Members of staff from Adzooma discussed their thoughts about inequality in the workplace and what can be done to address it.
We may all work in the same place, but we go home to very different lives. So when it comes to important topics, we don’t all have the same views. It’s important to have a conversation at our own company before we look at wider issues in tech, so we put together some questions for our staff.
Armed with a list of questions, our Head of Content, Tom Mortimer, hosted two video calls where we got into the nitty-gritty of people’s opinions. We’ve typed up the highlights for you to read – here’s what some of the Adzooma team have to say surrounding diversity.
Do you think the tech industry welcomes diverse people and do you personally feel welcome?
Luke: Personally, I do feel welcome and haven’t experienced any significant racism. However, a lot of family and friends tell me stories about microaggressions which have escalated, and then to hear that HR hasn’t taken it seriously is concerning.
I feel like these stories make me wait for it to happen to me. For racism to not be seen as a problem, or worse as ‘my problem’ is wrong. And I feel like racists are becoming emboldened by the recent Black Lives Matter movement to say things to test the waters – I’m worried it’s going to get worse.
Tom: You definitely get a sense of big tech’s transparency reports being used as shields to hide behind. It doesn’t look like they’re actually trying to address the problems.
Luke: The numbers on black women in tech, for example, aren’t improving at the rates they say and there’s no reason why this is the case.
What does equality in the workplace look like to you?
Jas: Growing up as an Indian, call centre jobs are always an underlying joke. That was assumed to be the only tech industry job you’d get. At the call centres I have worked at, I noticed a lot of segregation: Asians in one group, white males in the other.
Personally, I’m not bothered about the number of different races in the room, it’s down to the attitudes of your colleagues. I’d be interested to know why diversity seems so hard to achieve. Are minorities not applying?
Sal: Equality for me is rating someone based on their performance rather than because of how they look.
A talk I went to included a story about how an interviewer “knew just by looking at him when he walked into the room that he was our guy”; needless to say, the man was over 6 foot, attractive and white – how has this become the benchmark?
Simba: Appearances shouldn’t matter at all, but we all know they do. For a job interview I had at a football club, I concentrated mostly on how I looked. I knew I had to change my appearance to land the job; I hadn’t cut my hair in three years. So, I got a new suit and shaved it all off. I got the job, but I know I wouldn’t have had I not changed how I looked.
Sal: Jess Glynne recently divided the internet when she denied entry to a top London restaurant because of what she was wearing. I think what’s important in this topic is why we ever thought dress codes were a good idea. It shows you how everything is entangled in class and hierarchy. Who established what was ‘proper’ anyway?
My life shouldn’t be driven by someone else’s narrative – if I want to wear my Nigerian kaftan to work, I should be able to. If I want to wear a skirt and heels, that should be okay too. We shouldn’t have to worry about anything other than our performance.
Do you feel like the companies you’ve worked for have addressed diversity/offered education?
Jas: Definitely not, there’s never been any training or anything. It’s always just shoved in the terms and conditions. It’s a touchy subject so I get that people feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. It’s never actively been pursued in any of my roles.
What do you think the impact of tech being dominated by white men is?
Nina: You can’t talk about white dominance in the tech industry without talking about society as a whole. I play football and even from a young age I was very aware of how male-dominated the game is, and so I’ve always been able to identify with how the patriarchy has not created a place for women.
As Adzooma’s only female developer, it is hard being the only female on the team. No one looks like you, no one can identify with you and that plays into imposter syndrome.
Tom: Do you feel like you have to become more masculine in your behaviours to fit in?
Nina: When you’re around guys and their banter, you hear misogyny and you don’t want to raise your voice and talk about it because you’re the minority. People might not have your back and you’ll be judged for that. You don’t want to interrupt their man cave. But at the same time what they’re saying is wrong.
Tom: If we had more diverse workplaces, you get more backup, you get more education if there’s a diverse group of people. If someones naive enough to not know what they’re saying is wrong, and there are more females in the group, you’d have the confidence to call it out and education could take place.
Nina: It’s about being exposed to different cultures and backgrounds – it wouldn’t take place if it was the norm.
Sophie: Whenever I have spoken up with ideas and they’ve got brushed off, I sometimes feel it’s because of who’s said it – if a senior male had put the idea forward it would have held more weight.
My job role gets stereotyped as very masculine; at my last job, I was the only girl in the team and I was there for 2 half years. You notice it at events too, PPC talks are typically held by men.
What has your experience been like at other companies?
Luke: I worked for an energy company where there was a mix of backgrounds at the lower levels, but then as you got higher up there was less racial diversity. Top jobs are always white; diversity is always at the bottom.
In regards to dealing with racism, I found by calling people out they would shut up and learn not to do it to me. I’m very vigilant to people’s body language and reactions. A lot of things people implicitly do manifest into microaggressions so it’s important to be aware to protect yourself.
