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Manferences, Powwows, and the Assumptions We Make

5 Ally Actions | Aug 31, 2018

Shadows by Catherine via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

1. Pledge to speak only on diverse panels and speaker line-ups

This week, we learned a new word: “Manference.” Susan Frank used it in a tweet about the all-male conference line-up featured on the AI Frontiers conference page:

Makes us wonder what would have happened if those men had asked about the conference’s plans for a diverse line-up before agreeing to speak. Would the conference organizers have made it a higher priority to invite women (and other underrepresented people)? They did respond to Susan’s tweet saying they were in the process of confirming 2 female speakers. But, 2 women out of 27 isn’t exactly a diverse slate.

To be better allies, let’s all ask about diversity before accepting an invitation to give a keynote or be on a panel. And, as men, pledge not to speak at Manferences or on Manels.

2. Assume someone working in a conference booth can answer your technical questions

Over on Twitter, someone posted, “Please give me an example of something someone said to you that was so astonishingly stupid that you can never forget it.”

Alice Goldfuss, an engineer at GitHub, tweeted a response so telling that we may never forget it:

Folks, if you meet someone working in a conference or trade-show booth, assume they can answer your technical questions. Even if they don’t fit your definition of what an engineer should look like.

3. Similarly, assume people working in a lab know their stuff

Here’s another memorable tweet about the assumptions we make, by Linda Columbus, principal investigator of The Columbus Lab within the Dept. of Chemistry at UVA:

We hope you love that last line as much as we do.

#4. Don’t use “powwow” to describe a meeting

Yesterday, we used the word “powwow” to refer to a decision-making meeting we were about to have. As we said it, we realized we should have chosen another word. One that would be more inclusive and respectful of Native Americans and their heritage.

And then we saw Michelle Glauser’s tweet. It was as if she were listening in on our conversation.

Michelle then went on to provide some easy alternatives: “meeting,” “check-in,” “stand-up,” “talk,” “huddle,” “one-on-one.”

Right on.

5. Just say no to informational interviews

After being inundated by requests for informational meetings to discuss some newly opened positions, the Firefox User Research team decided to decline all of them. Understandably, they didn’t think they had the bandwidth. But, more importantly, they felt that meeting with candidates outside of the formal hiring process would give unfair advantage to some candidates and undermine the work they were doing to remove bias from their hiring process.

We found ourselves wondering how we might have introduced bias (either for or against candidates) via informational interviews. How about you?

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

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