Dear Senior Devs,
Use your privilege. As privileged tech community members, it’s your job to help fight the gatekeepers on your teams. It is your job to make space at the table for those who have been kept out. To hand the mic to those who are silenced. To allow for a pause in the conversation to ask if there anyone wants to add something to the conversation when you realize that the only people who have contributed to the conversation are the other people of privilege at the table. To recognize our own complicity and remember that unintentional gatekeeping is still gatekeeping.
Gatekeepers, at the very core, are people or organizations that prevent people from achieving their goals. There are a lot of ways gatekeeping happens–I have a talk that goes through a lot more than this post–but I’m going to focus on how senior+ developers can work to prevent gatekeeping on their teams. As the saying goes, you’re as strong as your weakest link. If there is a person on your team who is not supported, who doesn’t have the opportunity to ask questions, who isn’t provided an environment with a growth-mindset, your team suffers in more ways than one. To be honest, I’m most concerned with the impact of that environment on the whole team. Because teams who don’t feel supported are less likely to grow, to innovate, to maintain strong mental health. I’m concerned about the impact on the individuals, especially those who don’t feel seen.
If someone is spoken to negatively on the team, use your privilege. There’s a difference between honest feedback and condescending feedback. When the latter happens, stand up for those people on your team. If you are silent, you set the tone: you’re not willing to stand up for someone when they’re being poorly treated. It’s still a sin if it’s a sin of omission.
If you’ve allowed gatekeeping behavior to happen and not taken action, apologize and don’t do it again. Unintentional gatekeeping happens. Realizing we’ve made a mistake happens. Apologize, but more importantly, take action and make changes so you don’t do it again.
Listen. There will come a time for everyone where we start to forget what it’s like to be new. And for most new developers, it’s exhausting to try to break into tech, let alone do it while fighting off people who want to keep you out. And here’s the thing: for most of us, those encounters aren’t a one-time thing. We face them again and again and those experiences sometimes create a fear that doesn’t leave us. Ask about other’s experiences so you can broaden your vision of the world. Ask how they can better be supported. And do research yourself to see how you can support your team members.
Whenever we make someone feel like they aren’t part of the group or that they’re not as valuable as other members of the group, we’re being gatekeepers, whether or not it’s intentional. When you’re using acronyms or jargon, always define it first. And don’t precede it with the statement, “In case you didn’t know” or “For those of you who don’t know” because you’re creating a separation in the community, an us–the people who are in the inner circle–and them–the people who are outside of our circle. Don’t interrupt others or assume we know others’ questions or intentions. If you allow someone to feel unwelcome because you don’t want to feel uncomfortable, you’re a gatekeeper. So use your privilege to create a supportive and cohesive team.