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Ex-Google employee's "anti-diversity manifesto": Proof that today's D&I workshops are failing us

By now, you must have heard about the "anti-diversity" manifesto by (now a former) a Google employee that got published. You may also know that he was fired just a few days later for "perpetuating gender stereotypes."

While I applaud Google for prioritizing the need of women at the company and taking swift action, I'm also afraid this is yet another milestone for further polarizing the tech community (and probably the broader, divided nation) along the party line. The "free-speech" protecting right (or self-claimed "rationalists") vs. the scattered left. 

What's truly sad (but not shocking) about this whole situation is that this person, James Damore, a Havard educated, seemingly well-intentioned fella, had steadfast beliefs based on his complete misunderstanding of how "sexism" or "discrimination" actually work

And that's the problem with the way we talk about diversity and inclusion in the business world. 

People are learning about unconscious bias WITHOUT the foundational knowledge of the cycle of socialization

People are learning about microaggressions WITHOUT the context of power dynamics

People are learning about "diversity programs" WITHOUT true understanding of concepts such as privilege or allyship

People are learning about diversity-recruiting WITHOUT the awareness of structural and institutional injustices that impact the pipeline. 

People are learning about inclusion WITHOUT the exposure to exclusion.

We CANNOT talk about "D&I" without bringing in these decades-old, fundamental social justice concepts!!!

As a lifelong social justice activist who worked in grassroots activism prior to working in the for-profit sector, I feel the “D&I” conversations sometimes feel disparate / distilled down from what’s actually in play in our society.

Whenever I hear people throw around terms like "reverse -ism" or "reverse discrimination," I realize we need to take many steps back and start the conversation over and talk about core, fundamental sociology concepts such as power, privilege, and systemic oppression. But how many of us actually do? While I've seen an uptake in people wanting to be more active and socially conscious, I've also seen an equal, if not more, increase in people engaging in slacktivism in the form of mindless social media sharing, dragging people for public shaming purposes (or for their own political capital gain, because #clappingback gets you noticed) without any intention to call IN, or simply blaming without understanding these important concepts themselves.

Now I'm not saying the onus should be on the marginalized folks to do this labor. What I am saying, though, is that companies and people in positions of power, including those whose job it is to educate people on "diversity and inclusion" issues (many of them often white folks, ahem), have the obligation to make their programs and workshops actually effective in delivering real learning outcomes that bring positive change versus creating more harm or creating a culture of shame (vs. accountability). And if your company's in-house team is not equipped to do this, hire experienced people -- but do your homework in vetting the right people (like my team via Awaken, but really, there are many others), and try to hire folks from marginalized communities (black, brown, queer, women, trans) and those whose teachings are grounded in social justice. I always prefer non-corporate bred trainers when it comes to D&I stuff -- people who have done work at the grassroots level, who know how to hold space for various folks, navigate tension effectively, and educate people not at the expense of marginalized people in the room. Those are my types of peeps. 

James Damore's world view did not include some of the most basic, fundamental understanding of how our society operates. He had so much conviction in his own "logic, evidence-based" perspective, and no one seemed to have had made an impact on uncovering his blindspots. I'm truly saddened by this reality, but again, not at all surprised. I can't help but feel defeated in knowing this incident has caused even further divide among people who may actually care and want to do the right thing, but may not know how to, or have a misguided perspective on what is the right thing to do. Truly, I feel sad for all of us, because the truth is, we are all losing. 

So what is Google going to do now? Here's a list of 5 first steps that I HOPE to see: 

  1. Review all existing D&I training materials and ensure they get at the heart of the real issues, some concepts mentioned above
  2. Ensure folks are taught how to talk about uncomfortable topics -- get people to be really good at handling tough, uncomfortable conversations by learning effective communications skills (yes, we are still talking about communications skills) 
  3. Help people understand the difference between personal experiences vs. structural / systemic injustices 
  4. Build an accountability culture vs. blame / shame culture through educating folks on how to identify and communicate their needs and helping them practice listening to others' needs 
  5. Start demonstrating commitment at the leadership level -- do all of your leaders, including the board members, actually understand / prioritize the need to have some of these uncomfortable conversations? Or do they believe these programs are a marketing imperative? Ponder that. Then commit them to holding each other accountable and leading by example

We have so much work to do. Let's begin to engage in tough dialogues to bridge the widening gaps among us, and meet each other with compassion and criticality. I truly believe this is the only way for us to start healing collectively. 

Why I'm tired of "Diversity" Workshops

I always shuddered at the thought of building a services company. I had always envisioned starting my own company one day, perhaps a product company with rapidly growing recurring annual revenue and a kickass margin. Super scalable. All the sexy buzzwords, throw them in there, I wanted them.

Never did I imagine myself becoming a workshop provider (or a career coach, for that matter). 

Well, life happens. And like Oprah said, you just have to lean in to life.

Ever since I was a student, I wanted to start my own business. Not because I wanted to be “my own boss” or because I wanted to build the next billion dollar unicorn (btw, did you hear unicorns are falling?).

