2017 was a tough year in the tech industry – no, not financially; we’re talking about, you know, women and minorities in tech (see relevant scandals: Uber, Google, etc.). It’s scientifically proven that when companies bring a diverse range of thought to the table, they foster better work environments and build better products. So how can companies (and individuals) improve the tech ecosystem?
In October, we had the chance to attend the third annual Ela Conf and learn ways to actively participate in (and not just passively subtweet about) an inclusive tech world.
What is Ela Conf? Ela stands for Empowerment, Leadership, Action, and it’s an inclusive tech leadership conference for women (cis and trans), trans men, and genderqueer people. ISL has been a proud sponsor of Ela Conf for the past two years.
We learned concrete ways to empower ourselves and each other. Whether you are a CEO, Junior Developer, or anywhere in between, here are four things you can do right now to lead the charge in creating an inclusive environment:
While designing and building for these scenarios is absolutely critical to building a more accessible web ecosystem, we must also continuously push our teams and ourselves to bake inclusivity into our processes.
— rachel (@rachel_mcgrane) October 28, 2017
In her talk “Building Gender Inclusivity into the Web” Front End Designer Rachel McGrane offered tangible ways to design and build web experiences that are safe and inclusive for trans users. McGrane recommends a more thoughtful approach to web interactions that traditionally encourage binary, cis-normative interactions (e.g. radio buttons that feature two options: male or female). Take setting up a personal social media profile, for example. Her solutions include allowing the user to enter their own gender, update their display name, and determine which pronoun they prefer. This design pattern empowers the end-user to choose the correct identifying language.
Facebook does a good job at designing and building with trans users in mind with a “custom” gender option, text input for a gender value, and pronoun selection menu.
As designers and developers, we hold a lot of power in shaping the web’s experiences and interactions. With great power comes great responsibility. Our teams must be held accountable for progressing the internet to include everyone – not just cis males and females. . .So, how do we design with everyone in mind? (cue segue…)
In order to design and build great interfaces, it’s crucial that we hire diverse teams who understand the various experiences of our end-users. This may seem intuitive, but think about your dev/design/interactive team. Are they mostly white? Male? It’s highly unlikely that your entire user base is cut from the same cognitive cloth. It’s imperative that tech leadership hire based on paper qualifications and a candidate’s emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and cognitive diversity.
Jenn Green, Operations Education Lead at MailChimp, offered great advice to companies and employees in her lightning talk “Being an Origin Story Manager”. Being a manager is not about promoting yourself or creating clones of yourself in the workplace. It’s about helping your workers find their own lane. It’s about hiring the people who will think differently and create different solutions. Diversity encourages us to think outside of our personal experiences and (thus) build better, more inclusive products. And that’s good for company culture and even better for your company’s bottom line.
It can seem daunting to voice your opinion online (in a blog, social, etc); after all, you don’t have all the answers. But, as it turns out, neither does anyone – and that’s okay according to Miriam Peskowitz, NYT Best-selling author of The Daring Book for Girls, and her workshop “Your Voice in Tech Writing”. Think of all the articles you’ve read online just trying to learn something new. Those articles didn’t necessarily contain “robust” information, and yet they were incredibly helpful. If you share your knowledge, opinions, and lived experiences online, it will likely impact somebody. Write a Medium post, tweet, or contribute to one of the hundreds of online outlets that crave content creators. Again, your opinion matters to someone. Don’t hold back.
The most critical part is also the scariest: starting. Just start writing! The more you write, the more you can refine your voice in writing, the more natural it will become, and the more the tech world will hear you.
Peskowitz gave some advice to novice writers: Start by writing down topics that you are an expert in, a semi-expert in, or have some knowledge about. Then pick any four of those topics and write some potential headlines that encapsulate the idea or argument. Over the course of the next year, write an article in January, April, July, and November. Post those articles on one of the many available venues (Medium, LinkedIn, Codeburst.io, etc.) and BAM. You’re a tech writer. It’s that simple.
The tech world needs your voice, especially if you identify as part of a marginalized group within the industry. As the Ela Conf website says, “When marginalized individuals become leaders, the entire tech community benefits.” Getting your voice out there is one step to becoming a leader.
Beyond the fall conference, Ela Conf is a year-round community. A great example is the very active slack group, with channels such as #goals and #achievements. Members continuously encourage each other in their career aspirations with advice on things like speaking at conferences and negotiating promotions, as well as in their personal goals. It was no surprise to see a theme develop at Ela Conf around caring for yourself and your fellow developers.
Zalyndria Crosby, the co-founder of Girl Develop It, Providence, eloquently told her story and underscored the importance of speaking up and finding supportive communities. In her keynote talk, “Reflect, Heal, Repeat: Defining Success on Your Own Terms,” she reminded us that “trauma persists in silence.” When we share our experiences, we heal and inherently encourage others to do the same. And when people are comfortable sharing their stories, we all benefit from understanding realities beyond our own. We can better answer the questions that Crosby proposed: Who do we want to be? What impact do we want to have on others?
— Arielle Tannenbaum (@ariellemargot) October 28, 2017
While lifting each other up is meaningful and important, it’s hard work. Mobile Web Developer Nitya Narasimhan cautioned us all to remember self care while we care for others in her talk, “Sorry, Not Sorry: Going from Peer-Approval to Self-Appreciation.” As she put it, don’t forget to put on your oxygen mask before assisting others! Your own mental and physical well-being is just as important and the healthier you are, the more you can help others.
— Nitya Narasimhan (@nitya) October 28, 2017
Looking for More?
Videos of all the talks from this year’s conference are up on the Ela Conf Youtube channel.
If you identify as a member of the Ela Conf community and want to connect, request to join the slack channel here.