I recently attended a workshop1 about “cultivating brave and accountable spaces” to reduce elitism and exclusivity in the tech industry. The organizers helped us normalize making mistakes, having accountability, and changing our behavior to create more inclusive spaces.
Cultivating brave and accountable spaces will mean different things to different people. My takeaway was realizing that I have greater power and responsibility than I was aware of to encourage more inclusive spaces.
As a non-disabled cisgender male, I’ve benefited from many privileges growing up, especially within the Latinx culture.2 It was more acceptable for me (as a cisgender male) to leave home to attend college when the opportunity presented itself. On the other hand, there was more hesitation for my sisters (both cisgender female and younger than me) to do the same.3 Something about this dynamic didn’t make sense, but I still didn’t fully understand the cultural and societal pressures at play. My lack of awareness when I was younger allowed me to accept my privileges, never questioning them.
As a Latino within a white-dominated tech industry, my experience is much different. I continue to benefit from privileges as a non-disabled cisgender male, but I cannot rid myself of the feeling of being out of place. I naturally want to feel a part of the industry that I have built a career within; therefore, I seek inclusion. My experiences of underrepresentation within the tech industry, combined with my non-disabled cisgender male privilege, provide an opportunity for me to cultivate brave and accountable spaces from a unique perspective.
I’ve shared my take on the workshop’s strategies below. As we explore them, think about yourself and your impact on the spaces you are a part of within the tech industry to see if any of these opportunities may exist for you.
There is pressure to be in control, to always have the answer, for males within the Latinx culture.4 This pressure has continued for me as the only Latino on the team for most of my career. If I don’t know the answer, then either I’m not “man enough” in the former case, or I don’t belong in the tech industry in the case of the latter.
I’ve experienced these moments of pressure when discussing project feature details, estimating projects, or brainstorming ideas. My experiences have taught me that not everyone on a team has the privilege to be vulnerable and say they don’t know.5 Whether it’s a specific term, an acronym, or a high-level concept, we have all experienced moments of not knowing or understanding.
In these moments of pressure, I’ve had to allow myself to be willing to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable by saying, “I don’t know.” By doing so, I am helping cultivate a space of inclusion. I see it as an indirect form of empowering teammates so that they can feel more comfortable and willing to say, “I don’t know.” It is a learning opportunity to work together and answer the unknowns instead of leaving teammates behind, leading to elitism and exclusion.
Knowledge is power. When mismanaged, the power we possess through the knowledge we’ve gained can reinforce elitism and exclusivity (e.g., “tech bros” or “brogrammers”). I can think back on moments where I’ve contributed to a culture of exclusion but did not realize until after-the-fact. I can recall moments where I’ve held onto the power of knowledge as a counter to feeling excluded. While my response to seeking inclusion made me feel better, it reinforced elitism and exclusivity in the process.
Admitting I’ve contributed to a culture of exclusion provides opportunities. First is a chance to fine-tune my awareness to recognize it sooner as it happens. Another is normalizing making mistakes and the willingness to be vulnerable and uncomfortable with your teammates. Doing so can invite a culture of more inclusive spaces; it shows we care for and respect the spaces we contribute to.
The more you become aware of your own biases and privileges, the more opportunities you have to impact the tech industry spaces you are a part of in a positive way. Recognizing you’ve contributed to a culture of exclusion is the first step; changing your behavior is next. Some examples of things I’m working on include:
- The language I choose when writing documentation
- The terminology I use in my code (e.g., avoiding “blacklist”/“whitelist”)
- Limiting or avoiding idioms (in documentation, code, and during meetings)
From the workshop, I also gathered the following questions to ask myself:
- Whose understandings and experiences are being heard? Whose are being ignored?
- Who else should be a part of the process that is currently not?
- Who’s not acknowledged in discussions? (Is a conversation dominated by the men in a group? Mansplaining?)
If changing the whole tech industry seems insurmountable, don’t get discouraged. There are a lot of ways you can make change in the areas you control. Focus on the smaller opportunities you have before you, both personally and as a team, to cultivate more inclusive, brave, and accountable spaces.
- Plain Language Writing — An Essential Part Of Accessibility
- Building Equity & Inclusion Through the Power of Language
- Using Inclusive Language: Guidelines and Examples
- Terms Like ‘Slave’ and ‘Master’ Finally Have Their Reckoning. It’s a Start.
- The workshop I attended was Co-Creating Shared Meaning: Language Setting as an Inclusive Practice by Creative Reaction Lab
- Being a non-disabled cisgender male in the Latinx culture means having the greatest of privileges. Raised in the United States as a member of the BIPOC community, though, the systemic oppression toward BIPOC communities within the United States provided a juxtaposition of experiences.
- I had a 7 & 9-year gap on my sisters in age. As I learned more about my self-identity (including my privileges) while in college, I tried to take that back to my family and empower my sisters. Thanks to very supportive parents, both my sisters left home to attend college and are now successful professionals in the education field, empowering the next generation of youth.
- The Latinx culture has very rigid gender roles, machismo is prevalent.
- Privilege comes in many forms, including seniority within the tech industry, your resume, and titles for example.