilege is simply access to benefits based on traits that you possess. Those benefits could be the benefit of living in a safe neighbourhood, going to a great school, getting a great job, getting promoted, getting access to wealth.

Now, there's one problem that most people have to notice who don't have more privilege than we do don't notice when we have more privilege than others do. I call this phenomenon the aeroplane effect. Most have flown on an aeroplane before, gotten on to the plane, and let's say our assigned seat is in aisle 42. We are walking through business class, and you see all these people in these big comfortable chairs, and easy all this leg room, and while you're walking by, you hear the flight attendant offer them nice adult beverages. You don't like those people because they're at the front of the plane, and they get these benefits of being in that high class of service. You're all the way back in the Selenium of row 42.

So you're sitting in row 42, and you're beginning to question your life decisions as you peer ahead into business class. You know what? There are people behind you who have worse seats than you do. They have worse leg room than you do. You're the folks when the snack cart gets to them, the good stuff has been taken, and they're sitting next to the bathrooms that get cleaned maybe once every 100 flights, so they have a much worse experience than you do. You know what? That's how privilege works. You often see how good other people have. But you don't notice the people who would love to have the position that you taker granted. I get this topic, because I really want to change that. Let's realise our privileges, saying we can all get access to a seat at the table.

There are two cat Fridays of privilege. There is your birth privilege, and that's what the two people made you gave you - your gender, base level of physical capability, and really most of the features that we use to discriminate against. But then there are what I call your selective privileges, those things you gain as you grow - that might be your religion, education, or your chosen career.

These are also the things that, if you have access to a trust fund, it's really a lot easier to make the journey through, the privileges are easier to navigate, people who have access to wealth like that. Your birth privileges, and your selective privileges combine what I call your portfolio of privileges.

Now, everyone look at the slide, and pick a privilege that you have, and some of you probably have all of these. I think everyone has at least one. So I'm going to give you a couple of seconds to look at and think what privilege up there really links with me? Once you've done that, think about what your career in software, what your career in technology would have been without that privilege. What if you had to start your career without your gender privilege? Or your racial privilege? Or the privilege of going to an elite university - like Stanford, or MIT? Or what if you did not even if the privilege of being able to see, or walk around, or what would your journey through technology be without those privileges?

Think about that: there are so many people in technology who don't have those privileges. Many of them work right next to you at your company. And they had to navigate a world where they are less privileged, and they have to do that navigation at a significant disadvantage. I really think that you can remove a lot of these disadvantages by lending your privilege.

Now, I'm going to illustrate three types of privilege-lending, and I'm going to use the example of three women. These are real women. Let's say their names are Bea, Elle, and Em. I'm going to define it, and give an example that I can understand how it works, and I hope you understand how you, at your company, and even in your personal lives, can lend your privilege.

The first type of privilege is what I call "credibility lending" and that is providing visibility to someone without privilege. That's what credibility lending is. You're providing visibility to people who lack privilege. Now, I have the fortune of knowing many people in the LGBTQ community, and they share with me how they often feel restricted in tech because we are a heteronormative industry, but I think that, by lending privilege, we can really empower all the wonderful people who want to work in this industry to fully bring their value to the work that we do.

Another example, several years ago Stephen Cobert had a show that a lot of people watched, and he's going on to have his own night-time show, but this show is really popular, and so he invited a very popular and well-known black activist to his show. But you notice DeRay is in the host chair. Cobert switches seats with DeRay, and gave DeRay the power of his platform. He raised his profile to give him a higher ability to be visible in the work that he was doing. That's how credibility-lending works.

How can you lend credibility in your company? Here is Bea. Bea was the person who created that killer feature in your next release, and she did it in three sprints, and people thought it was going to take eight, and everyone was amazed that she was able to get that feature done. You know what? No-one on the executive team even knows her name, and, in fact, some people think that, because she works late at night so much, she's part of the cleaning crew because that's the only time when people like her show up at work. And so, what you can do is, if you have those regular meetings with executive teams, or if you have those regular interactions, why not the next time you have a presentation to get to that team bring Bea along, give her a chance to let her light shine. Give her an opportunity to show the value she's bringing to the company, to the people who have power at your company?

