Earlier today, I posted on USV’s blog about how we conducted our first-ever, cross-company diversity & inclusion survey in 2018. You can read more about that here, if you’d like to see what we learned.
But I wanted to take a beat to reflect a bit about some of what we discovered in this process and why I think it’s so important to talk about.
As a woman working in the tech sector, it’s been a fascinating journey for me to be a part of this vibrant ecosystem amidst so much social change. While I’ve been lucky in my career to have not personally encountered outward harassment or assault, I’ve certainly felt my fair share of impostor syndrome, discomfort, and tension.
When I worked at Stack Overflow, one of the things I used to do was attend all-developer conferences and pitch Stack Overflow’s talent products to developers and hiring managers. Sometimes it felt like just the act of showing up at one of those events in a skirt or dress was enough to blow people’s minds.
“Hi,” I used to say, “I work at Stack Overflow. Are you familiar with our hiring solutions?”
“Wait, YOU DO?!?” I’d get used to hearing people respond. “But… you can’t work at Stack Overflow… I mean… you’re ….”
[I’ll leave it to you to fill in whatever adjective, comment, or assumption you’d like there.]
On more than one occasion, just the act of standing as a woman in environments that were 95% male-dominated was enough to frazzle myself and other colleagues. I’ve had to fend off unwanted attention from conference attendees and in one particular example felt compelled to write the conference organizers a two-page letter outlining all of the discomfort we felt.
While I haven’t felt outright hostility since I moved over the VC side of things, I’ve certainly still felt how my presence as a woman can change the dynamic a bit.
It’s nothing big (it never is), but it’s little things and little comments that I’ve collected along the way from peers or sometimes colleagues. A brush-off that has a greater impact than was intended. A comment that makes you raise your eyebrows in surprise in a meeting. A decision that doesn’t quite consider everybody else’s perspective.
These little things — you might call them micro-aggressions, or you just just call it our deeply ingrained societal biases — they add up. Who’s to say what the impact had been, or could have been, on the team, the users, the community, if those little things hadn’t gotten in the way like that?
That’s why it’s been such a privilege to be a part of a team and ecosystem that is consciously seeking ways to push ourselves and ask the hard questions to promote more diversity and inclusion. We’re just starting to understand what this means, and we’re learning more every day.
Now, more than ever before, people are starting to recognize the deleterious impact of homogenous teams and organizations. We’re talking about it, we’re gathering data about it, and we’re starting to build plans to effect change. Now, more than ever before, it’s starting to feel like we might have a chance to tip the scales in a meaningful way. This is just one step.
When sharing parts of this research project with my husband over the weekend, he asked me a great question:
“But with diversity, where do the numbers and metrics come from? Is 50/50 always the ‘right’ ratio, and why? Shouldn’t the final goal simply be that nobody pays attention to someone’s gender or race at all in a professional setting?”
He’s right, of course. We might start with tracking numbers. What percent of women work in the C-Suite? What percent of under-represented minorities are we hiring and promoting? It’s easy to get caught up in tracking and measuring this. But in the end, while numbers help us to understand our baseline, we can’t make this *just* a numbers game.
Once we do tip the scales, once we find ourselves in the lucky position where we blow way past the low ratios of under-represented groups, that’s when we’ll finally start to eradicate these pre-conceived notions and biases. We’ll disprove the idea that “people like X can’t do Y.” And once we’ve blown through every one of these misconceptions, we’ll start to change the social perception and we’ll stop needing to remind ourselves to intentionally seek out these perspectives all the time.
We just will. It will be inherent and built-in to how all of us think about teams and cultures and organizations.
It’s a long game. But every little step helps. This is just one of many.
Also published on Medium.