the annual LITS diversity rant

Okay. So I had actually recorded the entirety of this episode and then realised that I was using the wrong microphone. So it was recording in mono and so it was only being played back through the left side, but you know what? It’s okay, we go again.

Hello and welcome to Lost in the Source. I am your host, Lola and yeah, all right, let’s get back into this episode. I’m laughing cos literally I have just finished editing the episode I just did and I was just like, why does it sound so weird? And yet lo and behold, I hadn’t recorded it properly and I thought, you know what, let me just, let’s just start over.

So today’s episode, I want to talk about diversity and inclusion and representation and all of that jazz within the context of tech . And just, you know, it’s a bit of a rant, I’m not going to lie. I’m going to be ranting a lot. And I’m going to be like, ah, because it is, it’s not popping. It’s really not, it’s not hitting, it’s not giving what it’s supposed to gave, it’s just not doing what should be doing. And then in the source, [I know we haven’t had it in the source in a while] in the source I’m going to be recommending some books. Some I’ve read some I’ve not read around well, not necessarily like diversity specifically, but around oppression, let’s say, right, so when we get into that in the source, I’ll be given some recommendations of four books that I think will be useful for understanding and given a more holistic view about D and I, or DEI. I’m not sure what the E stands for, is it supposed to be like equity? I dunno, but anyway.

Yeah. All right. So. What’s my issue of diversity and inclusion. Okay. So just a bit of background, if you’re new to the podcast, or you don’t know who the hell I am , which is fine because who the hell am I? I basically started my tech career kind of via through doing diversity and inclusion work kinda. I did go to a coding boot camp and after the coding bootcamp, I realized that all these companies talking about how diverse they were, how diverse they were, were really not diverse.

What they meant by diverse is that they have a woman on their team, usually in a non-technical role. A white woman let me say, you know, I hate when people, including myself, use women as the kind of default, a white woman on the team, right? No Black women, rarely any Black men, maybe some Asian people, but yeah. So I decided to start an organization called and was all about providing workshops, coding workshops to Black women and non-binary people to help them get into tech. And it wasn’t necessarily like to become software engineers, it was just to let them know that this was a possible avenue because when I was growing up, I didn’t even know this was an avenue that I could take, right. And so that was one half, and the other half of was working with companies to do training, like implicit bias training, which I will be talking a little bit about later, and also to do like internships and stuff with some of our people. Now working in that space made me very, very disillusioned for a number of reasons, but one of them was because I felt a way, like, I didn’t feel good about encouraging Black women to come into a space where I knew it was dangerous and I knew it was dangerous because I had been on the receiving end of the harm from tech basically, right. I’ve had my mental health and my physical health compromised from working in really, really harmful and toxic environments. And sure, like that’s not unique to tech. You are going to have toxic environments in any industry. We’re seeing it with law where Black baristas and Black lawyers be racially abused and racially stigmatized. We’re seeing it in medicine, we definitely see it in retail. So it’s definitely a, not as tech specific issue, right. However, I can only talk about tech because that’s where I spend the majority of my career. So I felt disillusioned because I’m telling Black women to come into this space. Oh yeah, you’re going to make money. Oh yeah, you’re going to be able to have like a better work-life balance, oh yeah, this, that, this, that and the other and I’m here, like suffering. I’m here having to take time off work because of stress, I’m here having anxiety attacks. I’m like, do you see what I’m saying? So that was one reason I became disillusioned. Another thing is because the more learning I did, the more I realized that representation is really the bare minimum. That representation does not mean anything. Representation is - it’s really and truly it’s not even it, it’s not it, it doesn’t matter that there are Black people on your team or LGBTQIA people of any race on your team or disabled people of any race on your team. That doesn’t matter if the work your team is doing is still harmful. If the tools they’re building and the services they’re building are still harmful, or if the environment they’re working in is still harmful, just employing people from minoritized backgrounds isn’t the work that needs to be done. The work that needs to be done is making these environments safe. And I was talking to a follower of mine on Twitter, Nick, and Nick was saying that it’s about an inclusion first approach to these things. And I a hundred percent agree with Nick on that, that is something they have got right. It is about an inclusion first approach and not many companies are thinking from inclusion first. It means that when another BLM thing happens and there’s like riots in the streets and there’s protests and all of this stuff and all these tech companies come out with their press releases, talking about, they want to give people free products - and I know, yes, I spoke about this last year in my rant about everything that was going on last year, but it still rings true - when they come out with these press releases they ultimately amount to nothing because they’re not actually doing the work internally to make their spaces safe to make sure their tools are not contributing to the harm of minoritized and oppressed people, to make sure their services are not contributing to the harm of minoritized and oppressed people.

