101 RR Diversity with Ashe Dryden
- Published on:
- April 17, 2013
The Rogues talk about diversity with Ashe Dryden.
DAVID: So, we’re not going to talk about the thing you said to me at Mountain West? [Laughter]
DAVID: It’s going to come forward sooner or later, Charles. [Laughter]
JOSH: David, let’s just put it behind us and move on.
CHUCK: I’m being conspicuously quiet. [Laughter]
DAVID: I’m not sure I like your tone.
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CHUCK: Hey everybody, and welcome to Episode 101 of the Ruby Rogues podcast. This week on our panel, we have David Brady.
DAVID: Hello from Salt Lake City. Just like Barack Obama, there are many among my detractors who say I am not black enough.
CHUCK: James Edward Gray.
JAMES: Hello! Still sick, still here.
CHUCK: Avid Grimm.
AVDI: Hello from Pennsylvania.
CHUCK: Josh Susser.
JOSH: Hi from San Francisco where everybody is a poster for diversity.
CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv. We have a special guest with us today and that is Ashe Dryden.
ASHE: Hello from Wisconsin.
CHUCK: So this week, we’re going to be talking about diversity. And I just want to clear things up real quick about what we’re going to be talking about. We are not going to be talking about any particular specific event. I know that we’ve had a few this year regarding diversity. We’re not going to go into specifics on those. What we’re really hoping to do here is just talk about how and why we should be working on diversity.
JOSH: So, Ashe, how should we start this conversation?
ASHE: Sure! I’d love to…
JOSH: Wait! Do you need to introduce your self since we’re not on Ruby Freelancers?
DAVID: Oh, yeah.
CHUCK: That’s true.
ASHE: Oh, sure. So, my name is Ashe Dryden. I live in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m an independent developer and I’m also a conference organizer. For about the past, I don’t know, six to eight months, I’ve been pushing in a very visible way, increasing diversity in our community because it’s something that we very much lack. And I really want to kind of see things change in a more active way instead of just kind of waiting for it to come to us. So, I’ve been doing things like speaking with conference organizers to help them increase diversity on stage and in seats. And speaking with employers about how they can change their hiring practices to accommodate more diversity and find more diversity and keep more diversity within their ranks. And also, speaking with people one on one about kind of the things we can start changing in ourselves to make sure that we aren’t pushing people away.
DAVID: Nice one.
JOSH: My first question is why would we do that?
CHUCK: Oh, I so thought that he was going to ask for a definition. [Laughter]
JOSH: No, that comes later. [Laughter]
JAMES: I can take a stab at why we’d do that?
ASHE: Do it.
JAMES: I’ve been learning things reading Ashe’s Emails. I think one big reason we do it, I don’t know about everybody else on this calls experience but lately, I’ve seen tons of companies complaining about how they can’t find the people they want. And I’ve even seen a couple of projects recently move off of Ruby and stuff because they said they just couldn’t staff the Ruby developers they needed to take care of these projects. And it turns out there’s actually a lot of people coming into programming and we’re washing out some of them. Among males, mostly white males, we’re washing out about 17%. But among women, just to take one example or category we’re washing out about 42%. So, if we would just fix that one thing, we’d get this influx of tons of programmers that apparently these companies need. That seems like a good thing.
CHUCK: Right. I think also besides just the number of programmers out there to fill jobs, I think also I found that the more I’ve worked with people, everybody kind of comes from a different place. It’s not just white or not white, or male or female, but everybody has a little bit different experience or a lot of bit different experience with different things. And so, they think about problems differently. And sometimes, you need that other perspective to really be able to solve the problem in the right way. So if that comes from a woman or a minority or somebody who has a different religious, or political, or other kind of background than you, sometimes they’ll approach it differently and really give you what you need regardless of the other factors there.
JOSH: And there’s data that backs that up. Ashe, you can probably talk about this better than I about the studies that show that diverse teams actually do better in a whole bunch of different measures?
ASHE: Yeah. So, you’re more likely to have more problems are solved outside of the box, you are more likely to have a team that gels better together because if you think of it like — I don’t even know what a good analogy to make. It basically fills in all of the empty spaces that you have. So, somebody can provide experience that you don’t have, can maybe identify more with your customer base or can identify more with a problem that your client is trying to solve. It helps the problem all the way around. So right now, we have an issue where the vast majority of people in our industry fit into a very specific demographic. They tend to be white, straight, cisgender, which is being born of the gender that you identify as, speaking English as a first language because English is a very dominant language in our community. You see even conferences that are in European countries where the dominant language is not English; the language of the conference is English. The language that we speak online, in Github issues is English, and abled is another one. So, there’s a very wide range of disabilities that affect people. So, if we are only solving problems from a very specific perspective, there’s a lot that we’re missing just because we don’t think about it, just because those are the problems that we ourselves don’t have to deal with on a daily basis. So, increasing diversity can help solve a wider range of problems in a better way.
JAMES: Did everyone see Uncle Bob’s blog post recently, ‘There are Ladies Present’?
JAMES: I thought it was a really good post. It’s very anecdotal but actually, that’s what I ended up liking about it. It was a very serious tale of how he really didn’t understand how he was off putting all these years and these mistakes he kept making and not getting that he was making them. And he finally got it. He was like, “I’m running these people off.” And he understood why. But also, at the same time, as he got past that and began to work with other people, he began to talk about how he realized how he thinks differently than they do, and how valuable that was that he knows he’s always going to think like he thinks but seeing their point of view was very insightful to him that they were approaching it in a totally different way and stuff. Anyway, it’s a great piece. I’ll put a link in the show notes and I recommend people read it.
JOSH: So I think that that post, that message can be generalized and expanded in a bit in a way that, it basically shows that bringing diversity to a community is to the benefit of even the majority players in the community. That I’m a white guy and I’m not straight but I apparently fit in to most of the dominant areas in our community. And I’ve sat in a room full of developers. There was like 10 or 12 developers there. And all of them, all the other guys are straight white dudes and they all make assumptions about what is okay to talk about given what they see sitting in the room. And if there were a woman in the room, they would moderate what they were saying in a different way rather than behaving like we’re all in a locker room. I think Uncle Bob even used that phrase in his blog post. But I found a huge amount of the conversation just really off putting and awkward. And after like a week or two of this, I just had to say something and they cleaned up their language after that. But it wasn’t easy to do because it was like, “This is my workplace. I shouldn’t have to deal with this crap.” So if there were more diversity on that team, it would make it better for me. And there were probably even some of the other guys in the room who were, even though they were all straight white guys, there were probably guys there who found the conversation probably as uncomfortable as I did sometimes. But they didn’t feel like they had any ground to say something.
CHUCK: Yeah. My experience, I’ve experienced a few things similar to that where I’ve been at a conference and people just assume that I had the same political bent or they assume that most people in the community are not religious or even actively Atheist or things like that. And so, they kind of talk about religious people or conservative people, both of which are kind of boxes that I fit into as somehow mentally diminished and it’s the same. It’s uncomfortable.
JOSH: Right. So, not everyone is the same and we all feel bad when we get singled out and made to feel different…
JOSH: …in those derogatory ways. So, the point of Uncle Bob’s piece and what I was just saying is that if we have an environment that is respectful of diversity in some ways, it’s generally respectful of all diversity in some ways.
CHUCK: Yeah. The other thing I wanted to point out, though, is in your experience and in my experience, the second somebody says something, people do amend the way they behave and talk. And so, I think for the most part, people aren’t looking to be offensive. And I want to give a lot of credit to the folks who realize that they were out of line and sincerely apologize. Honestly, I think that’s the best thing that you can do when you realize that you’ve kind of messed up and everybody does. So, just sincerely apologize and be a little bit more mindful but a lot of credit to a lot of people. Most folks in the community, they don’t want to offend people, they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. They just don’t realize that the assumption they’re making isn’t completely valid.
JAMES: I think you guys have touched on a great topic and I’d love to hear Ashe comment on this. But Josh is talking about, he finds himself in a situation where he’s uncomfortable with the discourse and stuff like that and feels compelled to say something. I think that brings about, how do we as individuals take hold of the wheel and steer the ship? Is that what we need to do? Do we need to speak up? There’s lots of different means of handling it. Katrina, for example, her process of handling diversity works really great for her and I love it. That’s just that she likes to go out there and do tech stuff because she is a woman. So, she goes out there and she carries that forward and that’s her way of carrying the flag which obviously, works really well for her. But it doesn’t work for me because I’m not a woman, right? So, I feel like I can’t help that way. So, how should we be helping?