Sal: My experiences have been pleasant but solitary. I’ve always been aware I’m a token gesture. For example, at O2, there was 17,000 applicants for its graduate scheme with just 50 selected. I was the only black person.
I’ve always experienced subtle microaggressions. I remember being in a Technical Engineering space, wandering around looking for someone. People would ask to see my badge despite the security on the door. They’d ask “who are you?” and single me out, just because you don’t see any black engineers, so I must be up to no good. It’s as though because you’re one of a few, others have a right to stop you.
Do you think your colleagues are aware of the struggles you face?
Jas: 100% not. You’ve never experienced it so you can’t really imagine. This applies to situations I’ve never been in. The only way I could see them experiencing it is if they went abroad and were a minority there.
Nina: They’re not a 25-year-old woman, so they won’t. But at the same time, I have had conversations with others who have been encouraging. POC and I can share in our experiences of being a minority in our industry.
I think it’s hard to talk about because you feel alienated. It’s just me, feeling isolated, and so it comes down to a sense of worth and how you don’t always feel valued. It’s the subtle undertones of growing up different and how they play a part in your adult life. That’s hard to vocalise and be open about because I’ve always been told to stay silent.
Simba: We like to play music in the office and some of the songs that got played would make me feel uncomfortable – N-word music, grime, gangster rap. I found out these things got added the day before I joined “to make me feel comfortable”. I complained and got told that’s just how it was. It was a relief to move to an office where we couldn’t listen to music.
I’ve realised I can’t talk to some people about racism because they talk about it in a negative way and it makes me feel awkward.
Do you think we need unconscious bias training?
Sal: From my experience, it doesn’t work. An easier way to solve things is to have more representation – it’s easy to dismiss one person. We also need to start understanding the severity of our actions. People wouldn’t do it if it was dealt with properly. Sexual assault in the workplace reduced dramatically through creating an environment where there was 0 tolerance.
Simba: We should teach people to put themselves in other’s shoes. The whole topic is tricky because whilst there’s comfort in talking to someone about it, I don’t want to put my job or potential promotions at risk. Reputation is important and you often find no one can empathise anyway.
What do you think needs addressing in tech right now?
Luke: Improvement is needed in all areas. People who say racist things need to be called out and understand why it’s wrong. HR and management need a 0 tolerance approach rather than vague investigations that go nowhere. Recruitment biases need to be addressed and not masked. Career progression shouldn’t be a linear ladder system that hampers people of colour.
Sophie: If I see an opportunity for things to improve, I say so. But in the past, this has been seen as negative and me having a ‘troublemaking attitude’. My male counterparts were doing the same, and it was labelled as being proactive, but for me, it was seen as causing trouble.
I got called “too emotional” by a director. They said they didn’t know if I would be a good manager going forward because it may rub off on someone else – like it was a germ. That wouldn’t have been said to a man, they would have been congratulated on their passion.
Have you ever experienced anything that’s surprised you about diversity?
Sophie: You’d expect women to help other women – but that’s not always the case. My experiences have shown me that some females want to be known as “the woman in the industry” and so don’t want to help others succeed. It’s like they’re afraid of losing their USP.
Sal: It’s called ‘greasing the pole’ – they see other women as a threat.
Simba: You see it with other black people too. You can be friends with someone but they suddenly become ‘anti-me’ because they’re looking after their work image.
Sal: It can be as though there’s only enough room for one token black guy. And so they get the mentality of ‘well I’d rather it be me than you’. Even with women, women will backstab other women.
How do you think the tech industry or any industry can do better?
Jas: Naturally bring in more races and provide an opportunity for a new normal. Alienate bigots. We need to address society first. We need to encourage people to apply.
Simba: We need to stop systematic racism. It frustrates me that there’s ‘black versions’ of white success. Granville Woods, an inventor, is referred to as ‘Black Edison’ – why is Edison not referred to as ‘White Granville Woods’?
Sal: The question is how we address disadvantages in learning so people can achieve the grades they need to succeed. There needs to be more ground-level support. Silicon Valley is 20% Asian. STEM subjects geared towards Asians – that representation is there. We need to work harder on black representation.
Sophie: We need to put those who need mentoring together with those who can. Women in Tech have started a mentoring programme which is a good resource for those looking for guidance.
What do you want the future to look like?
Nina: The solution starts with people. The more we learn to celebrate what’s different rather than create a barrier for it, the better this world becomes. We have to be more introspective and check our privilege – I’m including myself here. Let’s extend our tables, share our knowledge and give a hand to those who don’t have the same privileges.
Simba: Within black families, working for a tech company doesn’t have worth. Being a doctor or lawyer is ‘success’. My Dad was pissed off that I went to a digital art school – “what do you think, you’re gonna be Dizzee Rascal?” – there’s a lack of understanding in some cultures.
Sal: Ultimately, if you are a kid growing up on a council estate with limited internet access, there needs to be more help and support to ensure the world helps you achieve what you want regardless of colour, gender and sexuality.
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