And I think when you’re working in this space you really have to, whether you’re working in recruitment and hiring diverse talent or whatever the case may be, representation cannot be your selling point. Recently those incident of a person, a Black person who was fired from a pretty big company and they were upset that they were fired so they went and did a thread about all the harm this company had done to them. And, you know, some of it was really, really, really, really horrible and the rest of it was just regular horrible so it was horrible either way, right. And One of the points they had made is that they had done so much work to bring in other Black people, like a lot of other Black people, usually to at a junior level, usually a junior position to come into the company. And my thing was, why did you do that? Like, why did you do that? In the sense of, you know this company’s dangerous, you know this company’s harmful because you have been on the receiving end of this harm, bringing in more Black people, especially at a junior level, into the environment especially at a big, massive company is not going to change or impact that harm or reduce that harm. Like, and I can’t emphasize this enough, especially if that, if they’re a junior level, it’s not going to make any effective change in that way. Change comes from leadership and/or pressurize and leadership, and the best way to pressurize leadership is through unions. So if you’re not working within a union, or anything, and you’re a big company they will just fire you. They would just let you go if you’re doing too much, if you’re talking too much, if you’re arguing too much, if you’re too combative, they will just fire you. And they will just keep firing people who challenged them. So I don’t know, like doing that kind of work of bringing Black people into harmful environments. It’s kind of like at the cost of what and of who, if that makes sense. And I think it doesn’t just, when I talk about diversity and representation inclusion and all of that, it’s not just about the work environments. It’s also about the tools and services we’re building like employing Black people and Black people who have the option to you know, non dangerous places who choose to work with police enforcement or who choose to work with companies that continue the oppression of minoritized people in whatever capacity. That’s not diversity, those are the things you want to diverse. Those are not the things you want to diverse. I don’t think oppressive systems need to be diverse. No. And so when I hear about Black people who, and specifically Black people because that’s really, that’s, those are the people I’m around. But when I hear Black people talking about working for the police, in a tech capacity, trying to make the surveillance AI and the surveillance tools more accurate and detective and other Black people I was just like, why, why do you want to do that work? That’s not good work. That’s not positive work, that contributes to the oppression of our people. So I think we all really need to think about what diversity and inclusion means and really what the, what is the end goal? Like what’s the, what’s the end desire and kinda work backwards from there. Because as I said, representation is the bare minimum. But also inclusion-first should be the approach, should be the main approach, right. And if we really think about it, these DEI roles or D and I roles are careers and they should be treated as such. It’s not enough that I’m a Black woman that gives me the qualification to be a D and I representative, that’s not enough, there also needs to be like proof of external learning and external research that goes beyond implicit bias training. Oh my God, please, please, implicit bias training, it’s not enough. That can not be the beginning and the end, that can not be the alpha and omega it is not enough. We need to do more. We need to actually learn about what contributes to systematic oppression. We need to actually learn about what is systematic oppression. We need to learn the history of these things. We need to learn the pattern of these things. Like you need to do the reading, you need to do the studying, we need to do the research. And I don’t know if maybe having some kind of degree course in this work would like give it more, I don’t know, more body, more bones, I don’t know but there needs to be more work done. It’s not just about changing your job descriptions so that, you know, they don’t bias against women or people from minoritized backgrounds.

