There’s a lot that’s been said about surviving the early stages of a career as an underrepresented minority in tech. We think a great deal about how to get through, tell our stories of triumph over adversity. We tell each other to put our own oxygen mask on first, before assisting others.
We don’t so much talk about what you do when you’re ready to help others.
I’m not just talking about getting more women and gender minorities into code via mentorship, or volunteering with women in tech orgs—which is still essential. For more kinds of people to succeed—and for us to create balance for better—we need to create systems that will lift them up.
Learning to code is just one part of building a solid career. You can be the best programmer in the world, but without sufficient compensation, adequate healthcare benefits, access to parental leave, time to relax and lead a personal life, and the ability to feel safe in the workplace, you won't get very far. Stress takes its toll. Those of us of any gender at the senior level know that our voices carry weight, and we have a responsibility to advocate for both our co-workers, and the rest of the workers in the industry.
Creating comfortable lives for those who work in our industry—whether they're programmers, project managers, designers, administrative staff, or housekeepers—certainly can be said to be beneficial from a financial standpoint. I don't think it would surprise anyone to hear that happy employees mean better productivity and quality of work. However, it's my firm belief that those in positions of leadership have an ethical imperative to improve the standard of living for those around them.
If you're senior level or above, do you know if your company has:
- A clear and public policy on harrassment?
- A good healthcare plan for all employees that includes mental health care?
- LGBTQ-inclusive healthcare, including transition care and fertility treatment?
- Public salary information?
- A clear understanding of nonbinary pronouns and what constitutes misgendering?
- Parental leave for all genders?
- Adequate work/life balance for all employees?
- A continuing education budget available to all employees?
- Equal access to restrooms, including gender-neutral ones?
- A flexible work-from-home policy?
If it doesn't, find out who has power to implement those things, and bring it up and don't stop bringing it up to them. There is a bit of "if you build it, they will come" to diversity; even if you have the numbers, there'll still be turnover if employees don't feel supported in their day-to-day life.
Furthermore, as leaders in technology, we have responsibility to make sure that what we create will help bring balance for better. Stories abound of apps that don't properly recognize facial features on dark-skinned people, internet-connected devices being used for emotional terrorism by abusers, and sensitive information being leaked to untrustworthy entities. We have the ability to make sure that tech is both used to include, and also that it isn't used to exclude or make people unsafe.
"Computing professionals’ actions change the world," the Association for Computing Machinery's code of ethics begins. "To act responsibly, they should reflect upon the wider impacts of their work, consistently supporting the public good." This will rarely be found in a job description—but, it is our job regardless.
No more the drudge and idler / ten that toil, for one reposes / but a sharing of life's glories / bread and roses, bread and roses.