Also, a lot of companies have these awards that you can nominate people for, and then those people get some kind of prize, so why not nominate Bea for the great work she's already doing? All right? That's credibility-lending.

All right, access-lending is the next type, which is providing entry in for someone without privilege. Itched the benefit of talking with many women and candidly talking with them about their careers in tech, and often, women feel that, because they lack gender privilege, that they are held back in tech, and this doubt that comes from being held back causes them to limit what they do, and that's horrible, because, again study after study has shown that, if we get more closer to parity, 50/50 men and women as - those who identify as men and women in tech, we get better and when we're equal in the types of genders we allow to work at our companies, especially when we allow those people to lead. I think that access-lending can be a way for us to unlock that power.

Here's an example: in 2018, the lady on the left, Octavia Spencer, the lady on the left, who is an Academy Award Level actress, was starting shooting a movie, but when she was offered the pay for this film, she was given a very low offer. This is someone who has been highly decorated as an actress for several years. The lady on the right is Jessica Chastain, and she had worked with Octavia on a previous film. When Jessica heard the low-ball offer that Octavia was given for this role, she pledged you're going to get paid what I'm going to get paid. Jessica went to the studio executives, and she negotiated better pay for Octavia and allowed Octavia to get the same pay she was getting. That's how access-lending works. You bring people into rooms that are normally closed to them to make sure that they are treated as well as you expect to be treated.

How can you let access at your company? When your company decides who to go to conferences, either virtual ones - when we can have in-person conferences - why not send someone who doesn't have your privilege?

This is Elle. She spent the last few weeks helping your entire team transfer to a new container strategy. Why not send someone like Elle to DockerCon? You go to five conference as year. Can you even spell "Kubernetes"? Why not allow Elle to go to a conference that will allow her to feel like she's a respected part of this industry, not just within your company but within her chosen realm of specialisation? And then, I can promise you that she will enrich whatever event you send her too by presenting her own diverse perspectives.

All right, the last example is what I call expertise-lending, and that is providing a voice for people without privilege. I'm a black technologist, and, like other other black people in tech, I often feel we don't have a voice in companies because we lack the racial privilege that a lot of leaders possess, we don't see ourselves on CNN being asked about technology, and we don't see ourselves in large representative numbers at tech companies. Especially among leadership. Well, I think that expertise-lending can help fix this.

All right, here's an example. A few years ago, First Lady Michelle Obama was at South by Southwest, and she gave a keynote and she beautifully described how expertise-lending can work. She said, if you have a voice at the table, ask is there diversity around the table? Are there voices and opinions that don't sound like yours? We need to go further than talking about the missing voices. We need to add those missing voices to the conversation. How do you lend expertise?

Let's consider Em. You boss brings you the project, you know it will look great on your résumé, and when it is time to hand out promotions, this is the project everyone wants to work on. Why not give Em, someone who everyone on the team loves working with, why not give Em, who is always helping to answer questions in Slack about the technology stack you're using, or the way things work, why not give Em the opportunity to lead that project. She's never led a project before. She writes the cleanest code in the company. By giving her an opportunity to work at the next level, you improve her odds of not only staying at the company, but advancing the help to lead it.

Those are three examples of lending privilege. It's really quite easy. In fact, I'm sure that you've been thinking of your own examples. I want to be clear that lending privilege is not a silver bullet, it's not like you do it once or twice, and it's done. It's going to take effort and because you probably haven't done it very much, you're probably not going to be very good at it at first. But you've got to keep going. You have to keep trying it.

