On diversity (and respect)

Last year, you may remember, a bunch of tech companies including Apple released statistics on the ratio of male and female employees they had. This is a great start and let’s hope they keep it up and the ratio moves closer to 50:50 as quickly as possible.

Another thing that I am interested in, though, is how many disabled people there are in the workforce of these (actually all) companies and that is much harder to find statistics about. The US Labor Department has some stats on the overall picture - 1/3 of the working-age population who are disabled are in work, compared to over 2/3 of not disabled people. Hmmm, not great.

They also mention this nugget “Employed people with disabilities are underrepresented in management and professional/technical jobs, and overrepresented in service, production, and transportation jobs”

This makes me sad, but I’m not surprised based on my personal experience. I’m a tiny bit disabled but in a way that I think is very visible and I’m very self-conscious about it. In reality it maybe isn’t obvious to people right away. I genuinely don’t think it has ever affected the way I’ve been treated at work, but I wonder how much worse would it have to be to have an impact. If I limped just a bit more going in to an interview would it influence people? I don’t know. But I do know I’ve only ever worked with two other physically disabled people in 20 years. Over 10% of the population are disabled so that seems very low to me given the thousands of people I’ve worked with.

I wasn’t really getting far with official statistics so I emailed Tim Cook and he was nice enough to get back to me:

Email conversation with Tim Cook

The crux of this isn’t to get numbers. What we really need to achieve is a situation where minorities (disabled, gay, female, brown, muslim, whatever) have role models in all jobs - people that they can look up to and see that it is possible to realise their career ambitions. Of course the only way to do that is to break down the barriers that exist - and by the gods they really do exist!

What can we do?

Easy one first - Do not allow your colleagues to cultivate a culture of disrespect. If anyone says “that’s so gay” or “man up” or things like that call them out on it, tell them to stop. Personally, when I hear people using words like “retarded” or “spastic” it is like a knife to the back - I was bullied at school with those exact words.

Secondly - Get rid of the macho culture in your company. Sounds easy, it’s actually not because these things are very ingrained. Even the smallest things can make a difference here. Companies frequently use militaristic terms for team names, for example, it’s so slight you won’t really notice (if you play a lot of Modern Warfare it sounds normal) but things like this add up to a culture that is simply not welcoming to a very large chunk of people.

Third - No cliques. Every time I have gone in to a new office (which as a consultant I used to do a lot) or watched someone start in a company and on day one the same group of six people all go for lunch together without inviting the new person my heart sinks. Managers - arrange for the new person to be taken out for a team lunch on day one, always. Managers, again - if you see cliques developing stamp it out.

Finally (for now) - Role models. Quite recently I thought, fuck it, I’m going to start speaking out about this stuff. Maybe it’s because I had children and I want a better world for them, I don’t know. But I pledge to try and do my bit, however small (I’m not saying I’m a great role model, don’t get me wrong :) If you are a person from a minority try to find the courage to be a role model and help in any way you feel you can. If you are a “privileged white dude ™” you can also speak up in support.

Some people (the lovely Charlie Perry among many other) already do a lot in this regard, and all power to them. Just today there was a great discussion about this stuff on the Irish tech community slack channel about what everyone can do to help with diversity. You could join the discussion, or start your own. If you want an example from outside the tech world look at the amazing work Hayley does for the love of her beautiful daughter. So people are working at this, that gives me a lot of hope.

And role models brings us nicely back round to where we started with Tim Cook. At the end of October last year Tim said:

“I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

That could not have been an easy thing for him to say, but I’m very glad he did, and I hope more people follow suit.

Let’s all try to make a bit of a difference, we’ll all be better for it.