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Purpose
Reflections on the 2019 NCWIT Summit
Engagement Manager
May 31 2019

At the 2019 NCWIT Summit on Women and IT earlier this month, we had the privilege of helping launch the Tech Inclusion Journey Toolkit: an online resource that tech organizations can use to “learn, assess, and improve on their journey to more inclusive workplace cultures.” Since beginning our own Tech Inclusion Journey this year, the Summit was an invaluable opportunity to discover how we can more effectively integrate diversity, equity and inclusion strategies in our own work here at Culture Foundry.

The Summit focused on leading conversations about bias, which is a driving force of inequality in the workplace, through an intersectional framework. There were far too many memorable workshops, compelling speakers and insightful conversations to encapsulate in a single blog post, so here are some of our main takeaways and favorite resources.

Speaker Notes:

Keynote speaker Dr. Katherine Phillips expanded beyond the concept of diversity to focus on the underlying roles of social status and power in shaping the tech workforce. Drawing from statistics that illustrate the success of diverse work teams over homogenous ones, Dr. Phillips emphasized that diversity is a business imperative, not a philanthropic effort, compelling us all to be more intentional about dismantling the status quo. Even small steps, such as implementing a “no-interruption rule” in staff meetings, can significantly impact on workplace power dynamics.

Researcher Dr. Robin DiAngelo gave an incisive talk about white fragility that prompted us to reflect on how (not if) race has shaped our lives and work to better understand how it affects people of color. She highlighted connections between sexism and racism, and how both inhibit our ability to recognize the deep similarities, rather than the superficial differences, that connect people. She reminded us that while every person holds biases and tendencies, we are all capable of dismantling them to help fight racism and sexism. Believing that they don’t exist, and ignoring the problem, does not.

Listen to her full talk from the 2018 Seattle Public Library lecture series: Dr. Robin DiAngelo discusses ‘White Fragility’

Dr. Courtney Cogburn shared her research on using VR to immerse users in the complex experiences of everyday racism and motivate them to act differently in their own lives. She posited that there are people who solve problems in their discipline, and there’s people who solve the problems of the world. In her interdisciplinary approach to building VR, she is driven by the conviction that the world’s problem solvers can’t rely on their own expertise. With awareness of her own skill set limitations, she collaborates with experts to overcome them and actively shares the knowledge she does hold.

Watch her full talk about racism and VR (also recorded in VR featuring a Dr. Cogburn avatar!): Face-to-Face with Courtney Cogburn and Philip Rosedale – Can VR Make Us Less Racist?

Interrupting Bias

Bias is when an action, remark or power dynamic is rooted in a problematic assumption based on personal traits like gender and race. Recognizing and addressing bias can be difficult because it is often enacted subtly and unconsciously. However, unpacking bias requires understanding the difference between impact and intention: sometimes our intention is good but our impact is small, and sometimes our impact is big when our intention is poor. When bias goes unchecked, workplaces suffer because they fail to recognize the full potential, needs and responsibilities of every employee. This dynamic over time can create an unproductive or hostile work environment, especially for those from underrepresented groups.

Want to identify your own personal biases? Take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test.

Three categories of problematic statements:

  • Essentialism
    • Statements that overgeneralize or exaggerate similarities among women (or men) or racial groups
    • “Men are strong, women are weak”
  • Fix ‘Em
    • Statements that rely on a “fix the person who’s part of a group” approach as opposed to fix the environment or fix the system approach
    • “Women need to lean in”
  • Not My Problem
    • Statements that frame issues as a different group’s program
    • “Jennifer is the only one who needs parental leave, so she should head the program”

For more examples of workplace bias and intervention strategies, read NCWIT: Interrupting Bias In Industry Settings

Have the Conversation

When someone says something that you find offensive, inappropriately personal or problematic, you can start by saying “That’s interesting. Tell me more. I’m curious.” This buys you time to think about your response, especially if you feel anxious, and allows them to finish explaining their point of view. If a longer conversation is needed, you can follow the methods below for intervening in a productive and effective manner. Keep this to two minutes or less or else the person might feel attacked and the conversation will not be productive.

Begin with: “May I give you feedback?” If they accept:

  1. Introduce the conversation and lead with empathy in order to make the person feel open to dialogue.
  2. Describe what you observed, starting with “I’ve noticed.” You can share the impact the incident had on you or a coworker.
  3. Listen to the person’s response.
  4. Give specific suggestions about how to move forward and listen to those from the other person.
  5. Build an agreement together.
  6. Thank the person for participating in the conversation.

Follow this Non-violent communication quick reference guide by BayNVC for useful frameworks to discuss feelings, observations and needs:

Resources

Check out these links if you want to learn more or get involved in programs that support the advancement of women in tech:

NCWIT

Books

Other Resources (conferences, companies, etc.)

See you at next year’s Summit!

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