ASHE: Sure. So, you can help in a couple different ways. I know Katrina is not here which is kind of sad for me. But because she’s visible and because she’s doing awesome things in the community, she is being both a role model and she’s being visible in our community in such a way that people can see, “Oh, people that are similar to Katrina do have skills.” I hear a lot, “Girls aren’t good at programming,” or, “Girls aren’t good at Math.” And being visible really helps push that forward. And I really appreciate people who tackle this problem from different angles. I think that’s really important. So, the way that I approach these kinds of issues is different than the way that other people approach them but that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. So, there are a couple ways, if you get into a situation where somebody’s saying something that makes you feel uncomfortable, depending on the severity of it, I would definitely address it with them. If it’s something that they just made kind of an off-hand joke or an off-hand comment that wasn’t appropriate, pull them aside afterwards or send them an Email later and say, “When you did that, it made me feel really uncomfortable. And if you could just be more mindful, that would be awesome.” Other times, you kind of have to, if it gets into a really dangerous place where you can see that people are made to feel uncomfortable or threatened, definitely stop it right there. I tell a lot of people that a way to not be confrontational about it is just to look at them, frown, and say, “Hey, that’s not cool.” Because that kind of small push towards like, the general populous doesn’t accept this as being okay, that makes people feel bad enough that they’ll alter that behavior. I don’t like making people feel bad but it’s kind of an easy way to push them into rectifying that behavior.
CHUCK: I have a question on that and really what it comes down to is there are kind of two ways of approaching some of these situations depending on what they are. One is from the position of, you’re the minority and so, what they’re saying or doing is something that directly makes you uncomfortable. And so, in those cases, what you just said I think is appropriate. But it seems a little bit less appropriate, though it would still work for the majority. I think it would carry more weight, for example, if it was something that somebody in a minority situation says, “Hey, that’s not cool,” versus me walking up and saying, “Hey guys, that’s not cool.”
AVDI: I think the opposite’s true.
JOSH: So Ashe, one of the concern troll moves that I see a lot on some of the discussions is, why are you putting words in women’s mouth? Why are you talking down to them like they can’t stand up for themselves? Can you address that?
ASHE: Yes. So, just a little bit of a back story. I grew up, I think, similar to most people in that I was smart and nerdy and always had my nose in a book and was playing with computers. And I was kind of raised as a boy. So, I did a lot of things that other boys did like play sports, and was a little bit tougher than most kids. And I got made fun of a lot for that just because I was different. And a lot of people stood up for me specifically because that’s not the way that they would like to be treated themselves. So, I hate to be cliché but I really love the Golden Rule on this, ‘treat other people the way that you want to be treated’. And when it comes to something like, you’re in a situation and you’re a white person and a person of color is being harassed for something, you standing up is an important part of this process because it says, “Number one, I see this person as a human being and I want them person to be treated the same way that I’m being treated.” I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. I don’t want them to feel like I don’t belong here, these are not my people. I want them to stick around because their point of view and their perspective and them as a person, that’s important to me that they stay here. So, standing up is just a human being saying to another human being saying, “I want you to treat this person like a person.” Has nothing to do with any facet of your being. It’s just you being a good person. I hear a lot of the term ‘White Knighting’ which makes me cringe. I hear it a lot in our community because the most visible into the surface issues, I think, in our community are around gender. And what I love about the Ruby community so much is when I came into it, I saw so many men standing up to other men and saying, “That’s not cool.” It didn’t take much more than that but I didn’t have to have that conversation over and over and over again. Because there are less of me than there are of you so statistically, I’m going to encounter that problem a lot more than you are. So, having somebody stand up and say, “That’s not cool,” really helped me and it kind of endeared me to the Ruby community.
AVDI: It’s surprising how fast you can change the tenor of a conversation by saying something like that. Particularly — not necessarily online, but certainly in a room. I think when someone says, “Hey, that’s not cool.” Or just, “Let’s talk about something else,” a lot of people will just kind of go onto that. Maybe there are people in the room who were feeling like, “Maybe that’s not cool but maybe this is cool. I’m not sure yet.” Humans, our nature is to sort of mentally poll the room to figure out how we feel about, a little part of how we feel about things, part of like what’s appropriate and what’s not. So, when somebody actually pipes up and says, “That’s not cool,” a lot of people in the room will just think to themselves, “Yeah. Okay, I guess that’s not cool.” And they’ll jump on board.
DAVID: We are very tribal creatures. And there’s an entire school of debate called ‘ethical debate’ which is not ethics in the sense of ‘Do what’s right’. But ethical, in the Greeks or Latin ancient sense of the majority, ‘Ethos’ was civilization or society or the vast majority. And so, ethical debate, just look at any political speech in the past 20 years and you can see examples of ethical debate. It’s, “We are us, and they are them and my tribe, your tribe. Not in my backyard,” that kind of stuff. And this mentally polling the room is where we’re trying to figure out, how do I fit in here? How do I become part of this group? How do I belong? And I’m really, really glad that Ashe talked about White Knighting because we talked about this a little bit in the pre-show that all of us on the show are white, native English speakers. We sit at the top of the power curve in certain dimensions. And I’m very interested in knowing what I can do when I find myself at the top of a power curve in a group and somebody is behaving exclusionary – that’s a fun word – towards other people. How do you get them to stop that without introducing more contention and more division, without having an off-putting tone and that sort of thing? And so, I think Ashe, you’ve already started to answer that a little bit but I kind of wanted to give you some more room to run on that if you wanted to because it’s really useful to me.
ASHE: So, there are two different perspectives on this. One is the person who’s kind of the bystander who is standing up. And the other is the person who is actually saying these things or doing these things. On one hand, the easiest way to stop something is to kind of help the person save face and obviously, this really depends on the situation. So, if it’s something that somebody says kind of offhand and it’s a joke and it’s not — it’s really situational. It’s hard to describe. So, if it’s something that you can tell obviously changes the tone of the room or the tone of the conversation, or it’s going into a direction that you don’t like and it’s kind of worrying, definitely stop them right there. I try to save face because they’re more likely to not do that again in the future. Especially as a person who’s in a marginalized group, a lot of times, speaking up, as like if somebody says something about women and I speak up as a woman, a lot of times, the response that I would get would be different than, say, if Avdi stood up because people are more likely to listen to people that are like them. It feels a lot less — they get a lot less defensive because they can say, “This is somebody like me and they don’t think it’s cool. So maybe, I shouldn’t do it.” But coming from me, the kinds of responses I get are, “Well, you should just lighten up.” Or, “You’re being too sensitive.” And some of the things are really offensive. I wrote a blog post about some of the experiences that I’ve had and the responses I got were overwhelmingly positive. But some of the responses I got were just absolutely terrible. You know, the worst stuff that you can find on the Internet and that is amazing to me that that exists. And it really stems from the fact that a lot of people have a really hard time understanding that number one, they might have hurt somebody; and number two, that they were brave enough to stand up to them. Because that’s like the second worse offense, right? You embarrassed me in front of all of my bros and that is a super punishable offense in our community and it’s really unfortunate.
JOSH: Oh, yes! I get punished for that frequently.
ASHE: Yeah. It’s really unfortunate. And a lot of it has to do with the way that the person who kind of said this offensive thing, or did this thing and how they respond. There’s a very easy way to get past this which is learning how to apologize correctly. I talked about this, this past weekend at Ruby Midwest, it’s as easy as making ice cubes. I’m sure most people have seen the recipe online for how to make ice cubes. And that’s what I like to tell people, like an apology is very simple.
JOSH: Wait! Wait!
DAVID: I’ve never had to Google that.
ASHE: I’ll have to find it. I’ll have to find it for you guys, it’s great. But it’s a recipe for how to make ice cubes. So, this is a recipe for how to apologize. One, acknowledge that you made the mistake, “I am sorry I just made that sexist joke.” Two, apologize, and it’s as simple as saying, “I’m sorry.” And the third is make amends by trying your best not to do that behavior again. So it’s, “I’m sorry I made that joke and I will do my best to be mindful about not doing that again.” That’s as simple as it is. And being genuine, when you say that, can diffuse the entire situation. You save your own face and people are more likely to respect you for doing that.