I wanted to build a company I can be proud of. A company with my values and principles deeply embedded throughout. I wanted to create an alternative reality. I wanted to build a company that:

  • Treats all people with respect and dignity
  • Is radically transparent
  • Pays people well unapologetically and equitably
  • Hires and rewards people with integrity, grit, and empathy
  • Fires jerks and bros (or don’t hire them to begin with)
  • Is truly diverse (not some “diversity of thought” bs)
  • Allows people to be their whole selves
  • Is unafraid to take a stand on political issues no matter how risky
  • Roots for the underdog
  • Wants to do good, for the sake of doing good, not for ROI
  • Cares about social justice

When I imagine my perfect “company,” I remember the time I co-led a queer student organization at UC Berkeley. We were made up of majority queer people of color, and had members from all identities and intersections. Our mission was to create an inclusive space for all queer people — folks of color, folks with disabilities, undocumented folks, truly.. all people on the margin who wanted to come together and build community, participate in developing youth leaders and empowering ourselves.

I thought I could one day achieve this vision by starting a sexy, scalable product company. Well, maybe I still could one day. But for now, I’m doing workshops.

So why did I decide to start a company providing “D&I” (Diversity & Inclusion) workshops?

I got tired.

I got tired of sitting in so-called “diversity workshops” that barely scratched the surface.

I got tired of seeing old white people dominate conversations around race and gender, “diversity,” and what it means to be an inclusive leader.

I got tired of corporate-bred D&I workshop facilitators (again, most of them old white people) diluting critical social justice concepts into palatable talking points for straight white men.

I got tired of seeing white, cis, hetero people never once feeling uncomfortable when being educated on D&I, but feeling absolved after having “checked the box.”

I got tired of seeing my friends and mentors not get paid for their social justice work. Being discounted to “soft skills” facilitators, not warriors, activists, and mission-critical educators.

I got tired of feeling the only reason why companies tolerated my outspokenness was because I was a high performer (and that I was a less threatening East Asian woman) and I had to continue to earn my right to call shit out .

I got tired of seeing companies using “Diversity and Inclusion” as marketing catchphrases to gain public validation, yet never wanting to dig deeper or put money where their mouth is.

I got tired of talking about metrics I didn’t care bout, I got tired of losing myself, I got tired of covering.

I got tired of doing extra emotional labor around D&I issues because no one else would.

I got tired of dealing with “brilliant jerks.”

I got tired of feeling like dying a slow death by a million paper cuts made by daily microaggressions.

I got tired of seeing my peers be mistreated.

I got tired of being let down by people.

I got tired of losing faith in humanity.

I got tired of never feeling free.

Every time I sat through a divershitty training (yeah I just made that up), I wished someone would come in and do a REAL workshop. Encourage REAL TALK. Make me and others feel uncomfortable, because without discomfort there is no real learning when it comes to understanding systemic and institutional oppression.

I wished someone would bring in critical social justice concepts into the workplace, and not be afraid to talk about structural racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and how unconscious bias stems from our deeply socialized identities that are perpetuated systematically.

I wished someone would actually name white privilege, misogyny, heterosexism, ableism, and gender binary. I wished someone would actually say the word queer or trans. I wished someone would acknowledge the mass incarceration and killings of black people by the criminal justice system.

When the time came when I no longer could stay in the toxic tech industry as an employee, I, along with thousands of women who have left before me, left.

So now I’m trying to make my distant dream and wishes a reality. I’m trying to unlearn the toxic shit I had to pick up in the corporate world, and bring back the old, authentic me. The old me who was unafraid to call shit out, who was passionate about building solidarity and coalition, who took risks and used privileges to provide access to others.

Awaken Team facilitating a workshop at General Assembly SF

Awaken Team facilitating a workshop at General Assembly SF

 

I’m rolling up my sleeves and applying everything I’ve learned from my social justice activism and surviving the corporate / tech world to redefine “D&I workshops.”

I’m working to bridge the gap between “Diversity and Inclusion” and social justice activism. I’m working my ass off to get well-deserving, non-corporate-bred folks paid.

In order to create change, we need to embrace discomfort. We need to create a compassionate space for uncomfortable dialogues, where we allow each other to fuck up, but also hold each other accountable. We need to acknowledge that change doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen incrementally.

While I would never claim “D&I Workshops” will solve all your companies’ toxic culture problems, it can help begin the conversation. It’s a starting point.

There are so many amazing people trying to do different things to move the needle a smidge on creating a truly inclusive culture. And we need all of them. We need all of the process changes, policies, culture shifts, engagement surveys, ERGs, D&I consulting, anti-sexual harassment training, offsites, Artificial Intelligence based recruiting, VR training, VC accountability… we need everyone and we need all of them.

The problems we are trying to solve are so massive and so ingrained. We need all the help we can get to have a fighting chance at moving the needle.

So here’s me, choosing to do what most software junkies call “unsexy” work (but you just wait). And you can help me by spreading the word about Awaken (and our upcoming workshop series).

Come on, let’s wake people up.