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BekahHW
BekahHW

Posted on • Originally published at bekahhw.github.io on

Dear Senior Devs, Use your privilege

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.

Discussion (6)

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dana94 profile image
Dana Ottaviani

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.

This hit hard. It's always nerve wracking to join a new company and feel you need to catch up with everyone else.

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bekahhw profile image
BekahHW Author

It’s hard, Dana. You’re not alone. Reach out to people you’re comfortable sharing with.

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nickytonline profile image
Nick Taylor • Edited on

This is great stuff Bekah. Thanks for the reminder.

I know I struggle with the wording sometimes when a guest comes on the Twitch stream and rattles off an acronym that folks might not know.

Even when we think we’re doing a good job at making people feel welcome, there’s always room for improvement.

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bekahhw profile image
BekahHW Author

Thanks, Nick. It's always a process.

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pierresassoulas profile image
Pierre Sassoulas

I remember a time when a question was directly addressed to a member of the team about what she was working on. "So Adele [not her real name], what's the issue here ?", and before she even had the time to un-mute herself and open her mouth, another junior who was already talking all the time cut her to talk about the issue he knew clearly less about. It was comical, and we (saltily) joked about it together later. I'm not confrontational so this is hard for me, but thanks to this article, next time, I'll react as it happens and hopefully not be passively complicit anymore.

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bekahhw profile image
BekahHW Author

I think you respond based on your team. And that's so important. Know your team. But also know that there are people who's voices have been ignored. And if you have the ability to elevate their voices, it should be a responsibility.