AVDI: So, the biggest problem that I’ve seen with this is — the biggest objection is to that first step because you’ll see the common response is, “Well, I don’t think I did anything wrong.” There are a million different versions of ‘I don’t think I did anything wrong’. You know, “Other people are doing worse things. I’ve seen such and such minority doing the same kind of thing, et cetera, et cetera.” I’m not going to go over all the different versions of ‘I don’t think I did anything wrong’. And this has been something — I mean, this kind of speaks to me because I’m kind of uncomfortably close to that response. I had a discussion about this with my wife recently. We were discussing one of the recent blow ups, and it doesn’t matter which one. We’re kind of going over our own personal history a little bit and she reminded me that when we were first married, I would carefully explain to her why I didn’t need to apologize to her. [Laughter]
JAMES: We’ve all done that.
AVDI: Have we? I don’t know. I mean, this is actually something that really caught me up short when she said that because I realized that, “Oh, yeah. I guess I had done that.” But that seems like such an — I don’t know. It seems like such an awful thing to do now. But the thing is, we’re nerds and we like to think that the world is an objective place. It’s full of bullions and it’s full of things that we can know completely. So, I would explain. I would rationally, as a rational person because I know I am, I would reason through the issue and then explain to her why I didn’t need to apologize. And the truth is, in human relationships, there is no objectivity because there is no, there’s nothing, there’s no objective truth other than the fact that air moved over my vocal chords, created vibrations, which then fell upon your tympanic membrane. Everything else beyond that is basically subjective. So, getting past that point of, I’ve analyzed the issue, how do you do that? How do you get past that point of, I’ve analyzed the issue, I’ve analyzed what happens and I have determined scientifically that I wasn’t wrong?
JOSH: Avdi, that’s why we call it a mistake. [Laughter]
JOSH: If you did it intentionally, it’s probably not something that you can get by with a simple apology.
AVDI: But there’s so much of a stigma around a mistake, as well.
JOSH: Yeah. We’re all human. We make mistakes.
AVDI: Yeah. We don’t want to admit, we want to say, “Well no, I’ve determined that that wasn’t a mistake. It was perfectly reasonable.”
JAMES: I definitely feel that. That’s my instinct.
AVDI: The realization that I’ve come to is that apologies are free, they cost us nothing. I think we feel like they lose face or something, or they put us a notch down the totem pole. You know what I found out? If you apologize to someone, you probably just made a friend. You’re actually like one up.
ASHE: I like to — you’ll see a lot of people talk about this that intent is not magic. So, you may not intend to offend somebody but that doesn’t automatically mean that you will not offend somebody. So, there’s a lot of context that we don’t have because we’re all kind of living our own experiences. And I’ve certainly messed up on this. Yesterday, NASA announced something about the Mars Rover and kind of offhandedly mentioned that the Mars Rover was female. I was like, “Oh, that’s really neat.” I had always kind of pictured in my head that the personification of the Mars Rover was male.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s really neat.” And a bunch of people said to me, “Don’t you think that’s kind of sexist like we name objects after women? We name boats and cars and objects after women? We never name them after men.” And I was like, “You know, that is a really great point. I’m a woman and I didn’t think about that.” And I, obviously, didn’t intend offense because I was really excited about the fact that the Mars Rover was female. But that is kind of one of those off-handed things, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” Going into a situation and the only thing that you can assume is that you can’t assume anything is kind of the best way to take it. I have definitely offended people before and I have definitely been called out before because we all make mistakes, we’re all human. And like you said, I like to tell people that I have this magic bag of holding and I have as many apologies in there as I need. I will never run out. It’s totally free and it doesn’t cost ne anything and use them because you are more likely to be respected by people if you own up to your mistakes.
AVDI: Here’s a quick, real quick tricky question for you. Do you ever have things that you will apologize for because you realize that somebody was hurt by something you said? But then, you also think about it and realize you’re still going to say something like that in the future because it’s an important part of who you are. Is that a thing?
ASHE: Maybe, I can’t think of an instance that it would be true but I’m definitely — if people call me out about something I’m a lot more mindful of it because — we haven’t talked about the idea of privilege and this might be a good time to bring it up.
DAVID: Wait, wait, wait! I have an addendum to Avdi’s thought. So, this notion that apologies are free. Yes, they are but there’s a very vulnerable power move that you have to master. I’m telegraphing my pick for the end of the show, the reason we try to explain when we make a mistake. Brene Brown did some studies on shame and shame is the emotion that we feel when we feel disconnected from our tribe, when we feel shut out and alone. And it’s very powerful. I mean, it drives right to the core of almost our survival instinct. It’s very, very powerful. When you start explaining or as one person — when a sexist, when you start doing ‘Mansplaining’ which is trying to justify what you just did, what you’re trying to do is not get thrown out of the tribe. You’re trying to say, “No, no, no, wait! Don’t shame me. Don’t throw me out for having done this. I wasn’t wrong because you see this, and this, and this. You just didn’t see it from my point of view.” It’s not until you can get outside your self a little bit and be vulnerable and realize, “Oh, I did hurt somebody and I didn’t mean to.” You might have all these great reasons for why you didn’t intend and why, et cetera, but that is a huge power move. Once you’ve mastered that, sure apologies are free all day long. But that is the place that I find when I’m talking with people that if you can bring them to that point of, “Dude, seriously, just say you’re sorry and just let it go.” Just admit that you actually hurt somebody.
JOSH: There’s one more thing that I want to build on that and it’s that apologies aren’t just free, you actually get money back.
JAMES: Yeah, there you go.
JOSH: The personal transformation that you go through to get to the point where you can deliver a sincere apology, it can be a huge step.
DAVID: Yes, yes.
JOSH: And the first GoGaRuCo is infamous for the porn talk. If you Google GoGaRuCo, that’s still one of the top things that comes up around the conference which is so soul crushingly painful for me.
JAMES: And we almost threw Josh out right then. [Laughter]
JOSH: Yeah. But the fact that I owned up to screwing up in the program selection and how I ran the program for that conference, that incident didn’t tarnish me personally because I owned it. I delivered a really heartfelt apology and said, “I’m going to do my best to make sure this never happens again.” And that put me in a position where suddenly I cared about diversity issues a lot more than I did before. I had some insight into the effect that it can have on people. And now, GoGaRuCo is known as one of the most diverse conferences in the Ruby world. But if I had dug in my heels and said, “I did a really good job. It wasn’t my fault, it was other people voting. Blah…blah…blah…,” that wouldn’t have done anywhere good.
DAVID: Yes, I’ve already told this story so I won’t re-tell it. Yehey, it’s a first for me! But at Mount West last year, we had a very sexist talk. And the person who gave the talk left the room right after giving it, there was no way to address them directly and let them save face. And I actually did not notice that the temperature in the room had changed. It wasn’t until Josh came down and said, “Dude, you have to get up and say something.” I was one of the organizers. He said, “You have to get up and say some things.” And so, I did. And there were other people in the room who did not know that the room temperature had changed. And they were offended that I was saying, “This isn’t cool.” But at the end of the day, we’re not trying to exclude the excluders. We’re trying to reform them. We’re trying to get everybody to say, “I see this, it’s a boo-boo. Let’s all agree not to do this again.”
ASHE: Right. And it can become a learning experience for everyone at that point. That’s one of the reasons why I came to the Ruby community from the PHP community. And one of the things that a lot of my friends from the PHP community would say is, “How can you go to the Ruby community? There’s so much drama there. They’re so sexist.” And I was thinking to myself, all of the bad experiences that I’ve had up until that point with other programmers, with being at conferences, all of these things had all been in the PHP community before. And we’d never talked about them publicly because it’s just not a thing you do. And I hate to keep bringing up why I love the Ruby community so much but I love that we talk about these things in the light of day like adults because that provides such an amazing learning opportunity for people who have never been exposed to that kind of situation before. Hopefully, talking about these things publicly means even if just one person thinks before they say something, that is worlds better to me. That is maybe one less person that is going to hate their experience at a conference. And as a conference organizer, that means a lot. I want everybody to have a good time and I want everybody to feel comfortable like they belong there. And I don’t want them to be constantly reminded that they are other. So, it means a lot to me that we talk about these things. I mean, the fact that we’re talking about this right now on this podcast says a lot about just the maturity level of our discourse. That we can have these kinds of conversations like adults and we can work on making ourselves better.
JAMES: Agreed. Let’s talk about privilege because I’ve got some good links for that.
