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Exclusion begets Exclusion!

Daelynn Moyer, Software Engineer and Project Manager at Fast Radius, while discussing micro-aggression, went on to say, 'Exclusion begets exclusion.' She noted that micro-aggressions are virtually endless. The implications are not limited to the workplace and have problems extending far beyond.

During a keynote at DrupalCon Portland 2022, Mala Kumar, Director of Tech for Social Good at Github, Daelynn and Marcus Carter II, Director of Social Equity at Cinder, talked about 'How to Combat Global Systems of Oppression in the Tech Industry'. Von Eaton, the Drupal Associations, events, and engagement manager, moderated the session. They covered many topics ranging from Sustainability Development Goals, marginalization, hiring, and inequities in open source.

When asked about marginalization, Marcus replied by quoting Arundhati Roy, 'There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.' He added,

When we are talking about marginalized, we are talking about human beings that have had their voice and livelihood restricted. Not people who don't have a voice but people who aren't heard.

We can see marginalization by simply observing who is in the community, who are we in relationships, or who is missing. He also said that marginalization is a broad topic, and as we experience it offline, that is reflected online. 

Von then talked about how the tech industry can support Sustainability Development Goals. Mala responded by saying a lot of conversations around this are too abstract. Sometimes we actually need to measure things. SDGs that started in 2015 will be counted until 2030. There are about 17 SDGs measured by the country level, and this was intended to be used in low-income countries. But increasing pay disparity is having us look at higher income countries like Europe and USA.

She said SDGs help direct billions of funding, and aligning with them will have a larger impact than if you "go on your own." They are good at framing the difference between social good and DEI. She took an example of a food delivery company. They are already focusing on DEI and have marginalized community members on staff or might also look at equitable access to the product. But what about thinking bigger? They Could also look at how this tech could support challenged areas post-disaster or in poverty. That's more into SDG. Which often correlates with diversity but is not quite the same.

Discussing open source and data Mala said, 'SDG9, for example, we need to look at comprehensive metrics to understand "do they have internet access?" and what they did with that access: download, pull request, etc. They also said we should be using tech that is moral. We need to be helping existing and future tech is more diverse.'

Taking the discussion further, Von talked about Drupal having a worldwide community, but he added that often the conversations are entirely westernized. He asked the panelists how the historically excluded demographics have been impacted?

As a response to this, Dealynn replied that excluded demographics would often get lower compensation and worse roles. Companies that say, "we're trying to recruit diverse hires, but we're just not finding them," indicate that the recruitment program is inequitable or that the company has a *reputation* for dissuading marginalized folks from applying.

She went on to add that it is hard for members of underrepresented groups to get hired in the first place; secondly, they get lower salaries and cannot be their authentic selves at work.

In 2020 the wage gap on racial lines had increased from 2018. Women are gaining ground, but they still make 17% less than men. Black tech workers are making 30% less than white tech workers - and that gap is actually getting worse.

They also talked about micro-aggressions being problematic. Improper use of pronouns, swag only available in men’s sizes, trans folks don’t get proper healthcare; neurodivergent folks miss out on social cues that aren’t well documented, trans people often have to fight for coverage, and often lose. We often see a devaluation of disciplines that are associated with women.

You are not equitably treated from a status, money, benefits standpoint. Black and Brown people often are the only Black or Brown person in the office, and it is an othering experience making them feel lonely. They are ridiculed for their natural hair or cultural understanding. The list is virtually endless. They often have to work harder to get the same recognition, while white cis-gendered men seem to be handed more promotions than others.

Daelynn added that micro-aggressions are virtually endless. The implications are not limited to the workplace and have problems extending far beyond. Minorities experience low homeownership and family wealth; we see food deserts and lower high school graduation. Inevitably exclusion begets exclusion.

Workplace equity is not nice to have. Workplace equity is a must-have and has to be done now.

They even talked about how employees of color are often asked to lead diversity/equity/inclusion programs and then not compensated for that emotional labor and not promoted based on that work.

To understand what we can do to create a more equitable tech industry, Marcus said, you have to be aware of the barriers different people have in the workplace. Too many people look at DEI as a product or service. Can we confront what is common in the workplace? That is where we need to start. Sexual harassment training hasn’t stopped, so what are you doing to address this?

He said, “All this goes beyond the workplace. What have you done in your community? Have you built any relationships? We have to reduce inequality in our communities first, which will trickle into the workplace.” 

