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A Quick Experiment Around Representation on dev.to

seankilleen profile image Sean Killeen Updated on ・4 min read

Hi Folks!

I'm a big fan of the community here on dev.to, and I love the idea and the potential of this place.

One thing I've noticed is that in a lot of posts on dev.to begin with the phrase Hey guys or Hi guys or I have a question for you guys.

Here's the thing, though -- it can be a little problematic because:

  • It centers men and their experience. Men are the default when we use this phrase. If you doubt that's the case, imagine saying to the same group "hey ladies!". If you wouldn't do that roughly ~50% of the time, there might be an imbalance.
  • It can make people feel excluded, even when there's no intention of excluding anyone. Tech is often a less-than-welcome industry for people who don't identify as "guys". Would it kill us all to make their experience a little easier, or even to signal that we value the experience and inclusion of others in the community? (No. The answer is no, it would not).

Some Example Alternatives to "Guys"

  • Hi guys --> Hi all!
  • What's up guys? --> What's up, everyone?
  • How's it going guys? --> How's it going, folks?
  • Question for you guys --> I have a question for the community

I've found that "folks" works really well for me with my muscle memory, so I stick with that primarily, though I'll often start e-mails with "Hi all".

Saying "You Guys" Doesn't Make You a Bad Person!

The intent of this experiment isn't to shame anyone. Nobody's saying you're an evil person if you use this phrase or that people who don't use it are somehow above critique. I know plenty of folks, including women, who default to it. I still slip up sometimes. It happens.

...But changing it up can make things nicer for everyone at no cost.

This is a great community; surely we want to see it be even better for all those who are a part of it. I've found that changing this muscle memory is beneficial for me as it's a reminder of what my defaults are. I've also been thanked by at least two people who've noticed it, so my personal experience says it at least has some small effect.

So what's the experiment?

I'm going to post comments on posts that use phrases along the lines of "hey guys" or "you guys" to refer to the community in general, with the following text:

Hey! I've noticed that in this post you use "guys" as a reference to the entire community, which is not made up of only guys but a variety of community members. I'm running an experiment and hope you'll participate. Would you consider changing "guys" to a more inclusive term? If you're open to that, please let me know when you've changed it and I'll delete this comment. For more information and some alternate suggestions, see [link to post]. Thanks for considering!

Hopefully, this inspires people to make a quick edit or learn a little more, or even to think about representation for an additional second. If so, I'll call it a net win.

Additional reading on "guys" as the default for a group of people

"I like this!"

Awesome! If you encounter a similar situation, feel free to use my example comment above or tweak it and link back to this post.

"This site is about tech!"

Well OK then, here's some code.

I used artoo.js to check the search results. I clicked the artoo bookmarklet to insert it into dev.to, and then in my browser console, I typed:

artoo.scrape("div.article-engagement-count", { link: {sel: 'a', attr: 'href'}, count: {sel: 'a'} }, artoo.savePrettyJson)

That gave me a good way to comb through search results to reach out to the more popular posts that used this phrase (a big improvement in effort over clicking on every link in order!)

I also used some powershell to convert that json to a CSV file:

((Get-Content -Path "hey-guys.json") | ConvertFrom-Json) |
    Export-CSV "hey-guys.csv" -NoTypeInformation

From there, I easily opened in Excel and sorted by most interactions (I could have likely done it faster but this seemed straightforward enough.)

"Guys is gender-neutral!"

It literally is not. It's a default; that doesn't make it neutral. It puts one group in a default position. That's anything but neutral, and words matter. People in this line of thinking probably have been shielded from the impact of such default language, so they may perceive something that favors them as neutral. It's a normal human instinct; it's just incorrect

"It's not a big deal!"

I'm not saying it's the end of the world. I'm saying that every little bit helps.

"You're just doing this for clicks!"

Nah, I'm doing OK on that front. I'm just out to make the world better in little ways that add up. No popularity necessary.

If you're truly worried about that, I invite you to copy the post entirely, make it your own, and say "inspired by Sean". You don't even need to include my last name. Promise!

"Roar! You're being politically correct / censoring / controlling! Social Justice! Blargh!"

This post is meant for those who are generally empathetic and want to improve the experiences people have within the community.

If you feel similar to the heading above after reading, you are not the target audience for this post, as you may be more interested in your own experiences than the feelings of others. Feel free to disregard this, but I hope you'll consider it someday.

Posted on Sep 16 '18 by:

seankilleen profile

Sean Killeen

@seankilleen

A mind at work. Microsoft MVP && Passionate .NET dev lead && Managing Consultant at Excella. Opinions here are mine. Trying to be all the human I can be with the time I have.

Discussion

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Can someone who feels excluded with the context presented above please respond here? I really can't fathom how this is even an issue. I mean, I'm all for inclusivity, but I have never actually met someone who felt excluded because of these "words", just people rallying on their behalf.

Thanks!

 

The post I link to lists a few articles and also my anecdotal experience of being thanked by people on separate occasions who noticed at different points. That told me that people likely notice.

My understanding is that it's generally uncomfortable for someone underrepresented to say they're uncomfortable.

The post speaks to the fact that this is a minor thing and not some world-changing thing. Just a small change to be more welcoming. If that's not enough to change a phrase, we'll have to agree to disagree. Thanks for considering

 

My understanding is that it's generally uncomfortable for someone underrepresented to say they're uncomfortable.