ASHE: [Chuckles] Awesome. So, privilege kind of goes hand in hand with intersectionality. So, we talk about things like diversity. And diversity, when we talk about it in the community, tends to be synonymous with women. So we say, “We want more diversity at conferences. How do we get more women?” That’s a lot of the conversation I hear. But diversity is a lot more than that. Diversity covers not only visible diversity. I can see that you’re somebody of a different gender. I can see that you’re a person of color, a person with disabilities. But I can also have different things. So, I can also be a person who has a medical history that might keep me from going to conferences. Or I might be a person who has children or I’m a single parent, so it keeps me from being able to work on open source after 5:00 or go to conferences as often as I would like. There’s a lot of different aspects to diversity. Intersectionality is kind of when those things stack up. So, my experiences as a white woman are very different than the experiences of a woman of color, or a woman who doesn’t speak English as a first language because those things stack up. You’re not only dealing with the fact that society kind of looks at you differently because you’re a woman, but also because you’re a person of color. There’s a lot more context there. So, intersectionality again is just kind of like that pancake effect of all of these things stacking up. And privilege is kind of what you get for being the default. And having privilege isn’t a bad thing. It’s kind of what society gives you for being born with specific traits. So, being born a white person, I have a lot of privilege. I have the ability to walk behind somebody in the neighborhood and for them not to automatically cross the street. Being born as somebody who speaks English as a first language, I can assume that because my language is the default, most people will be able to understand me or they will go out of their way to learn English or have tools that help them understand English because that is the default, everybody knows English. So, we kind of have all of these things that make our lives easier as people with privilege. And recognizing them is the important part. So like I said before, it’s not a bad thing to have privilege. It just means that you have to work a little bit harder to recognize them and to understand. So, the comments that you might make as a man about things that are easy or — for instance, we talk a lot about going to conferences and helping people afford going to conferences. Women make a lot less than men. On average, women make 77% of what a man does. So, a conference ticket actually costs me more. But if I were a Hispanic woman, the average is that I make 55% of what a white man does. So, a ticket costs me almost twice as much. So, trying to go out of your way to make things accessible to everybody is really important and that’s a part of recognizing your privilege and kind of going to make things equal or closer to equal for other people.
CHUCK: So, I want to jump in here really quick because I watched the talk by Steve Klabnik and Lindsey Bieda. I wasn’t quite sure how to say her last name. So, the interesting thing there was that he brought up privilege and there was like, “Okay, fine. Call me privileged.” And then, he started explaining what it was and I had to stop. I was like, “Wait a minute, you can’t say that.” It was really fascinating to me. And I realized for a moment there that I don’t see it mostly because I deal with people who are like me. And we’ve talked about this already a bit. But how do you get to the point where you can really observe that you have privilege? JOSH: Some of it is just a big blind spot. There’s a great example of how invisible privilege is to people who have it and that’s the Bechdel test. I think it’s Alison Bechdel who wrote a comic strip ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’. I’m actually one of the people who has read it instead of just looking it up through the reference from the test. So, the Bechdel test says three simple things. When you’re looking at a movie, it’s not saying whether the movie is good or bad, it’s a particular attribute of the movie and that is that there are at least two women in the movie. At some point, they have a conversation and it’s not about a man. There’s plenty of great movies that don’t pass the Bechdel test like the Matrix or the Princess Bride.
ASHE: Or the Hobbit. There’s only one woman in that movie, in the whole movie!
JOSH: Right and even in the Lord of The Rings where there were a couple women, they never talked to each other, right? So, there’s plenty of great movies that don’t pass the test. But the thing is, you could spend your entire life watching nothing but movies that don’t pass the test and you would probably never realize that there was anything unusual about those movies because in real life, women have conversations with women all the time and they frequently are not about men. [Laughter]
JAMES: Mind blown.
JOSH: If you look at movies or TV Shows or books or whatever, it’s like there’s this inherent assumption that anything interesting going on with the plot involves men. Yeah, and that’s just part of the privileged perspective, right?
ASHE: And it’s even worse when it comes to people of color. There are a lot of really great statistics on that. The number of people of color in main or secondary roles in movies is abysmal. Speaking of the Hobbit, one of the jokes I made coming out of the Hobbit was it was a great movie but the only place whiter than Middle Earth was the movie theater that I was sitting in.
Because I could not believe you have this movie that’s set in this fantastical world and all of the people are white. What world is that, that every single person in the world is white? And you can see it directly in the movie theater. It makes people that don’t fit into that specific group feel less comfortable or less interested in the movie. And think about that the next time you write your software, is all your software written by the same kind of person? Maybe people that are different then you are less likely to use it, you know?
DAVID: I did point out that we are an entirely white panel and the Hobbit is just a fantastic step forward for high challenged people. I just want to point that out.
JOSH: I don’t want to go into it too much. But Ashe, I was in College when Prince’s movie ‘Purple Rain’ came out. And my friends and I were all huge Prince fans. And we’d go down to Westwood to see the movie on opening night. The five of us were the only white people in the whole theater and that was a real eye opening experience, being in a minority that significantly.
JAMES: I went to a high school for a little while where at orientation day, I was one of the two white guys at orientation day. It is. It’s very shocking.
ASHE: This is funny to me because this is 90% of my experience going to conferences. I was at a conference this past weekend and I walked in and I was like, “Wow, there are a lot of dudes here.” Like, I could not see another woman. The vast majority of the time, because I’m used to it, like all of the hobbies and interests and obviously my career are all white straight male dominated, I’m kind of used to being in that situation. But there are certain times where just the temperature of the room is slightly different. I talk a lot about how when I was in College, I was the only woman in my class and I would get to class early because I’m a very punctual person. And all of the men would sit on the opposite side of the room as me. And that was weird coming from somebody who is used to beating the crap out of people on the Basketball court and going to comic bookstores and playing video games. I’m used to being in some situations where people are like, “Oh man, there’s a woman here. That’s cool!” And other situations, people are like, “Oh man, there’s a woman here.” And it’s like the sea is parting. Like, I walk through a crowd of people and they all make room for me because it’s a weird situation to be in. So, that’s kind of like a flavor of what it’s like to be somebody who’s marginalized and check every single time you go to events or you are looking at an About page for a company you want to apply for, that’s a big one. So, it’s something that you have as a privilege that you don’t realize that you are the default, you are the majority.
CHUCK: So, I want to ask a couple of questions about privilege that I hear reasonably often. One is, and so these are kind of two sides of the same coin. One is, if the majority is X, then shouldn’t the majority of performers or speakers in this community also then be X? Then the other question is, is if we’re trying to be diverse, then how do people in the minority know that they are being chosen because they are capable as opposed to being chosen because they are the minority.
ASHE: Yeah, that’s a hard conversation to have. So, the first question being, if the percentages of our community are 75% male, then we should expect that 75% of speakers are male or similar situations to that. The thing is the tech community used to actually be dominated by women. Women actually used to be the computers. Any kind of computer, anything was seen as a woman’s job because typing was a woman’s job. So, sometime over the past 30 or 40 years, there’s been this huge exodus of women and it hasn’t stopped. As of 2010, I believe it is, 20% of CS grads were women. As of the end of this year, they’re expecting that 17% or lower graduating CS grads are going to be women. So, this is a problem that’s not going to be getting better for a couple of different reasons. One is attrition. James talked at the beginning about how a lot more women are leaving the field than men and the statistic for women is 60%, within 10 years, leave.
ASHE: And so, I talk about these things a lot and a lot of it is kind of self preservation. I want to know that I can be in this community. I’ve been here for longer than 10 years but I want to know that I can be in this community in 10 years. You know, I want to continue to have a career. I want to continue to do as well as my male peers. And the reasons that women leave aren’t super surprising, get paid less, less recognition, have to work a lot harder to get the same kind of recognition that men get and things like harassment and worse than that. So that’s the attrition side of the problem. The other half is the pipeline problem. And that sometime in middle school, girls lose interest in Science and Math because it’s not cool to be smart when you’re a girl. So, there are a lot of people that are working on both sides of these problems. A lot of the things are very easily changed. But in the meantime, what we have to do for the marginalized people in our communities, as well as the people who aren’t marginalized, is to make diversity visible. So, if I see a woman that’s on stage, as a woman, I’m more likely to feel like this is the place for me. Women can do the same kinds of things that men can do. Women can be really successful because in our world, women are treated very differently. Something like 17 out of 500 CEOs in the United States are female. And that’s kind of shocking when you consider that 52% of our population is female. It doesn’t really make any sense. So, by pushing and making diversity more visible, we’re saying to the people that are in those marginalized groups that you do belong here. We do want you here. And to the people who aren’t in those marginalized groups, we’re reinforcing the idea that women or people of color, or people with disabilities, or people who don’t speak English as a first language, what have you, they do belong here and they are smart and they are capable because we all need that kind of reinforcement. I can’t tell you how many times people have said something to me like, “If women wanted to be here, they would be here. Maybe women just aren’t predisposed to being good programmers.” And I know that’s not true. I met some amazingly brilliant women programmers that end up leaving because the sexual harassment thing is too much or just the subtle jabs all the time, “Oh, you’re a woman. Oh, you’re different.” Or, being excluded in ways that we don’t realize like having events that are focused on drinking for instance. I hate to pick on conferences obviously but having events that are focused on drinking is very problematic for a lot of women because we’re looking at going into a room that’s probably a little bit dark, it’s loud, people are drinking, the vast majority of people there are men. That’s an environment that, as a woman, I don’t feel super comfortable with. As somebody who is hard of hearing, I don’t feel super comfortable in. As somebody who has experienced sexual harassment and assault, I don’t feel very comfortable in. So, there are all these things that kind of stack up that we don’t necessarily realize are pushing people away, but they are.
