2014 01 26

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2014-01-26

(00:00:17.500) Intro

(00:07:02.586) Hacker Word of the Week

(00:08:07.732) A Failure of Leadership

  • I have been dwelling on the poor state of inclusion in technology
    • As a person with privilege, I feel I don't have much to add to the conversation
    • The reason is I don't know what to do with that privilege
      • And live in constant fear of making the situation worse somehow
    • I alluded to this in the episode where I spoke about meritocracy
    • I was encouraged at that time by a listener, Kevin
      • Who has been looking at these issues, and then some, much more directly
      • Through his work on a documentary, TransGeek
      • http://transgeekmovie.net/
    • In his own words, this film is
      • "about transgendered folk in science, engineering, technology, and speculative fiction"
    • There are constant reminders of the state of unbalanced representation
      • And many questions and responses in the tech press and infosphere
    • One peak moment of discussion was last Fall after the TechCrunch Disrupt event
    • When I read about Pax Dickinson's behavior at this event
      • I realized something I possibly could add
    • Pax Dickinson came to broad attention for his demo at Disrupt
    • The app being demonstrated was, to say the least, in incredibly poor taste
      • Offering up an example of severe chauvinism as if it were just a joke
    • As if the app and the thinking behind making it were not bad enough
      • Dickinson, then the CTO of Business Insider
      • Was followed by a 9 year old girl who was there with her dad, presenting at the hackathon
    • There are all too many examples of poor treatment and sexism, both overt and implicit
    • What made this different for me is what it says not about an obvious jerk
      • But the people immediately surrounding him who should have known better
    • In the wake of Disrupt, it became clear that Dickinson is an openly awful person
    • It would be very hard to believe that his coworkers were unaware of his character
    • Andrea Peterson's write up at the Post about his Twitter account gives the best sense
    • Peterson made a point that really stuck with me
    • Putting a guy like that on stage is one thing but hiring him is another altogether
    • In some ways, it is easy to out a bumbling fool like Dickinson
    • The public scrutiny and pressure caused him to part ways with BI
      • And a massive waves of apologies, sincere or otherwise
    • The harder task is grappling with how do we reform
      • The culture of leadership that in my view utterly failed
      • And allowed such an awful person to hold a position of such visibility and impact
  • We need more equitable representation of background and experience in technology leadership
    • More inclusive hiring and promotion is necessary but it is not sufficient
    • We need to expect better of the leaders we already have, even as we improve the mix
    • First I think there is a failure to publicly engage with inclusion as an aspect of leadership
    • Any mention of difficult conversations is uncommon
      • Usually only in the form of a bland press release, such as the one issued
        • When Dickinson was fired or rather "invited" to leave Business Insider
    • No one from the rest of BI's leadership team stepped into the gap
      • To honestly share the lesson that they learned
      • So that other leaders could reflect on those experiences
        • And maybe even carry the action further, to address any number of Dickinson's in waiting
    • Quite the opposite of what we need, most of the public discussion focuses exclusively on how we fail
    • If we are lucky, some good writers and leaders speculate about how to do better
      • But usually we get a demoralizing repetition of the identification of the problem
    • As a community, we may have labeled the management at Business Insider
      • For failing in a single instance by abetting Dickinson's actions at Disrupt
    • But Dickinson is just the symptom of a far more troubling problem
      • That of a leadership ethos that doesn't encompass inclusion and compassion as first class values
    • Quite the opposite given that as often as not, there is a good deal of static
      • From those also in positions of community leadership trying to play this off as harmless
    • Worse, there is sometimes a strong resistance to discussion towards a healthier ethos
      • Often cloaked in language about stifling speech or other deflections usually rooted in privilege
    • The opposite of free-wheeling isn't political correctness, as these voices suggest
    • Peterson quotes Dickinson himself doing just this:
      • "I think the tech world is just kind of — it doesn’t have a woman problem. Women in tech are great. There's just not that many of them because tech is just a kind of thing that a lot of women aren’t that interested in, I think. I mean, I don't think it has a problem. I'd worry more about taking away what makes tech great. The freewheeling nature of it is what leads to innovation. And my fear is that if we’re all going to police what we say, maybe we lose that innovation. And tech is important, it’s really important to this country and to the world. And I'd hate to see us kill the goose that lays the golden egg by turning it into a politically correct wasteland."
    • What a profound disconnect, the genuinely opposing move is towards betterment
      • In the form of principled action and thoughtful engagement
    • Identification of problem is not enough because it isn't fully engaging with responsibility either
    • Yes, continuing to point out examples of unacceptable behavior
      • And teasing apart the particulars of each
      • Is critical in raising consciousness and setting the stage for improvement
    • It certainly also creates space for the affected to speak more freely
