Towards equity

In one of the sessions of a women’s leadership course at work, we were talking about our reactions on a training video that encouraged women to speak up. Some people were glad to be reminded, remembering how they’d been taught to speak softly and minimize their presence. I thought back over my childhood and couldn’t remember being limited just because I was a girl instead of a boy. Sure, we had etiquette lessons in grade school – how to stand, how to sit, how to walk – but nothing like the pressures that people faced a generation or two ago.

I grew up knowing I could have a career and that it’s okay to work. I have my own bank account. I can sign contracts. Some things have been solved, at least here.

But full equity is not yet a reality. I’m beginning to fear more limits. I’m tempted to choose where to compromise. Maybe this isn’t my fight, I think. Because it can be a big fight. There are a lot of opinionated people who’ve attacked stronger targets than I am.

It’s a good thing W- is who he is. When I fret about discrimination about mothers, he reminds me that in the microcosm of IBM, there are plenty of role models from all sorts of walks of life, and that people make things work. There’s still more that needs to be done, but it’s a good start.

So, equity. Might be uncomfortable working towards it, might not make all that big a difference. Life is limited and all of that. But it’s worth it. Besides, what am I going to do with a life circumscribed by stereotypes? I’m in as good a place as any to push those boundaries, and maybe that will help the future push them out even more.

Please remind me if I let fear or the avoidance of discomfort make excuses for me. =)

Getting past generation-based conversations

I’ve talked about generations in the workplace, from myths to organizational shapes to moving forward. I’m with Luis Suarez on this one: can we move on from the generation-based conversations?

People are well-meaning, but it’s interesting to look at what we accept when we have these conversations. I think we’re much better off focusing on workplaces that can deal with all sorts of diversity – age, gender, race, lifestyle, and so on.

Take this post from the Harvard Business Review discussion threads:

Create Mutual Mentoring Relationships

Conflicts between Boomers and GenYs may feel inevitable. They have different approaches to getting work done, assumptions about how to do things, and philosophies about what work means. They also have a lot to teach each other. To help bridge the generation gap, pair people of these generations up and ask them to share what they know. This shouldn’t be a "Teach me, Oh Wise Boomer" relationship but one in which the parties exchange knowledge and expertise. Gen Ys can show Boomers different uses for technology and how to integrate it into their work. More experienced Boomers can help Gen Ys better understand the history and culture of the organization. Creating mutually beneficial relationships can demonstrate what these generations have in common: a need to learn.

It’s a good point. I’m a fan of mentoring, and both people grow in the process. But it’s interesting to think about the dialogue we’re having, and the assumptions we accept. If we replaced age with, say, gender:

Conflicts between men and women may feel inevitable. They have different approaches to getting work done, assumptions about how to do things, and philosophies about what work means. They also have a lot to teach each other. To help bridge the gender gap, pair people of these genders up and ask them to share what they know. This shouldn’t be a "Teach me, Oh Wise Man" relationship but one in which the parties exchange knowledge and expertise. Women can show men different uses for ______ and how to integrate it into their work. More experienced men can help women better understand the history and culture of the organization. Creating mutually beneficial relationships can demonstrate what these genders have in common: a need to learn.

… doesn’t that feel weird? What about race or culture?

Conflicts between Caucasians and Asians may feel inevitable. They have different approaches to getting work done, assumptions about how to do things, and philosophies about what work means. They also have a lot to teach each other. To help bridge the racial gap, pair people of these races up and ask them to share what they know. This shouldn’t be a "Teach me, Oh Wise White" relationship but one in which the parties exchange knowledge and expertise. Asians can show Caucasians different uses for ______ and how to integrate it into their work. More experienced Caucasians can help Asians better understand the history and culture of the organization. Creating mutually beneficial relationships can demonstrate what these races have in common: a need to learn.

That just gave me the heebiejeebies. =)

Where’s the line? Where do we let generation-based discussions turn people into “others”? Where do we let age become an excuse? Wouldn’t it be cool to build a workplace where these things just aren’t issues, where we’re used to working with people who aren’t like us?

Talking about this stuff is better than not talking about this stuff. People have stereotypes about age, and those stereotypes affect all generations. (The ageism of the technology industry, the ageism of society in general…)

But we can do better than that, you know. We can treat it as normal that we work with people who are different from us and who have different experiences from what we have, and we can get better at recognizing not only the value other people bring to the organization, but also the value of the diversity of people in an organization.

What can I do to help make the world more equitable?

I want to make it easier for people to do and be their best wherever and whoever they are. This involves stepping out of my comfort zone and challenging assumptions, but it’s a good use of a life.

What can I do?

I can share more. When it comes to exploring assumptions and inequities, I think it’s better to err on the side of oversharing than undersharing. I’ve seen this a number of times on my blog. I’ve written about things I was thinking through, things I thought were straightforward, or things that were difficult, and people have told me that they appreciated reading about something they were going through themselves. If I hadn’t written in public about keeping my name, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the consequences of that decision. But even though that was stressful, it was a good way to clarify what I believed, and connect with other people who’ve considered or will consider similar issues.

So I will share more, particularly if the discomfort I feel points me to something that is conventionally devalued or hidden.

I can question more assumptions and avoid opting out. Sometimes we disqualify ourselves, taking the easier path because we don’t believe something will be possible or easy. If we don’t opt out, we can bring out the real “no”s – or find out that our assumptions don’t match up with a more equitable reality.

I can mentor. It was wonderful to have all sorts of role models when I was starting out in computing. I was inspired by people who didn’t make excuses for themselves: gender, education, age, occupation, geography, disability… I’m glad I can pay them back by mentoring other people, and I enjoy helping people learn. I learn a lot in the process, too.

I can learn more about the issues, and I can help work on those issues. There are plenty of things that need to be addressed, and it can feel pretty overwhelming. Maybe I can pick one or two areas I can develop depth in (gender equity? work-life? globalization?), and learn a lot about those.

I’m here for only a short time. I might as well make the world a little bit better, so that the next batch of people can build on that.

Sketchnotes: Girl Geeks Toronto: Vexed in the City

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20121119 Girl Geeks Toronto - Vexed in the city

This talk was organized by Girl Geeks Toronto. If you like this, check out my other sketchnotes. Check out Andrea’s sketchnote of the same event, too!