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Flip it to test it, the “Fraternity” Effect, and the Language We Use

5 Ally Actions | Aug 24, 2018

Each week, we share five simple actions to create a more inclusive tech workplace.

1. Flip it to test it

In 2016, Kristen Pressner delivered a TEDx talk, Are you biased? I am. We love her “flip it to test it” advice. It’s easy; mentally flip whomever you’re talking about to test your assumptions. For example, imagine you’re considering promoting a woman on your team. Yet, because the new role comes with a lot of travel and she has young kids at home, you decide against offering her the role. Now flip the scenario to test it. Would you make that same decision if that employee were a man?

Here’s another example. While interviewing a middle-aged woman, you ask if she can work in an open workplace, explaining that it’s often loud and full of distractions. Now flip it. Would you ask the same question of a recent college grad?

This strategy is just as important today as it was two years ago when Kristen delivered her talk. Think about how you can use “flip it to test it” as an everyday action to uncover your biases. Because, let’s face it, we all have them.

2. Realize men and women face double standards

You may have heard about how Elon Musk teared up multiple times in a recent interview with the New York Times. Reflecting on his experience, he acknowledged that being an executive was taking a steep personal toll.

Well, Marina Koren wrote a follow-up piece for The Atlantic: What If a Female CEO Acted Like Elon Musk?. She asks the question, “If a female CEO of a major tech company had teared up to reporters, would she have been seen as ‘vulnerable,’ as the Times put it, or weak?”

Yet another opportunity to “flip it to test it.”

3. Resist the “fraternity effect”

Brenda Darden Wilkerson (President and CEO of AnitaB.org) is asking leaders to stop focusing on the ‘pipeline problem” and look deeper at why women aren’t staying in tech. In her opinion piece, she describes actions to create better environments for women. Many were familiar territory to us, but we loved the way she worded one of them: Resist the “fraternity effect.”

As she goes on to explain, “Ensure that your most prestigious projects are staffed intentionally. If you discover women and people of color are shut out of the best jobs, revisit team allocation practices to make sure they’re equitable.”

Right on.

4. Update your software development terminology

Self-proclaimed open source hacker André Staltz tweeted a list of software development terms with racist or patriarchal backgrounds, along with suggested alternatives:

  • Blacklist -> Denylist
  • Whitelist -> Allowlist
  • Killer app -> Beloved app
  • Master/slave -> primary/replica

What would you add to this list? And how can you go about changing the terms used by your team? (Would a slackbot help?)

5. Read this guide on inclusive language

Many thanks to Nehemiah Green who DM’d us after seeing our tweet on subtle language shifts to be more inclusive. He mentioned he’d just published a resource to educate people about language principles so all people are treated with respect and dignity.

We learned a bunch from his list, and we bet you will, too.

Becoming an ally is a journey. Want to join us?

Together, we can — and will — make a difference.