    • The broad suggestions of functional change, such as event and employment policies, isn't enough
    • They are required so that we can concretely pin down baseline behavior
      • To ensure a minimal level of safety and human decency
    • The end state is more than just a better default
    • We have to focus on improving the upper end of our behavior
      • So that it is easier to excel in the reach towards our better natures
    • A transformation of the ethos of leadership in the tech world
      • And how it is performed as culture is needed
    • Making that change requires more than identification and basic structural change
    • It involves inward reflection within each leader
      • And a higher standard to be applied consistently in inviting and supporting leaders
  • I lead and support a team comprised entirely of young, white men
    • I don't mention it to single them out for it
      • But to acknowledge challenges that don't always seem to be addressed
      • As part of the role of a leader within the world of technology
    • When I took on the job as director a little over a year ago
      • Many trusted colleagues brought to me their concerns
    • My team is fortunate enough to be embedded in a more diverse organization
      • So we had the benefit of the experiences and views across a good range
    • They had questions about appropriate behavior and inclusion
    • None of those questions came with answers though or even practical advice
    • Grappling with those questions themselves is indeed imperative
    • I want to be clear that the challenge doesn't lie with the questions themselves
      • But rather in the paucity of positive examples to draw upon
      • In formulating as clear course of responsible actions informed by them
    • The simple answer, of hiring more diverse staff is often the wrong one
      • For reasons that are hard to explain
    • Having a greater variety of backgrounds and viewpoints is a net positive
    • It should be a priority for all organizations
      • And indeed there is a lot of good advice, from crafting diversity statements
      • To how to undertake recruiting and hiring and inclusive ways
    • The risk is that focusing on that alone overlooks the heart of the matter
    • A leader could hire a relatively diverse team by any measure
      • But still do very poorly overall in terms of having a fair and humane culture
    • I recall very clearly a conversation I had with some of those same colleagues
      • When I had this very realization
    • I told them about my desire to simply hire, for example, more women
      • And they gently suggested that was not enough
    • The advice I received was to focus on my team's ethos and culture
      • To work towards creating the sort of team
        • Where anyone we might want to work, of whatever identity
        • Would feel entirely comfortable and welcome as part of the team
    • To achieve this goal takes a lot more work
      • And even calling it a goal is not entirely right, it is an ongoing effort
    • I didn't get a lot of concrete advice on how to craft the right kind of space
    • What worked for me, or has so far, is to initiate open, honest conversations
    • This wasn't easy, at first, far from it
    • My team, like most people would, think of themselves as good people
      • Regardless of their particular privileges
    • Objectively, they are good people, many of them with a background in working on social justice issues
    • As good as they are, we can also be reminded to do better, to show our best natures
      • Rather than settle into a complacent default
    • Activating everyone equally helps a good deal, so that it isn't one just one or a few
      • But the tone and expectation often has to be started by leadership
      • And certainly leaders have to hold their teams to account
        • For the quality of the culture that emerges
  • We can and we must work to draw better leadership out in the world of technology
    • Leaders have a responsibility to act as key advocates for ethos
    • Whether they realize it or not, by dint of their visibility
      • Leaders are the first example of an organization's ethos and culture
    • Taking the time to think deeply about core values
      • And then craft that example with more intention
      • Is a critical core way of creating and guiding organizational culture
    • There are some small consultancies that specialize in this area
    • A lot of my recent thought has been shaped by events organized
      • By a firm called Aspiration Tech and its founder, Allen Gunn, aka Gunner
    • I honestly wish he would write a book
      • But I suspect he is too busy working hands on with leaders and organizations
    • If you go looking, you may find at least a few resources to help
      • As much as I am arguing that we need more
    • Leaders need to be evaluated on soft skills as much as the hard skills
      • The ability to raise funds, to build teams, ship product is only part of the picture
    • Maybe one of the challenges in doing so is whether
      • We can align these traits and their expression with the bottom line?
      • Are responsible leaders also higher performers?
    • Or can we model from the past success of movements like environmentalism
      • Which translated pressures that previously were ignorable externalities
      • Into regulated pressures on firms to do better in measurable ways?
    • For myself, I have been thinking a good deal on forms of leadership
      • And how my own experience and emerging style fits in
    • I have been pondering a lot on the subject of soft power
    • Like much that I am learning, I suspect that it is just one color on my palette
      • And the true skill lies in knowing when to apply each to the canvas
      • With a clear vision of the resulting picture, such as greater inclusion, strongly in mind

(00:21:50.459) Outro

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