I think that, as you do it be, you will get better, and lending privileges doesn't mean you lose anything. You just share the benefits with others that you already have, and, by doing that, you're making our industry, the technology industry, truly a meritocracy where all talents are welcomed, no matter how they're packaged. Now, I know that you probably, like me, you want to leave your mark on the software, - software industry, the commits, and the feature you created. You want to be known for that piece of open source code that you wrote. And I understand that need to have an impact.

You know what? The software we build will one day be obsolete. I started my career in the late 1990s, and the code that I wrote back then, no-one use right now. There will be a day that, no matter how proud you are of the software you built, one day, it's going to have zero users. But the impact that we can have on our industry by making it more inclusive will long outlast whatever code we are working on today. And I know the people who lent me privilege in my early career has far outlasted the code we wrote way back then. If you really want to leave a legacy in software, then I think that lending privilege can be a powerful way to do that. In fact, this is a legacy that is deeply rooted in the history of the United States.

This conference is usually in the UK and has a global audience, because a lot happened in the United States, it's kind of in the news right now, I will stick with the example of what is happening in my country, and really what has happened in my country.

I spoke at a conference a few years ago where Common, who is a really popular rapper - I hope most of you know who Common is - that might be my black privilege that led me to know who Common is - but he's an amazing artist. I love lots of his songs, but one song I really love is called Glory. He co-wrote it with John Legend from a movie called Selma about the civil rights movement, and the chorus goes like this: "One day, when the glory comes, it will be ours. It will be ours."

And, you know, that verse reminds me of exactly why inclusion and diversity work is so important. I read the Constitution recently because I was thinking about it, and our Constitution has so many different parts. We have Article 1, which describes Congress, and Article 2 which describes the Executive Branch, and Article 3, the Supreme Court, but the amendments is really my jam.

I realised by going through the Amendments that the Founding Fathers Had built a pull request system into the Constitution. It's a messy process, only tried 27 times, but you can suggest changes, have them reviewed, and merged into production. The 13th amendment was the one that made owning slaves illegal, not only owning black people, but slavery was made illegal everywhere in the United States. I'm sure my ancestors who were brought as slaves celebrated the 13th amendment. Everyone who lived in America should have celebrated because everyone was truly free. Everyone in America should have celebrated when women got the vote because they now lived in a country where your gender was not held against you at the ballot-box.

The US Supreme Court a few years ago defined same-sex marriage as just marriage. While my LGBTQ friends celebrated, we should all have celebrated because we lived in a country that didn't place any limits on love. This country has tried several times to solve its own peculiar problems, and the long injustices done to women, and the other marginalised groups, but I think lending privilege can be a powerful way for us who work in software to solve our own peculiar problems.

Lending privilege is not whites versus blacks, gays versus straights, men versus women, it's everyone against racism, homophobia, and sexism, and we will win. We will win. Up one day, when the glory comes, it will be ours. It will be ours. I appreciate your attention. I'm now going to turn it over to Q&A.

Carolyn: Great. Thank you so much. Really wonderful, the chat is buzzing! I'm sure you probably heard. And, yes, really wonderful actionable talk. I especially loved what you said about how lending privilege doesn't take anything away from you, because I think so many times our careers are seen as competition, and it's really important to emphasise that. So, thanks. But I will jump into the attendee questions so I don't go on a whole diatribe about this. So the first question is: is there a blog or a video, or anything that could be shared with the world - I'm guessing besides this talk recording! - and do you have any materials that you find inspiring, or educational that can be shared as well?

Anjuan: Absolutely. So, this is recently posted called the Anti-Racist Resource Guide. I will tweet this out. I'm easy to find on Twitter. But the anti-racist resource guide was created by Victoria Alexander who has made her life's mission and study which is solving inequality, especially based on race, so that is something that I really highly recommend. It's not based on lending privilege, obviously, but the ideas that in my talk are very much supported by that document. I highly recommend that folks check that out.

Carolyn: Awesome. We will look out for that on your Twitter, then. So the next question is: should I ask for her mission before lending my privilege? Should I actively be mentioning it to them that I would like to help them? Some people might be offended since they might think we're looking down on them?