It’s not just about that. It’s about understanding how your company or your tool or your service fits in the grand scheme of systematic oppression. It’s about understanding history is about understanding how we got to where we are today and how do we place ourselves in the current ecosystem of thing, right. And that’s not going to just come to you because you’re gay or because you’re a Black woman or because X Y Z, right? That’s going to come to you from studying and understanding these things. Just as how, if you’re a software engineer, you are continuously learning, you’re continuously studying, you’re continuously training yourself on the new tools and the new things in place, as well as the old stuff. So you understand what rules you can break, what all was you shouldn’t break. You can understand how to build better systems and things like that. It’s a continuous learning thing. And experience, as good as it is as a teaching resource, is not enough.

So yeah, I think that we need to think more about like DEI as careers and what kind of training do we need to give to people who want to do those careers and who wants to do that work. And there should always be someone on your team, on your company who can challenge your perspectives, who can make sure things are as healthy as possible.

And then at the same time though, some people just don’t care. Like, you know, you’re not going to change anything in an environment where they just don’t care. There is also that, you know? So yeah. Okay. Well, yeah, I think that’s enough of me just like shouting into a microphone about how bad all of this stuff.

So let’s go to break and we’ll come back and we’ll be in the source. Okie-dokie so, as I said earlier in the source today, I want to talk about I want to recommend some books that I think will give a more holistic picture of some oppressions, not all, but some oppressions not just in tech, two books are about tech and two books are just more about like the world or certain societies, right. This list is not the be all and end all there are so, so, so many books throughout like history that you can read about a lot of these things, a lot of different oppressions, whether that’s disability or whether that’s race or sexism. So yeah, there are only four books here, but there are so many books and once you start and not just books, there are documentaries, there are podcasts,‘ tech will not save us’ is a good podcast that looks into how tech will not save us, the name says it all, but yeah, that there are so many resources you can look at, you can look into, I’m also considering doing some kind of reading list, or I don’t know about this stuff. I’m still toying around with the idea of how I’m going to do that. What’s the best medium for me to do that with. But yeah, let me know if you’d be interested in that, but let’s get into these books. Okay. So the first book is ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Renni Eddo Lodge. This is really focused on the UK and the history of racism in the UK from slavery, looks at the police institution, it looks at just everything and how racism. Well, first of all, all races systematic, I don’t think there’s a such thing as unsystematic racism, but specifically systematic racism in the way we speak of it. So how all these systems really do work to bring non-white people , how it works to oppress non white people and in particular Black people but also Asian people as well.

So that’s one book that I really, really, really recommend. Another is called ‘Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Crow Code’ by Ruha Benjamin. This is specifically about race and tech. I haven’t read it, but I hear amazing, amazing things about it. So you should definitely check it out. Another one is ‘Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds we Need’ by Sasha Constanza Chock. And this is, this looks at how like grassroots organisations and stuff like that, work together to build the things they need, right. And how can apply that to building systems, and I love that it’s called design justice because I think that really captures the essence of the book.

The next one, the last one is ‘Capitalism & Disability’ by Marta Russell. And I think this is really, really important to understand how capitalism, especially because a lot of us or a lot of people want to build for profit companies and really want to use capitalism to advance themselves. It’s important to understand the ways in which capitalism cannot exist without some kind of underclass, without some somebody suffering right, it cannot exist without that. And it’s also important to know that the different groups of people that contribute to the advancement of capitalism, but who also suffer under capitalism. And so this book looks at how those who have disabilities intersect with capitalism and how capitalism is just not good for us in that regard. There are also many books on capitalism, and I think is important, especially in tech, because I think tech is one of the most capitalistic industries you can work in. There’s no two ways about it. It’s a lot of it is about making more and more and more and more and more money. It’s about company valuations that really don’t mean anything. And I think that recent stock drama will let us know that a lot of these company valuations don’t mean anything, at all it’s all made up. And so I think it’s, if we’re working in this industry, it’s important to understand how our work contributes to these systems and how we can start to think of ways where it doesn’t necessarily have to. So yeah, those are my four recommendations. I will not be putting links, well, maybe I’ll put links in the description, I’m not sure yet if I can find links that are non-Amazon then I will put links in the description. But yeah, that is it for me this week.

The next episode will be dropping in two weeks so be sure to check that out. If you enjoyed this episode, please like, leave a review on Apple podcasts, if that’s where you’re listening, share with your friends, tweet, do all of that jazz. And thanks for listening.