JAMES: Yeah. I was just going to say that it’s a matter of — we’re trying to move the needle, right? So, Chuck was talking about how do we know we’re not going too far the other way? Well, for a while, we need to push the other way because we got to bring that needle over. So, we mentioned Lindsey and Steve’s talk earlier. Lindsey talks about how when she goes to a conference, people will come up to her and say, “Whose girlfriend are you?” She wouldn’t be the programmer there. She came with some guy. So, we’re at an environment where the way we greet her tells her, “You don’t belong here.” And now, we’re trying to make it where we need to get the needle far enough over where Lindsey sees women giving talks on stage and feels, “Oh, this is my place. These are my people.” We’re trying to get that needle that far over so we have to push a little bit to get it to move.
JOSH: Yeah. There’s a lot of inertia in our culture that takes a lot of work to overcome that inertia and get things moving in a different direction. And that in a world where everybody had the same access and privilege and things like that, then you wouldn’t need to compensate because there would be nothing to compensate for. But there has to be some period of compensation to move the needle into the right position. I see a lot of the comments that you see in the terrible discussions online where people say, “Well, we should just be completely gender blind or completely color blind and not even think about these things at all. And try and pretend like there’s no problem.”
DAVID: No, it doesn’t work.
JOSH: Yeah, you can’t get o that point without traveling the distance to get there. You can’t just pretend like there’s no inequality and that there’s no problem and say, “Oh well, we’ll just treat everyone the same,” because people don’t know how to treat everyone the same yet.
CHUCK: The other thing is that a lot of us, whether or not we have actual biases where we put down the minorities — I mean, where I go to church, most of the people there are white people. And so, we’ve had a couple of people who aren’t white people move in and you, at the very least, notice because you have this subconscious thing that they’re not the norm. And so, no matter how you do it, we’re going to notice that people are not the norm and we have to temper the way that we react to that.
AVDI: And by the way, if you think that you don’t have biases, you’re just dead wrong. I’ve been reading a book called ‘A Mind Of Its Own’ which is about a number of the inherent flaws in the human brain and thinking process and it just goes on and on and on. And I’m not going to go through examples right now. But yeah, if you think you don’t have biases, that’s your bias. That’s your biggest bias right there is the idea that as a human, you don’t have them because you totally do. There are tests that you can…
JAMES: Can I give a couple awesome examples of that?
AVDI: Go for it.
JAMES: In Steve and Lindsey’s talk, Steve talks about this thing that we do in movies called the male gaze. Basically, where the camera assumes the gaze of the heterosexual male looking around, we all just accept that as normal, that we can assume that we’re eyeing that woman coming down the stairs or whatever. He mentioned a cool resource and I went and found it. This is a view of all Olympic sports as if they were filmed the way women’s beach volleyball is filmed, which is just right at the butt, that’s all you see. You don’t see their faces or anything. And as soon as you take it out of that beach volleyball context and do it to like Basketball players and divers and stuff, it’ll look immediately absurd to you. So, just go look at these pictures, they’re awesome. Another one is the implicit association test which Josh told me has been a pick before. You should go take this test. It will have you do things like give you a list of words and sort them into categories. And it’ll do things like sort the white words and the good words into this category and the bad words and the black words into this category, and then it will reverse it on you. And all of a sudden, you can feel yourself slowing down as you have to engage that thought to reverse that bias. And it’s wild.
AVDI: Yeah, it’s very speed based in order to take out the conscious reasoning aspect and it’s revealing.
ASHE: And it’s hard to think too. I mean, as people who hope that they’re very logical and that they’re not biased and very rational because what we do, we feel like what we do is very rational and that all of the people in our community therefore must be very rational and very logical. Unfortunately, we’re forgetting the part that we’re all kind of steeped in this culture. And it’s different for every country but there’s some things that are kind of globally true. So, we’re steeped into this culture that some things like women are worth less, money-wise, than men. If you look at — there was this great study where it was done with a bunch of male and female scientists and they gave them the exact same paper. And one had a man’s name on it. One had a woman’s name on it, and said, “Which of these people would you rather work with?” And overwhelmingly, everyone, including the women, would rather work with the man because he seems driven. He seems like a team leader. And again, these are the exact same paper. The woman seems like she would not be fun to work with, like she’s just trying to get ahead at the expense of everybody else. So, we have these things inside of us that we don’t realize. And this is why we call them subconscious biases. So, we’re trying to get to a point where, because we can’t trust our own instincts, we’re taking that kind of decision making out of it. So, when we’re talking about going through conference proposals and I’m sure that many people have heard about how we have this blind review process where we take out people’s names. We intentionally remove genders from any mention in their abstract because we want people to focus specifically on the content and not who the person is. Because we automatically assume things about this person before we know anything about them other than, “Oh, their name sounds like somebody who’s from an Asian country.” “Oh, their name sounds like it would be a woman.” So, we’re trying to remove those things because we can’t trust our own judgment.
CHUCK: I think that’s really interesting that you bring that up too. My Grandmother is from France. And during the course of her life, she moved to Argentina and then Montreal and eventually, to California where she married my Grandfather. Now, my Grandfather is of English descent, his last name is Smith. And so, she applied for a job at the school district to teach French and Spanish which she speaks both basically fluently, one natively, to the kids in the school district. And another woman also applied for the same job and she was of the common American, white descent but had married somebody who was Hispanic and had a Hispanic last name. And because of that, they hired her instead of my Grandmother even though my Grandmother, speaking French natively, would have probably been a better French teacher because of these things. So, I think it’s really interesting how these biases come into play even in these areas because of the way that we view things. So, in order to be more diverse in that instance, they actually chose the person who was the least diverse.
DAVID: There’s a terrifying article in Forbes from last year that if you think you’re not biased, Avdi’s right, you’re dead wrong. The article is titled ‘Why Your Brain See’s Men as People and Women as Body Parts’. And the part of the article that is terrifying is that women do it too. And so, I read that and I went, “Oh, wow! I have to go watch myself do this.” And I do this! And oh my… it’s wow! How do you treat people like people if you’re not going to see them as people?
JOSH: It’s even a little more pernicious than that. Like President Obama was talking about something recently and he talked about valuing women because they are our mothers and sisters and daughters, like their own individual existence didn’t give them value, but only their relationship to men.
DAVID: Mothers, and sisters, and daughters, and property. Oh, yeah.