Anjuan: It's really interesting because you should not burst in someone's office or pop on a Zoom call and say, "I'm here to lend my privilege!" In fact, when I think about when people are lending privilege in the past, it's very, very much subconscious - not subconscious, but it was done in a very subtle way. It's only in hindsight I realised that is what they were doing.

What I recommend doing is that find people who don't look like you, and then if you use Twitter, it's really easy, so let's say that you are a React developer, right? You write JavaScript using the React framework, and most of the people who you follow on React probably look like you. Find people who don't look like you. And then slowly by doing so, and then silently, just follow them, you'll find that they're really just like you, and all these differences we have are really made up, and by doing that, you will find how you can help them, because often as an under-represented person, or a member of an under-represented group, you know, I see the help that you probably needed. You find ways that you can naturally engage.

Once you learn that, either through Twitter, or in person, you will find ways to help. You don't have to call it "I'm lending you my privilege", you can just be a good human. That's probably the best way to proceed.

Carolyn: Absolutely. That makes total sense. So next question says: as someone feels they're part of the underprivileged ones, I feel I would be begging for someone to lend their privilege to me, and I must swallow my pride. How can I do that differently?

Anjuan: Yes. A couple of things? How are we doing on time? How much time do we have roughly?

Carolyn: We can keep going a little longer. I don't know, we can keep going. Max ten minutes. Perfect!

Anjuan: So I will use that to kind of navigate my answers to questions. As someone who lacks a lot of privilege, I would say don't let your pride get you down, I think that the current unrest in the United States due to the murder of George Floyd by a police officer while Floyd was unarmed, and in custody, has shown that this is a lot of problems, at least in America, that we haven't raised, and friends from around the world also said I think people are understanding that there are different levels of privilege of access of really power that are given to people based on their race, their gender, et cetera.

I think the good things is that people aren't - people are no longer being so blind to that. I would say you don't have to beg anyone to lend them - you don't have to beg people to lend privilege to you. Just go about doing the work that you're doing, and do it loud and do it proud.

I think you will find that people will be drawn to that. If you're doing something at a higher level and doing it excellent, and also just living your own truth, and then being, I think, honest, and then we have these great platforms as to how your lack of privilege affected your daily life, I think you will see people empathise with that, and I think you will see people who will be there to support you. So no begging required. Just living at a higher level than I am sure you already are.

Carolyn: I love that. That's amazing. So, all right, next question is: what's the best way to ask someone to lend you their permission, but I'm guessing it - permission? Privilege? I don't know. How can you tell if someone would be willing to help in a situation when you're facing bias?

Anjuan: Yes, I think that like I said before, I don't know if you need to ask someone to lend their privilege to you. I think that if you're going about your life, and in following your passions, and doing it at a high level, I think that you will find people who will do that.

The second part of that question which was to tell something would be willing to help, actually, let me change my answer, actually. I thought about that.

I think that the best thing that you can do is, and I'm assuming that you're trying to do something, right? And the example, let's say you've been trying to work on this project, and you haven't got any support, I think that it's very important that you understand how humans work, and I think that part of being a professional, and we work most of us work in companies, that have a hierarchy, is understand how networks work, and then as you're doing your work, you want to begin building your network, and the old adage of don't wait until you're thirsty to dig your well, dig your well before your thirsty, build your network before you need it.

I think by humanising yourself, and making yourself visible to people who have power, often privilege does work along levels of power. Just by talking about them, and knowing their life story, I mean, knowing their partner's name, and what they care about, and showing that part of you with them, I think you're actually will be finding you find common ground. People typically, this is subconsciously, we help people who are like us. Even though you may not have the same race, by humanising yourself and doing your work at a high level, you will begin to draw people lending their privilege to you. So I think that's one way to do that. It's kind of a complicated answer, but I hope all of that makes sense. Does it make sense, Carolyn?