I guess that's fair enough.

 

I'd say this is probably the best site for inclusivity in tech. StackOverflow is damn near militant about excluding anyone not in the inner circle, but you can find all sorts of genders and cultures here.
Though I say this as a ciswoman who exclusively uses "Hey guys" phrasing, so I'm not one to speak to if people care about such phrasings.

Saying folks instead of guys seems super forced in a "hello, fellow kids" kind of way, but switching to hey all doesn't seem like that much of a change if it actually does help someone somewhere feel included.

 

Saying folks instead of guys seems super forced in a "hello, fellow kids" kind of way, but switching to hey all doesn't seem like that much of a change if it actually does help someone somewhere feel included.

Reminds me of one of my earliest post where I was "called out" for using fellas which I edited to be inclusive enough.

But seriously, yes, this is probably the most embracing dev community I've been a part of, so I was quite baffled that this is actually an issue.

For the record, I'm not saying "it's an issue here". I'm saying "this seems like a really inclusive community where I can likely find support for us to do even better, even in this one small way."

Because this is a good community, I feel people will say "cool", this could add value, rather than saying "meh we're good enough as-is".

I don't believe in calling people out. It's an experiment, and people are allowed to disagree. My post also makes an explicit point that people using these terms aren't bad people or toxic because they say "you guys".

 

I agree dev.to is really welcoming, which is a special thing.

I usually just say 'Hi' or 'Hey', not sure we always need another word.

I do see the problem with hey guys though and think it's worth the little effort to fix - it's like the world is default male (he and guys are often used where gender is unknown or mixed), and this is a little way to change it not to be.

 

I used to be of the type that found things like this a bit pedantic, forced and far-fetched, until I met my daughter's boyfriend, who was a Belgian living in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands we often make jokes about our neighbour country Belgium and we often depict them as dumb. To be fair, Belgians joke about the Dutch being stingy.

Anyway, I always thought that people just joked about Belgians but that no-one really believed it. I was wrong. Very wrong. He told me that a lot of people around him treat him as if he really is dumber than the average guy. His father experienced the same, so that's what opened my eyes. The truth is that he attended VWO at school, which is the highest you can do. And both his father and mother are professor at the university, so you can hardly define them as dumb.

The same is true for the guys/girls debate. If you constantly address your audience with 'guys', girls will start believing they have no place in tech. And we should welcome a mix of people since it makes a group so much more complete. I have worked both in 100% male teams and in mixed teams and group atmosphere in the mixed teams was better in all cases.

Finally, for those who still think this is not needed, if you really think it will not make a difference, then using a more neutral form surely won't hurt, will it?

 

Thank you for the additional example! That's exactly the kind of thing I'm hoping to improve.

 

Thanks for article Sean!

I literally come across people all the time that feel excluded by this - nevermind my wife who has struggled a lot trying to be in tech. Some might even tell you that it would be more correct to say they don't feel "included" as they often know it's not meant to exclude but there's just that twitch, that slight feeling and reminder that it's not quite right.

A lot of people won't speak up because there is often (if not always) a stronger than necessary backlash by some over the use of a single word that to men is largely insignificant. It's emotionally taxing and costly for them to have to keep asking and reminding everyone that they aren't, strictly speaking, one of the "guys".

Also it's fine to forget, but you would be amazed at the world of difference it makes to a lot of people and the fact you try.

You can definitely find people (especially those that aren't strictly men) all over the internet who definitely that aren't comfortable with "guys". I imagine there are more eloquent people than me who can make the case as well.

You may live in a geographic location in which literally no one cares. I don't know where most everyone is from on dev.to but I hear this on occasion in the U.S.A. What's important to realize is that the it's a big country and it's not the same everywhere. Even more so when you engage with a tech community online because suddenly your reach is global.

Even the name dev.to, literally "dev together", suggests more than just "guys".

 

What I find sarcastic is that guys is actually gender neutral(Sauce ), while folks is referring strictly to men.

Read beginning of the post. 😉

 

I didn't start this experiment to be pedantic. What I am suggesting is that while the dictionary may list a word, there is a different perception of such phrases in public and community spaces, especially those that heavily favor and center men. And that by doing something that's almost zero effort, we can make others feel more comfortable (again, based on my anecdotal experience and others noticing and responding positively).

 

Everything refers to men if you bend your mind hard enough lmao.

 

Probably time isn't the only thing that's relative.

 

Thank you Sean, this is really nice!

 

Nice post!

Up until last year I always used "Hey, guys!", "What's up guys?" etc bc that's what I was raised doing. I personally never found it excluding and it has never bothered me bc every time I used it or someone else did it was always to refer everyone in the room.

However, after joining the online tech community I came across others that felt differently. Regardless of how I felt about it I decided it couldn't hurt to try switching to use more neutral terms like all, everyone, etc. I took some talks I wrote and changed them to use different words. I also now always try to avoid it in blog posts and to be cognizant of it in email(these are hardest! Sorry when I trip up) and other communications. I still often will start an email with hey guys delete it and then rewrite it.

One benefit to changing it up I have found is that I believe you often sound better and more professional when using a term besides guys bc, as I said, guys when I was growing up was slang for everyone. Using less slang always makes things sound better in my opinion. 😊