ASHE: It’s hard, right? There are a lot of things in our language that kind of lead us to this too without realizing it. I talk a lot about how when somebody says ‘programmer’, they assume male. So, what we do to say that we mean a female programmer is we say ‘female programmer’. So, we have programmers and we have female programmers. And it’s the same thing when it comes to people of color. We don’t say, “That man over there.” We say, “That black man over there.” And that’s a really awkward thing to say. And as soon as it leaves your mouth, you’re like, “That seems weird. That seems racists.” Because for Americans, race is a lot closer to the skin than gender is because it’s a very still open wound. It’s something that we deal with and we talk about racism a lot more. So, it’s easy to see after you start looking at these kinds of examples the way that our language and our assumptions kind of lead us to believing that the default is always [no audio]. There have been a lot of studies that have shown most kids assume that doctors are male but most assume that they’re white. There are plenty of doctors that are not white and they are not male. But that’s just what we assume because that’s the default. Yes. I’d like to talk a little bit about — because I know a lot of people want to kind of help with this problem and a lot of people want to get better. I think that that’s really important. And I really praise people who are doing their best and are trying to be more mindful of the things that they’re doing. I want to help people move more into the ally column. So, when we talk about allies, these are people that are supportive and empathetic to a group that they don’t belong to. So as a white person, I can be an ally to communities of color. So, I can empathize with where they’re coming from and be supportive and help them. Especially as somebody who’s not in that group and who is the default as a white person, I can help lift other people up because white people are more likely to listen to me, and more likely to take me seriously. That is the unfortunate thing of being in a society that values the default. So, being able to work on being an ally and this is kind of a constant continual process. You don’t just get to decide that you’re an ally and you’re an ally for life. It’s not like a membership card. It’s really hard. And the easiest way to get there is to get to know people that aren’t like you. So, I’ve talked a lot at conferences about how you should go out of your way to talk to as many people as you don’t know as possible. And that’s especially true of people who aren’t the default there. For instance, when I go to conferences, I always try to get a group of all of the women together to go and have lunch because it’s really useful for women to see other women there. I try to pull together a group of LGBTQ people because that’s something that’s not visible that we share that a lot of people don’t realize and it’s easy to feel like you are the only person there that fits into this group. And that really helps. But if you’re somebody who’s on the outside of this group, it’s really important to get to know people that aren’t like you so you can empathize more. So, there are a lot of things that I’ve learned from a lot of friends about the experiences that they’ve had, the kinds of situations that they are put into that make them feel uncomfortable, that have me changing the way that I act. And that’s kind of in recognizing my privilege. It’s a lot easier for me to understand that — like there was this awesome article recently, and I’ll grab the link for it, about a person who went to a conference and the conference went out of their way to make sure that the venue was accessible because they were in a wheelchair and made sure that the hotel had an elevator. But all of the after party venues and everything that were sponsored by the conference were not only inaccessible but dangerous, extremely dangerous. So, there are a lot of things that as a conference organizer, I learned about accessibility, like physical accessibility, in the kinds of things that I should be planning specifically because I read this article, which is why it’s really important for people who are in marginalized groups to talk about this and to talk to people who want to learn and who are ignorant but want to learn more versus ignorant and mean about it, just so we can kind of understand each other a little bit better and be the family that we like to tell everybody that we are.
CHUCK: So, one thing that I want to get into here a little bit is, I really liked the ideas of meeting people who you don’t know especially people who are kind of outside of the norm. But in order to understand some of these issues, I’m trying to figure out the best way to approach people about it. So, for example, a lot of times, it’s sort of taboo or uncomfortable to bring it up. So, for example, at a conference, if I went to lunch with a bunch of people that included women and I wanted to know about these things, I would be a little uncomfortable looking at one of them and asking, “So, how do you feel about being a woman programmer?” Or something like that. How do you breach those topics?
JAMES: Well, you shouldn’t, in that particular case, bring it up that way because then you’re actually drawing attention to the difference.
DAVID: Everybody look at the thing that’s different!
ASHE: The person that’s different, yes. [Laughs]
DAVID: Yeah, sorry. But it’s even more fun if the person who’s different has Impostor Syndrome. You can really just drive it home, it’s awesome.
ASHE: So, I like to tell people — I don’t broach the subject with people. If they feel comfortable talking to me, that’s another thing. As a woman, I have a lot of people that are like, somebody will say something and they’ll kind of look at me and wait for me to respond to see if it’s okay, which is a really weird place to be in.
ASHE: One of the things that irritates me is when people say ‘girl’ instead of woman. So, they’ll be like, “You know, that girl that was up on stage earlier?” And I’ll just be like, “Woman. Yes, I know her. Her name is such and such.” And I had that conversation a lot this weekend. And I could tell every time they would say ‘girl’, they would correct themselves automatically. It’s something that’s really subtle and people don’t think means a lot but not being referred to as a child is really important to me. It’s kind of, it’s very respectful. So, people didn’t have to ask me how I felt about that but I volunteered it. I talk about these things a lot. Other people that are in marginalized communities tend to talk about these kinds of issues a lot. So, just getting to know these people, even if you’re not going to conferences, follow people on Twitter. I used to have a very strict follow policy on Twitter where I would only follow people that I knew in real life or somehow had some kind of bearing on my life that made them important. But now, anytime that I find somebody who responds to me or is doing something awesome in the community especially if they fall into a group that I’m not super familiar with, I follow them because that gives me a perspective on situations that I wouldn’t see otherwise. It creates this network of people that kind of helps me improve my empathy without them having to extend extra effort. I mean, I started working on these things kind of from the top down, speaking with conference organizers and speaking with employers about these issues because it’s really hard to educate people on a one on one basis all the time because it gets really tiring. I also would like to have time to work and to build awesome things. And it’s not something that men have to do on a continual basis. So, think about how much more work goes into being somebody who’s in a marginalized group.
JOSH: That was great. I want to introduce a new thought here. And that’s progress, like how things are different now than they were decades ago. And I think that there’s a huge amount of progress that’s been made. And there are things now that we just accept as part of how the world works, that were pretty much unthinkable a couple of decades ago. We’ve been talking about how deplorable it is that there are so few women CEOs. But there are women CEOs. And even just a couple of short decades ago, that was an extremely uncommon thing. There are women astronauts, women soldiers, there’s all these places where — I’m just talking about women right now. But there’s been a huge amount of progress there. The whole women should stay at home and take care of the children and be the housewife is just like so far removed from the normal consciousness of what life should be like in America now. Like, we know that that’s not the way life is. So, it takes time but there is progress. And things do change. And in fact, they change so fundamentally that sometimes, we don’t even notice that they’ve changed.
ASHE: Yeah. I like to tell a story. I’m really lucky that my Grandmother was actually a programmer which is the coolest thing for me. I didn’t realize this until probably the past 10 years she told me. I was like, “Wow, that is so neat!” And she tells me a lot about her experiences. And one of the things that was the most shocking to me and is the most shocking to the people that I tell this to, she became a programmer in the 80’s and she was working at the largest insurance company in Chicago. One of the things was all of the programmers were women in this company and they all sat in the middle of the office, in a cage that was locked from the inside to protect them from the Sales people. I was just like, “That is amazing to me!” I can’t — even going through a lot of the things that I go through, I cannot imagine being in a cubicle with a lock on the inside. It’s just so shocking to me. We have come a long way. And thanks in part to the fact that we talk about this a lot in public and people are changing their attitudes towards things and working to empathize more with people and to understand these situations a lot better. So, we have come along way but we still have a long way to go. So, I would like to see more diversity at our conferences. I would like to see the percentage of people of color, for instance, in our community mirror that outside of the community because we don’t have that. I would like to see women being half of the population in our communities, we don’t have that. So, those are all kinds of things that we have to push for and we almost have to kind of overshoot where we’re going to kind of bring it back to the middle which is what we were talking about. We have to see more people on stage at conferences. We have to see more diversity in the upper ranks of our businesses. And we have to see more people getting promoted more often and more people that are getting funded for their startups that are women, or people of color, or people with disabilities. These are all really important things. The unfortunate part is we have to be pushing forward on all of them at once. Because pushing only one at a time and kind of saying, “We’re going to help the women now and we’ll come back for everybody else,” just isn’t something that’s going to work.
JOSH: Yeah, well there’s a — I have a slightly different spin on that. Until recently, I used to say that all gay men should be feminists because homophobia is a derivative of misogyny which is a really long conversation to have. So, I’m just going to put that out there and not try to explain all that. But now I’m like saying everyone should be feminists because of humanity. [Chuckles]
JAMES: Exactly. Oh, man! I ran into this issue recently with a group where I was pushing friends to move more in that direction and they were just not ready for it. It was very disheartening to me.
DAVID: I’ve just started to address the whole tribal thing by just looking at people and saying, “How many planets are you from?”
ASHE: And also, it’s important to remember like we talked about feminism, just in case anybody doesn’t know, feminism is specifically about helping women be equal to men in society. It doesn’t mean anything more than that. That’s specifically what it is, just about the equality of women to men.
JAMES: There’s an awesome test on the Internet. I can’t remember where it is. It’s like a two question test. It’s like, “Do you believe people are created equal?” And you would say, “Yes.” And then it’s like, “Do you believe women are people?” “Yes.” “Okay, you’re a feminist.”
DAVID: That’s just silly.
JOSH: That’s great.
CHUCK: Yeah. It’s really interesting though how many people think that either some of these movements are trying to move ahead at the expense of the majority, or that somehow they think that there’s only so much pie to go around. And that’s why it comes at the expense of other people instead of just being able to accept that, “Hey, more people in here means there’s more pie.”
