Jeff Atwood of CodingHorror & StackOverflow fame tweeted earlier today:
“How I wish my favorite tech writer would share his opinions about sexism and entitlement in programming.” – no one, ever
The implication, which I asked Mr. Atwood to explain and which he basically confirmed, was that he believed people should not talk about sexism, “unless they have a solution”—but Mr. Atwood does not believe there is a solution, not to sexism and entitlement in programming nor to the Israel/Palestine conflict, which he likened it to.
The displayed arrogance aside, what followed was a conversation during which Mr. Atwood said to me (in a tweet since deleted), “I got emails from women ecstatic about Stack Overflow because identity is 100% irrelevant there. What have you done?”
Stack Overflow is indeed a laudable creation, and I am glad to see it be valued for its inclusivity. So now, Mr. Atwood, allow me to answer your question. I’ve taken the liberty to post it here because I could not fit it all in 140 characters.
What have I done?
I show to all that I care strongly about issues of diversity in our industry by not tolerating offensive, discriminatory or dismissive opinions and attitudes to represent this industry. Dismissing or ignoring a problem rarely leads to it getting fixed, and this is all the more true for deeply complex social issues.
I show that I will care—and care deeply—about anyone who expresses feeling unwelcome or undervalued in our field, by standing besides them and adding my voice to theirs. E pluribus unum, for the Americans.
I have helped and will continue to help conference organizers to better understand the importance of having diversity (it adds quality and value) in their speakers, and how to get a more diverse lineup without engaging in “tokenism.”
I have and will continue to forgo speaking at conferences, events and panels if there are too many white men already present, in favor of letting someone with a more diverse background get that opportunity so that they can prove themselves.
I work hard to educate people everywhere in our industry about what simple actions they can take to produce more inclusive work cultures, to combat stereotype threat, and thereby level the playing field so that the negative effects of the problem are minimized as best as possible.
I write, speak, and frequently tweet about these topics to provide contributory solutions, and to raise awareness because I fully acknowledge that this is not a simple problem with a simple solution, much like how cultural racism and sexism wasn’t “simply” addressed—not solved, mind you—by the civil rights movement and Civil Rights Act of 1964.
I acknowledge that these things are structural, systemic and pervasive. And I acknowledge that as a white male in the western culture of North America and Europe, I have enjoyed many privileges throughout my life that have skewed the elements of “luck” in my favor.
And right now, with the product I am building, I am working with my co-founder on finding ways in which we can help to contribute solutions to these issues while at the same time building a sustainable and profitable business. Because we firmly believe the two go hand in hand, rather than be at the cost of one another.
Lastly, I acknowledge that there is no silver bullet, no single solution that will solve this problem, because it isn’t just one problem but rather an accumulation of countless smaller problems, each of which we can do something about.
So the question isn’t “What have you done,” Mr. Atwood; it’s “What else are you doing?”