Amber nails it, but not in the way you might think.
Where are these opportunities? You don’t see the opportunities that no one offers you. You don’t see the suggestions, requests for collaboration, invitations to the user group, that didn’t happen.
Where are these obstacles? Also invisible. They’re a lack of inclusion, and of a single role model. They’re not having your opinion asked for technical decisions. They’re an absence of sponsorship — of people who say in management meetings “Jason would make a great architect.” Jason doesn’t even know someone’s speaking up for him, so how could Rokshana know she’s missing this?
You can’t see what isn’t there. You can’t fight for what you can’t see.
In the post that triggered Amber’s tweet, Tom describes the subtle, behind-the-scenes influences that make a career. Success is built on a hundred fortuitous circumstances. Lack of success is a thousand paper cuts. And since it’s always been this way, why would a sliced-up person even notice? It feels normal. Like a child with poor vision, they don’t even know anything is wrong until someone takes a broader perspective, makes a comparison.
How can we make this comparison? At the aggregate. You don’t have to look far to know that at the aggregate, women and minorities are strangely missing. Women who are here are leaving.
This isn’t overt discrimination, it isn’t intentional, it’s simply how our pattern-forming brains work. When people like me think about technologists, the image that comes to mind has pale skin and grows a moustache in November. People aren’t trying to exclude anyone, we’re just human. If you disagree, read some numbers.
Tom gets it wrong when he realizes there are “certain opportunities I get that women have to fight much harder for.” There’s no fighting, you can’t fight for opportunities you don’t see. Instead, there is waiting. Wait forever, wait until they’re tired of feeling out of place. Until some other career offers them the encouragement they don’t realize they’re missing.
@jessitron But what are they? Why is everything so vague and non-specific, and always end with “because we must be vigilant”?
— Amber Conville (@crebma) November 20, 2012
It’s vague because no one can see what isn’t there – until we back up and observe the indirect effects.
The invisible hand isn’t pushing up down – it’s pulling others up. Let’s work on pulling everyone up.
So how must we be vigilant? I’ll tell you.
- Create explicit opportunities to make up for the implicit ones minorities aren’t getting. Invite women to speak, create minority-specific scholarships, make extra effort to reach out to underrepresented people.
- Make conscious effort to think about including everyone on the team in decisions. Don’t always go with your gut for whom to invite to the table.
- Don’t interrupt a woman in a meeting. (I catch myself doing this, now that I know it’s a problem.) Listen, and ask questions.
- If you are a woman, be the first woman in the room. We are the start of making others feel like they belong.