Work in Progress 3/x
About two weeks ago we started looking hard at how we are handling diversity & inclusion in our three publications, Better Humans, Better Marketing, Better Programming.
I generally love working on diversity and don’t understand why so many people focus on how hard it is. Work is hard, this is not any harder. Plus it tends to pay off quickly, is interesting, improves the product, makes a profit.
I’m sometimes embarrassed to also say “It’s the right thing to do!” just because the other self-serving benefits are so large.
That said, the three notes below are an inverse shit sandwich that are ordered hard, easy, hard. But neither of the “hard” notes were any harder than other hard things I’ve done at work.
Please pat me on the back
I’m talking to a lot of white people who are trying to improve, trying to work in more inclusive ways, trying to figure out what it means to be anti-racist at work.
We’re all saying that this work is triggering a strong response within ourselves to want to be praised.
For example, I kicked off our own review at work with a pretty thoughtful memo about why diversity matters, which areas seemed ripe for improvement, and how we could work together to be a lot better.
And then I spent a solid 16 hours wanting someone to tell me how good the memo was.
This is, of course, an unhelpful feeling and for the most part unwanted by my coworkers. But it does seem common and that makes sense. This is a topic where we are putting our sense of goodness on the line and so it seems natural that we want reassurance that we are good people.
If you can accept that this “needing reassurance” feeling will come up for you, then you will be able to manage it and get past it. My own confidence to put this feeling down is that every single person I talk to who is coaching leaders to improve diversity/inclusion doesn’t care. Over and over again, as I’ve reached out for advice, I’ve had the conversation immediately redirected away from judgement and toward tactics.
Small changes in representation lead to big changes in your pipeline.
It used to be that 97% of submissions to Better Programming came from white or Asian men. So we did a little hack-the-ratio experiment where we wanted to publish 30% of our articles from underrepresented authors.
Long term — we need to recruit from a more diverse set of authors. Short term, and this is why I call it a hack, we did this by just publishing fewer articles for a couple of days. So instead of publishing 15 articles a day, we moved down to six. The day after deciding to do this, we published two women out of six total articles.
Diversity is more than gender, we know.
Anyway, that changed the representation on our home page overnight. I think a lot of authors and readers are doing a superficial glance at representation before they decide whether to engage.
But by starting with a better ratio, we were able to have more success when we started reaching out to authors. Ten days later, this publication was back to our old volume, but with a new level of representation.
What level? Better Programming is at 34%. Better Marketing is at 28%. Better Humans is at 50%. Lot of women helping those ratios — not a lot of non-Asian people of color. Work in progress.
Sometimes I feel gross
How do you feel about the word ratio as in we changed the ratio of our authors? It feels like empty calories — like, to what end?
Quota talk like this is what allows people to assume that this is a charity rather than a raise-the-bar strategy. But I don’t know how to get an overnight measurement for the raise-the-bar results I’m expecting, like “now we get better articles” or “we are reaching new readers.”
The best thing I got out of reaching out to advisors was reassurance. A lot of the work we’ve done so far was not difficult. But I wondered as we did it, “is this ok?” or “what if someone screenshots how ignorant we are being in Slack?”
The advisors all reinforced: do the pragmatic thing that lets you make progress. Only direction and action matter.
In particular, they all pressed me to measure the demographics of our authors. And this I really balked at at first. “Do you want me to look at someone’s avatar and assign them a label?”
The answers were: Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yes.
The best answer I got was about direction. We don’t need these measurements to hit a specific quota. We need these measurements to see if we are going in the right direction. So if our measurements are miscalibrated by the combination of the limitations of an avatar and our own biases, we’ll still be fine as long as that miscalibration is consistent.
We have to start with these superficial measures to get some traction and then we can take a more qualitative look at the results.
This feels like we are scratching at the surface of something deeper and that’s part of what I find exciting. Of course, that’s also part of my privilege, where this work can feel fun or exciting, occasionally hard, but never dire.
And that gets back to the “focus on the work” mantra that a lot of advisors pushed to me. It’s one thing to be aware of the unfairness of my experience, but now’s no time to be in my head about it if that’s going to slow down the work.