They talked about racial discrimination and hierarchy still exist. Some people seem to think it is not a big deal. But if you can't deal with the most common of issues, then you haven't made a start. In 2020, everyone read a book on anti-racism, but few built relationships across racial lines. That is reflected in the tech systems we design. It doesn't work. We have to change our society too.

Talking about the inequities in open source, Mala said,

"Open source communities are less diverse than even the rest of tech, which is already very homogenous. Much modern tech came out of academia which was even more homogenous than society - and early proponents were exclusionary."

She said that today, major contributions have moved to corporations. According to recent research, income is the number one differentiator for whether people contribute to open source. Even a 'broke' Harvard student is more likely to contribute than a low-income person in a low-income country.

The second report by GitHub focused on four low-income countries and said that individuals largely drive open-source. India has more corporations, Mexico focuses on governments, Egypt has startups, and Kenya has Social services.

Mala added that Digital Public Good is advantageous when trying to build things from a humanitarian standpoint. They adhere to local laws, align with SDGs and do no harm. COVID monitoring software is one example.

The UN has a unique opportunity because it is much easier to hire people through them worldwide. You may be in a situation where a company wants to hire folks in Africa, Mexico, and other poor countries - but they can't because they don't have a corporate presence in these places. This plays directly into the inequity.

Von then went on to ask Daelynn what are some strategies one could implement to effect change. Daelynn replied that symptom-focused treatments would run out of money and fail. One must understand how managers have contributed to inequity. Be aware of the paradox of tolerance and build flex points for hiring. The focus should be on determining qualifications and skills, not "will they be a cultural fit" or a "culture add." 

She even shared an example and said,

"I inherited a team of 5 cis white men all with a name that started with J. She started with a public readme. I wanted to be held accountable and for people to feel safe to hold me accountable. Each team member should be free to share however much of themselves they want to bring. I was clear that we would not fall into the paradox of intolerance. Only then I started to work with the HR team to increase non-cis-white options."

She also added you could form employee resource groups - they should be paid for their emotional labors. Here she added that they had written guides and training to focus on the interviews, and every step had clear documentation for both sides of the screening process. 

One should also make diversity numbers public and ensure remote workers have equal access, as hallway meetings shouldn't be the gateway to promotions and raises. Publish pay bands internally and on job descriptions is also a good way forward. You should always be clear about the harassment policy and be equitable no matter what rank or power in the company.

In the end, she added that this is not a to-do list. It needs to be more than performative. The fundamental work has to be unpacking your own relationship with privilege, xenophobia, racism and sexism. We have to think about the past. We exist in a racist system. This is often painful. Being a historically marginalized person doesn't exclude you from this necessity. This culture has impacted everyone. If we want to build equitable environments, whether at work or in life, then we need to do this work. It is about understanding. It isn't our fault, but it is our responsibility.

Discussing the final takeaway, Daelynn said that building Equity & Inclusion is hard. It is easy to come up with reasons not to do it. If we want to create great, scalable software - we need to work in spaces that look and talk differently with different education.

The moral and ethical arguments should be obvious, visible, and relevant. But what got us here isn't going to get us there. Those solutions based on outdated cultural models will fail. Inclusion and equity have to come first before diversity in hiring.

Marcus said, we exit the stage and continue this work. If you're working for increased equity and justice anywhere globally, you can expect resistance. He said,

"Welcome to the world. If you're trying to be more inclusive than mainstream, you will get pushback. But what will win out? Systems are strong and working hard to resist change. You need to say you're here & win."

He ended by saying that if his kids hear the same thing in 15-20 years that we have failed.

Mala said, "I roll my eyes at the term being your full authentic self. But that's unrealistic for people who can't be fully authentic before their families, governments, and communities. In America especially, we put so much stock that we have to be everything at work. I understand it, but I don't need it - I need to go work and come home."

She said she embraces remote work. We are two years into an active pandemic. There is plenty of evidence to show that most marginalized people feel better with remote work. Her career has improved with remote and there can be too much to do in person that is irrelevant for work. Some things are lost, but so many things are better remote. Embrace it.

She ended by saying that hiring from the social sector - especially impact work. Folks who work closely with communities are best positioned to increase their presence/visibility. Impacts and relationships will be better. We can't replace experience with a couple of courses. We need to learn from other industries.