Source: National Science Foundation's report on Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering
I am a Caucasian, hetero, cisgender, young male. Society has determined, without my consent, that I am the "normal" against which all others are compared. The idea that a "normal" is presumed to exist is laughable; the fact that it is defined to include me is horrifying.
IMO there cannot be a normal when talking about humans in general, because people have too many variables to create any kind of meaningful assumptions about anyone based on physical or mental characteristics. Any concept of "normal" or "usual" sidelines the majority of people who don't conform. But this doesn't stop people from trying to create a definition of "normal", and usually one in which they themselves are part of said "normal" group. In the process, people who are categorized as "outside" the normal definition are often treated as other, as less. The infectious spread of discrimination can be terrible, with far-reaching consequences.
And yet, because I am part of this "normal" group, because I am the "default" technology worker, I will never know what discrimination actually feels like.
I will never experience the discrimination that Forbes uncovered in their article about the dearth of diversity in tech, particularly when it comes to women, earlier this year:
Kieran Snyder, a former senior leader at Microsoft and Amazon and now CEO and co-founder of Textio, interviewed 716 women who held tech positions at 654 companies in 43 states. On average, these women worked in tech for seven years and then left. Kieran asked these women specifically why they opted out.
Some 192 women (27%) cited discomfort working in these companies. The overt or implicit discrimination was a primary factor in their decision to leave tech. That’s just over a quarter of the women surveyed. Several of them mentioned discrimination related to their age, race, or sexuality in addition to gender and motherhood. They also stated that [the] lack of flexible work arrangements, the unsupportive work environment, or a salary that was inadequate to pay for childcare all contributed to their decision to leave.
I have no statistics to back this up, but if you surveyed people like me (White, hetero, cis, young, male) working in technology and asked them if they've ever felt discriminated against to the point where they chose to leave their industry, I'd bet that the answer would be pretty damn close to 0%.
On a more personal level, I will never experience the discrimination that my wife has. People have asked me, upon telling them that she identifies as Chicana, if she even spoke English, despite the fact that she's a third-generation American who grew up in an English-speaking household. Persons on the street have hurled insults at her because she is a Chicana woman, seemingly at random. Of course, they aren't random at all; they're the bigoted, insecure lashing-out of people who are afraid of others not like them, to such an extent that they have to belittle people to feel secure in their own identity.
I will never know how discrimination feels, because the "default" has been defined to include me. So, as a member of the "default" (and I cringe each time I write that word) group, let me apologize to you, the discriminated against.
I apologize to those women who felt discriminated against in the Forbes article, and to the thousands of others like them; it is possible that I inadvertently and unknowingly contributed to your discomfort, and for this I am deeply sorry.
I apologize to my wife, for the insults and slander she has received, which she has done nothing to deserve.
Most of all, I apologize to you, the discriminated technology workers of all races, ages, genders, and orientations, on behalf of our field. You have done nothing to warrant this behavior. You deserve better. I don't have to apologize for or defend who I am, and neither should you.
I can't change much, but I can change me. My blog intentionally uses diverse pictures for characters that I invent, and I even wrote a post from the point of view of a woman. I do my best to use multicultural and multigendered names when I give people pseudonyms, and am constantly on the lookout for better, more diverse portraits to be used. On a couple occasions I've switched the gender of the pseudonym I used because I want to represent all tech people, not just white hetero cis young men.
Of course, I could do better. So this is my promise: I will strive to be more aware of diversity, both on my blog and in my personal life, so that no one can ever say I was (intentionally or unintentionally) discriminatory. I don't wish to be a part of this problem.
I will never know what discrimination truly feels like. But then, neither should anyone else.
If you'd like to know a little more about diversity in tech, read Gigaom Research's article, check out Information is Beautiful's chart, see the National Science Foundation's Diversity report, or read the Wall Street Journal's article.
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