Every good blog opens with a joke. So - here goes; “Women in Tech community?? When are we going to start a ‘Men in Tech’ one??”
;) Ok, let’s dive in.
Algorithms: Not just a ‘tech thing’.
Starting from the start; when building a business culture there is a danger in creating a “like-minded” community. It’s important that we don’t confuse “like-minded” with “cultural fit”. This is why we have our values to define what our “cultural fit” is - for example, we look for people who can “crack on”, i.e. they don’t need highly specific direction and hierarchy to get stuff done. This is very different to being “like-minded” where we might share opinions; chat about football, like the same music and drink the same beer.
Why do we not want a culture where everyone thinks the same? Well, think algorithms; they are designed to understand what you are interested in, what you like, and therefore predict what you want to see. But by showing you only things you want to see, you are not seeing the full picture. Take Brexit as an example. Many of those who wanted to stay in the European Union saw streams and streams of anti-brexit information on their social media and, as a result, some people didn’t vote; they didn’t feel the need to, other people would do it for them. Their social media told them that there is nobody out there voting for Brexit anyway. They were wrong.
To avoid this polarisation you have to break the algorithms and go out of your way to find information that you might disagree with, that you find uncomfortable, or that you just simply wouldn’t have seen before.
The world does not look like you.
The world does not look like any one person. Nobody should be kicking back and thinking that this doesn’t apply to them. Understanding the full picture helps to make informed decisions. It’s as simple as that. And in the Tech Sector we need informed decisions. As we move towards creating platforms, software, machine learning and apps used by or used on humans (all kinds of humans!) - we need informed decisions. We can’t involve everybody in every decision, so what’s the next best thing? Well, I believe that storytelling is the number one tool for helping each other see from different perspectives and therefore helping people broaden their thinking in the decision making process.
And whilst I’m going to talk about gender here, this absolutely applies to everything ‘inclusion’. For example, I recently read “Queenie” as part of our company Book Club which tells the story of day to day life for a young black lady living in London. There is no extreme event, nothing outwardly traumatising, but the constant micro-aggressions referred to in the book really made me open my eyes to the day to day frustrations surrounding her. Amongst everything else I learnt, one thing was that no matter how beautiful a black woman’s hair is, do not ask to touch it. It sounds obvious, but you know what? I probably have asked in the past without fully understanding the implications of my actions. This is why storytelling is so important - it teaches us how to avoid causing unintended trauma to others.
So, on that note - Let’s share some stories from across our business:
“On so many occasions I join a meeting and the first few minutes are the latest football news. I don’t say a word, I don’t get asked a thing, nobody brings me along and explains what is being talked about; these moments aren’t for me, these moments are for the men in the room to bond. I’m only truly allowed in later.”
“There is a moment when you realise that crossing the road is the only thing that will make you feel comfortable when someone is behind you, perhaps after a night out or late from work. There is also a moment when you have to tell your brothers, your boyfriend, your husband, male friends that it is 'they' who also need to be mindful and cross the road if they can when walking home and seeing a female walking solo.”
- Jenny Hackland, Head of Google Workspace
“I had a learning moment some years ago when hiring an experienced female consultant. She mentioned to me that she was pleased that no one during the interview process had asked about her plans to take time out around maternity leave/childcare in the future, and she’d been treated as an equal. Being in a position of privilege where that won’t ever happen to me, I was genuinely surprised at the time to hear this was something that affected the interviews (and hiring) of women. Lesson: things that we might take for granted as basic human decency, sometimes cannot be. Think about how others have to face obstacles that you maybe don’t.”
- Chris Bunch, COO
“When I’m at the table with only guys I laugh at things I don’t think are funny. I agree with actions I don’t actually agree with. I let comments slide and get angry about them later (but only to myself). All of that for fear of losing my seat at the table.”
Notice that this is our every day...
“While walking with my male colleagues, a passing guy gave me “the look”; I was unphased, whilst the male colleague by my side was totally shaken up. As I was spiralling out thinking am I heartless? Do I enjoy the attention? It dawned on me... For me, it happens so often that it's 'normal', whilst he had likely never experienced it before so 'first hand' ”
- Rox Sandu, Data Analytics Lead
These aren’t just one off stories - they are every day stories of those who identify as women.
So what I’ve come to realise is that, as a business, If you’re not creating spaces for your employees to interact and share views, you’re not doing it properly.
I understand, I really do, that the world is changing quickly as it wakes up and people begin to use their voices. But if you think it doesn't need to change, if you think that ‘people are too sensitive nowadays’, that it’s too complicated to fix, or that there is no right answer - you really need to listen up.
Written by Charlotte Batters