Carolyn: I think it made sense. We can always, if it didn't make sense to whoever, I don't see the name of whoever asked it, but we can continue it in the diversity, accessibility, and inclusion channel. We have one last question - sorry, we have one last question, and it is: how would you recommend opening doors of a workplace where it's heavily biased in the people they've hired but now have realised the importance to welcome inclusion?

Anjuan: Yes, this is unfortunately a very common challenge. Only because companies are usually built by a group of people who are homogeneous that lot of ways, and they hire people who are very much like them, right? We tend to hire people who are like us. And I think that a lot of companies, especially in light of current events, are becoming aware that, wow, we really have a leadership group that is the same, and it really shouldn't be surprising that, when you have the same people, you get the same answers, you get the same solutions that, if you want to have innovation, you have different faces, different voices, different points of views, and I think companies are waking up to that.

I think you have to help to understand how they got there, that they probably hire people who they knew. We always talk about hiring THE best people. While that's a good idea, and companies think they hired the best people, but you normally hired people you know. You probably don't know all the best people. I think helping them understand that, but I think that one concrete thing that I can say in the time that we have is if you want to have different outcomes, and the make-up of your company, and the gender mix, and the racial mix, and all the different ways, you have to change where you look for talent.

You probably have to reach out to different organisations, and there are women in engineering groups, there are blacks in technology groups, and then you have to do the work of reaching out to those pulls, and I really believe, that, if you do that, you will get better results.

You know, a big kind of counterargument that people have to when I tell them you really need to diversify your hiring pool is we don't want to lower the bar. I don't know why people link hiring more diverse people with lowering the bar. But to give a trite example, let's say you go to the same bar every night to meet the same people to date. You go to the same bar every night but not getting results. Go to a different bar! Try somewhere else. Sometimes, we have to go to a different bar in our hiring to get better results. I think that people should not equate hiring more people of colour, and hiring LGBTQ people, or hiring women and lowering the bar. No, you're raising the bar because you're getting more inclusion, and the power and diversity into your company.

Carolyn: Great, and then I know I said last question, but there's one more that I think lends really well to what you just said, and essentially is to what is going on right now. This will be the last question. Given that tech companies' brands are spending time how to address current events, how do you distinguish the difference between lending privilege versus doing small statements that give the appearance of lending.

Anjuan: We are seeing a lot of virtue-signalling companies now, a lot of temporary shows of support. It's easy to say Black Lives Matter on Twitter, or to write that phrase on your company's building, but show the data. Say this is what our leadership looks like. How many men, how many women? How many straight? How many trans? How many LGBTQ? How many blacks, whites, Asians? Show your work. Commit to showing that work on a regular basis and what you're doing to make those numbers change.

I think if you really want to get down to brass tacks, if you want to show you're serious, you've got to show the work, commit to doing actions to make those numbers truly representative and show you're lending the privilege in your company to the people who really need it the most.

Carolyn: Absolutely. That was a great note to end on. Thank you so much, Anjuan for taking the time today. I hope we can continue the discussion over at diversity, accessibility, and inclusion channel. I'm sure there will be a lot more to talk about.

Anjuan: Absolutely, I will be hopping over there. Obviously, if you want to follow me on Twitter and continue this discussion, happy to engage there as well.

About the talk

Diversity and inclusion have become hot topics in technology, but you may not know how you can make a difference. However, this talk will help you understand that, no matter your background, you have privilege and can lend it to underrepresented groups in tech.

About Anjuan Simmons

Anjuan Simmons is a technologist with a successful track record of delivering technology solutions from the user interface to the database. He is an energetic and informative speaker who presents at conferences, seminars, schools, and community centers around the world on topics including Agile software development, diversity, and leadership. Anjuan has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from Texas A&M University.

Photo of Anjuan Simmons

Anjuan Simmons



Anjuan mistakenly referred to the 17th Amendment as the ones that gave women the right to vote. It was the 19th Amendment.

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