ASHE: And these are all hard conversations to have and a lot of people don’t have this vocabulary. So, I challenge you, if you get into those kinds of discussions and you don’t understand, like I know a lot of people don’t understand what exactly the word ‘feminist’ means. Ask them about it, talk to them about it. Ask them to help educate you because that’s the only way that we’re all going to learn. Look it up on the Internet. I would be happy to give anybody resources on things like social justice, which kind of helps bring everybody to that equilibrium point where everybody is treated the same because it’s hard. And the worst part is people are really complicated. It’s not black and white. It is a thousand shades of gray. So, a lot of it is very difficult to understand sometimes, and it’s very difficult to understand in the context of your own life. And so, it’s kind of a continual learning process.
CHUCK: Yeah. And I think when you say ‘it’s a thousand shades of grey’, it means, at least to me, that there are so many different people with so many different views that what it means to one person to be equal and another person to be equal are going to be totally different.
ASHE: Yeah. I know a lot of women that don’t identify as feminists. And there are a lot of good reasons for that and there are a lot of just not understanding exactly what feminism is reasons for that. And the crux of it is that everybody’s experiences are different. I know a lot of women that don’t like talking about women in tech because they just want to be seen as a person in tech. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that because they should just be seen as a person in tech. But not everybody can approach the problem in that way and having respect for everybody for the way that they want to approach the problem especially if there’s somebody that is affected by this problem is tantamount to fixing it.
CHUCK: Yeah. At the same time, I also see some of these folks that don’t self-identify with feminists, or women in tech, or minorities in tech, or any of these things use as the excuse to not worry about it because some people go really far the other way. One example of this is that I’ve heard some women, and some men also, but in particular, some women be offended by the way that some guys are talking at a conference. And then, usually, the justification I hear is, “My wife, or my friend that also fits into that minority group, would join in with the conversation of that type and probably be telling better stories or more interesting jokes or whatever that are inappropriate.” And really what it comes down to is, so these people are pretty comfortable with the status quo and the norm but we still need to open it up to everybody. So, if we’re offending somebody, then we should at least be mindful of it. And most of the time, knock it off.
ASHE: Right. And I mean, not every situation is a — like if you don’t know. If you’re at a conference and you’re making those kinds of jokes or those kinds of comments, think about the fact that not everybody there knows the quality of person that you are, and knows maybe what you’re intentions are. And maybe that’s just not the right place for it.
CHUCK: Yeah. And I think the other thing is, also keep in mind that if you’re at a conference, or even afterwards, if you’re out being social and having dinner with a bunch of people and you’re wearing that badge, you’re representing the community. And usually, these badges have your companies name on it and you’re representing your company. And so, if you’re going to be acting that way…
JAMES: Chuck, the word you’re looking for there is privilege.
CHUCK: Yes. [Laughter]
ASHE: You’re getting so good at this.
CHUCK: Yeah. Well, what I really want to say is just you have a badge on that says, “Something, something Ruby Conference.” The way that you’re acting and talking represents how the community feels. And so, it does need to be in line because you’re representing me too.
ASHE: Exactly. So, I tell people, “Be an ambassador to your community.” So, go out of your way to make sure that you’re not making people uncomfortable and that you are doing what you can to make them feel like they belong in your community. That they feel like they belong around you and learning this programming language or whatever it is. Nobody wants to feel like they’re on the outside. Nobody wants to feel like, “I’m different.” Everybody, at some point in their life, has been the person that sat alone at the lunch table while the popular kids sat on the other side of the room. You don’t want to be recreating that all over again as an adult. So, just think back to that time when you have been that person who’s been on the outside and you have been the person that’s been different. You didn’t like feeling that way. So, we don’t want to make other people feel like that.
DAVID: Right. It just comes down to, can we make other people feel like we value them?
CHUCK: The best way to do that is to value them.
AVDI: That’s a very good point.
JOSH: That’s brilliant, Chuck. Can I write that down? It’s so obvious.
CHUCK: It’s obvious but it’s important.
JOSH: I remember having a conversation about this after Mountain West last year and the sexist Pinterest for Dudes talk thing where there was this whole Twitter argument that went on after that. Some person at the conference was saying, “What should we do? Should we be censoring our speech all the time so that we don’t inadvertently say something that denigrates women?” And my response was, “Well, you could try thinking about women as equal and that would probably make it a hell of a lot easier.”
CHUCK: Yeah. But it’s such a subtle thing and it’s…yeah.
AVDI: That leads into one thing that I want to ask. And I want to ask just because I see this response, this objection so often. And the objection that says, “Are you trying to make all these events humorless and not fun?” And I’m curious, Ashe, your reaction to that.
ASHE: Of course, not.
JAMES: Yes, you’re trying to take all the fun away.
ASHE: [Laughs] The fun black hole. No, absolutely not. You can still have fun and be nice to people. I really love meeting new people at conferences and I really like laughing and having fun. And just because you can’t make certain kinds of jokes — and I mean, let’s be clear here. You can say whatever you want and you can make whatever kind of jokes you want, but you have to be able to deal with the repercussions of that. So, you know that if you go into a room and you say some kind of racial slur, people are going to react to that, right? And you have all the right to say that racial slur, but is it okay? Is it appropriate for the situation? Is it appropriate ever? So, just be thinking about those kinds of things you want everybody to feel like they belong and you want everybody to feel like they’re not being pointed out for being different. If the only kinds of jokes you can make are sexist or racist, or homophobic, or whatever kinds of jokes, maybe you need to revisit your material. I would be happy to help you with that.
CHUCK: [Laughs] The other thing that I want to point out is that if you really just have to tell those jokes and I’m not going to try and justify why you would need to. But go with your buddies, go out to a bar, take off your name tag and just be somewhere where it’s not going to impact as many people.
ASHE: Right. We have — a lot of people are very against Codes of Conduct specifically for things like this. And I tell people, we have laws against murdering people. And we understand that if you murder somebody, there are repercussions for that. You’re going to go to jail, or this list of things can happen to you. The law basically gives us the outline of how we respond to the situation. The law doesn’t deter you necessarily from murdering somebody but it let’s you know that, “Hey, upfront, if you decide to do this, there are things that will happen that you might not like.” [Laughs]
JOSH: So Ashe, I’m just going to say the murderer comparison is not one that I like to throw around casually like that. [Chuckles]
JOSH: Having grown up gay in America where gay people get compared to murderers constantly that’s in the political etiquette.
ASHE: I appreciate you calling me out on that, Josh.
JOSH: Okay, cool. [Crosstalk]
JOSH: And folks, that’s how it’s done.
ASHE: Tada! [Laughter]
CHUCK: Alright. We need to wrap this up pretty soon or at least I do. One other thing that I really want to ask about this, because it’s something that’s really important to me and I know that, at least two other people on the panel, not to be exclusionary but have daughters. How do we kind of help them as they move ahead? Because you mentioned that girls as they move into Junior High-ish levels or middle school levels, they start to lose interest in Math and Science, how do we combat that?
ASHE: A good way is to treat them, especially if you have sons, treat them the exact same way that you treat your sons. One of the things that I talk to people a lot about is growing up; a lot of people’s experiences are different than mine. Because a lot of guys that I talk to say, “I’ve been programming since I was seven. I was taking apart our family computer by the time I was 10.” And I don’t have that experience necessarily because computers and electronics weren’t necessarily seen as a thing for girls. So, allowing your children to be interested in anything that they want and putting as many options in front of them is really important. Your kids may not decide to be interested in computers at all and that’s perfectly fine. But giving them the opportunity to kind of explore that in a way that’s accessible to them is really important. So, we’re really lucky that there are a lot of really great programs that are focused specifically on girls in tech. Helping them learn to program for the first time or build robots, or what have you. All of these different things that create a safe space for girls to hang out with other girls and see that technology, or computers, or robots, is a cool thing without being judged by their male peers because that’s a big thing. Girls tend to raise their hands less in class if the majority of people in the class are male or if they feel that they’re going to be judged.
JOSH: Ashe, I loved the bit that Steve and Lindsey talked about where they talked about College programs and how the dropout rate of women in the Computer Science classes was really high at this one College. And then, they changed how they brought freshmen into the Computer Science program and they started segregating them by, “Did you have previous experience or not?” And then, that put all of the guys you were talking about who started programming when they were in grade school into a different class. So that, the beginners didn’t have to be intimidated by, “Oh, there’s all these people who are more advanced than I am. So, I have a place where I can raise my hand.” And the drop out rate of women in the CS program went way down. And suddenly, they were graduating half the CS class was women.
ASHE: Yup. That College was Harvey Mudd. And there are a lot of great articles about the kinds of things that they’ve done, if you just Google Harvey Mudd and gender. But approaching your kids in a way that is accessible to them, for instance, a little boy might be interested in things that are slightly different then a girl or between your children, they might be different. So, if you want to help them learn how to program, for instance, maybe find out something that they’re really interested in. Maybe they really like flowers, or they really like frogs, or they really like whatever. Help them build something that’s related to that interest because that’s really important too. I mean, you see that a lot in things like books. The kinds of books that kids choose for themselves are very different based on who the kid is and the kinds of things that they’re interested in. So, kind of approaching them from that angle makes it a lot easier and accessible and helps them keep more interested in whatever you’re trying to teach them.
CHUCK: Alright. That really helps me. I do — I’m kind of at the point where we need to wrap this up. But I really want to keep talking about it at the same time.
CHUCK: So, if people want to know more about this topic and the different areas that we’ve kind of gone into, what are some good resources for them? I’m assuming you probably have some picks related to it too.
ASHE: I can actually — I kind of have a link dump to give you guys. The talk that kept being mentioned today is Anti-Oppression 101. Lindsey Bieda and Steve Klabnik gave that at Madison Ruby last year. That’s a really great talk.
JOSH: Also at Steel City.
ASHE: Also at Steel City, yes. The video link I have is from Madison Ruby.
CHUCK: I can’t imagine why.
ASHE: Yeah. I kind of have — I kind of love — I also love Steel City, definitely. That’s where I met Josh. So, it was a really great conference. Another one is Bryan Liles did a talk called MINASWAN. That’s basically — my favorite line from any talk is in his, which is ‘I don’t want to fit in, I want to belong’. And that just gave me chills the second he said it. I was like, “Yes! That is exactly what we’re trying to go for here.”
ASHE: There’s a really great lightning talk by Julie Pagano called ‘My Technology Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit’. And intersectional is that thing we were talking about earlier where kind of the layers of the person you are, stack on top of each other. So being a woman, being a person of color, being somebody with disabilities, that experience is kind of compounded. And she talks a lot about that. But I also have some blog posts and some kind of one on one like, what is privilege, and kind of dealing with being an ally. Also, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or at conferences. I’m more than happy to help people that genuinely want to understand this better because I think it’s really important that we talk to each other about this.
CHUCK: Awesome. One last question, where do you see this going over the next few years? I mean, it sounds like you’re optimistic that it’s going to get better, but how much better?
ASHE: I don’t know that I can quantify it. A lot of the work that I and other people are doing is very idealistic in that I would like to see the percentages of people in tech be the same as the demographics of our local region. So, I want to see the tech community in the United States be representative of the kinds of people that are in the United States. That’s really a big thing for me. I would like to see things change at conferences. I would like to see things change at our businesses in the way that we fund startups, in the way that we promote different tech items. So, we’re not doing things like pink computers for girls, that kind of thing. All this kind of stuff is really important and it’s hard to put a number on it.
CHUCK: Okay. Alright. Well, let’s get to the picks then. I’m going to make David start us off.
DAVID: Okay. And given that we’re so horribly way over time, so awesomely way over time, excuse me. I’m just going to pick Brene Brown, a couple of talks that she gave at TED. She talked about the power of vulnerability. And then, she came back later and she gave a talk on listening to shame. I’ve actually — truth in advertising, I’ve only heard her power of vulnerability talk. It’s the most important TED talk I watched all year. And I found it today by Googling ‘Brene Brown shame’ because that was really important for me to define this talk and I found this other one called listening to shame. I’m picking it sight unseen because she’s just that great a speaker and her subject matter is that important. I also went to Amazon and bought all three of her books after watching her talk and I’m still working my way through them. So basically, everything Brene Brown has ever done or spoken about, that’s my pick.
CHUCK: Awesome. Josh, what are your picks?
JOSH: I’m going to start with a relevant pick and that’s a video by Jay Smooth talking about how to tell someone something they did is racist. It’s a great, very short, on topic. It’s only a couple of minutes and it’s definitely worth watching. I’ll spoil it for you. The punch line is, ‘don’t tell them that they are racist; tell them that something they did occurs as racist, looks racist’. That’s pretty good. And then relevant to, like James mentioned, the male gaze. There’s a hilarious thing that came out when the Avengers movie came out which is a reimagining of the movie poster for the Avengers of ‘What if the male Avengers posed like the female one?’ So, I’m putting that out there.
DAVID: It’s the sexiest Hulk ever!
JOSH: [Laughs] Yes. Then I have a pick that’s kind of crazy but this is the movie called ‘The Women’. This is, among my friends, everybody has seen this movie because it’s such a classic. It’s an old black and white movie based on a play. Everyone in the movie, absolutely every character is a woman. But it doesn’t really pass the Bechdel test because all of their conversations are about men. The reason I love this movie and I’m picking it today is because this is a movie about strong women taking control of their lives before feminism. And the ways that they had to imagine themselves being strong and fighting for what they wanted were so different from the options that women have now. But still, their character comes through. I just love that. So, I’m going to put that in there. And then, just to bring it all back to the geekery, I found a site just this morning. A friend turned me on to it called VelvetGeek.com which is Geeky Subject Matter Paintings done on black velvet.
ASHE: That’s amazing.
JOSH: It’s absolutely amazing. [Laughs]
CHUCK: I’m still looking at this Avengers picture.
CHUCK: Alright. Avdi, what are your picks?
AVDI: Well, besides for the Hulk’s lovely back side, I’m just going to pick St. Augustine, Florida. The family and I went down to St. Augustine this past week, we spent the week there. I was speaking at Ancient City Ruby Conference. We all went down as a family and had a great time. It’s a bit surprising for me to be saying that I really liked a place in Florida. I’ve never been a huge fan of the state. Sorry to the Florida listeners. But I’m just not a big fan of like heat and humidity and that kind of thing. I’m more a cold weather mountain kind of person. But we had a house right near the beach that we rented and it was a nice town to go out and get a bite to eat. Lots and lots and lots of different places to eat and some nifty history there. All in all, a good time. The kids absolutely loved it. So, a good place to take kids to.
CHUCK: Awesome. Sounds like fun. James?
JAMES: I’m going with an easy pick this time. How about zombies? I’ve been watching Walking Dead and enjoying it. And so, it’s on Netflix. You can stream it. It’s kind of a cool show of after the zombie apocalypse. But it’s kind of neat in that the zombies are really just the background piece to tell people’s stories and that’s what makes it cool. So, Walking Dead, I’m enjoying it. That’s my pick.
CHUCK: Nice. Alright, I only have one pick. I’ve picked it before but I’m going to pick it again because I’ve got this awesome cold and I’ve been trying not to sniff and cough into the microphone. It’s the Rolls Mic Mute. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. But I’ve been hitting that button through the whole episode every time I have to blow my nose or cough or sneeze or anything like that. So, it kind of made this go well. I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to the diversity thing. I just try and be nice. And so, I don’t have any great picks for that. Ashe, what are your picks?
ASHE: Sure. So, I have two. One is a really great video that was made by a group of people for Anti-Street Harassment Week. Street harassment is basically people that say things to women on the street that’s inappropriate. But it’s really relevant to this discussion, because it kind of helps show people how they can call each other out for doing something that’s inappropriate without having to be really confrontational about it. So, I share that one a lot. That one’s really great. The second one is last weekend, we started a hash tag called #RubyThanks. And it’s basically just going out of your way to thank somebody who’s done something really awesome for you or really awesome for the community. So, I wanted to #RubyThanks you guys for having this really hard discussion out in the open because I know it’s really hard, and it’s really complicated, and people are hard. But I really appreciate it and I know a lot of other people do too. Those are my picks.
JAMES: Thank you for having it with us.
ASHE: Thanks for asking me.
CHUCK: Alright. Well, if you have any comments, things that you want to add to the conversation, you’re welcome to do that at RubyRogues.com.
JOSH: Yeah. And Ashe, you’re going to come join us in the Parley List and be around if people want to have a conversation there?
ASHE: Yes. I’m in there. So yeah, you can see me.
CHUCK: Awesome! And Ashe is also a regular on the Freelancer Show. So, if you are interested in that, it’s currently at RubyFreelancers.com. I’m going to be moving it to FreelancersShow.com. So, just be aware. If you go to one, it will forward you to the right place. So, if you want more of her awesome wisdom, go check it out there. And we’ll wrap up the show from here and we’ll catch you all next week.