The Five-Minute Geek Show

88 | Somebody is going to have to do the hard work to bring equality

Episode Summary

Somebody is going to have to do the hard work to bring equality

Episode Notes



Hi. I'm your host Matt Stauffer, and this is episode 88 of The Five Minute Geek Show, a weekly show about development and everything around it. It's one topic per episode about front end, back end, mobile, project management, design, entrepreneurship, whatever. If it's geeky, it fits. Today, we're going to be talking about diversity in hiring.

So what I mean by that is: I own a business, I co-own a web development business, and I also care deeply about equality, equity, diversity, and opportunities being given to people who don't have so many opportunities. I'm highly aware of the fact that as a white American male--Christian, straight--I have basically the best gig there is. It's very difficult for someone to have it better than me. By this I don't mean, like, "My life is great, and your life is bad." I mean: I have privilege, and I have power, and I have all sorts of things going for me.

I've talked a lot about this before a lot. I was on a call with some friends the other day who are also business owners, and in our conversation I found words for something for the first time, and wanted to share it. It's really helpful for me to think it through. We were talking about diversity in hiring, talking about this question: "How do you hire either employees or contractors in a way that works towards bringing about a more equitable world?" I think the first step we tend to take is saying, "How do we do more diverse hiring? How do I make my company not just a whole bunch of white dudes?" This is okay. This is a good start. Diversity for the sake of diversity is a good thing, but I think it's a too-basic understanding of it; "I have all white dudes. That's not the way it's supposed to be, therefore I will change it."

Let's talk about moving past just that. One of the more important things to do next is to ask yourselves questions along the lines of, "What is the reason that I want diversity, and what is the reason I don't have diversity right now the people I work with?" You'll start getting into interesting questions--talking about how common it is to hire people we already know, seeing what people's pre-existing friend networks do for them. One thing you'll often notice is that people who have a lot of power, and privilege, and networks, tend to get internships or first jobs based on relationships with friends. Maybe your dad's college buddy has an agency, so you intern with him, and that's an opportunity that other people don't have. You get to go to college, and your parents pay for your college, and so you can go to college for 4 years without having to work, and so you get opportunities while you're there. Whatever it ends up being. Heck, just the entire concept of the unpaid internship is very limited to people with a lot of money or ability in the first place. There's all these things that come into that kind of conversation.

Let's also notice that we have primarily white male business owners. People in general, not just White people, have networks that generally reflect their ethnicity. White people in the US are more guilty of having networks that only reflect their ethnicity than anybody else, but everybody's guilty of it. And maybe it's not even "guilty." It's just life. And with that being the case, if you're hiring the people you know, or you're hiring the people you run into more often, or a little more subconsciously, nefariously, if you're hiring the people who are more like you and make you more comfortable, then that's going to have a lot of influence on who you have working with you.

We've got to have the conversation about this. I hope we will choose to say, first, "I want my company to be more diverse"... but hopefully also, second, "That is the case not just because I feel some external pressure, but because I recognize that having people that are different than me on my company is good for my company, and I recognize that there's people in my country who have less opportunities, and I want to be a part of bringing about equity. I want to bring about justice." This is good.

If you've never heard of the term "equity", and you wonder why I'm using it instead of "equality", I'll link a graphic in the show notes that explains it really well. Basically, the difference between equity and equality is, equality means treating everybody the same. A lot of people come out of, let's say, 500 years of racist United States history, and say, "Okay, that was bad. Now everybody should be treated the same." That's equality. The problem with equality is it's assuming that everybody has an equal playing field. All you have to do to be equal, to treat people well, is to give everybody the same thing. Equity says, "Whoa. 500 years of difference makes 500 years of difference. We don't get to just now, all of a sudden, make everything exactly the same."

Equity means, for example, recognizing that white families have had that many years to build up wealth. We keep wealth in a lot of different ways. We keep wealth in houses that we own, or in savings, or in tables that get passed down when you get married or whatever. There are so many things that we keep wealth in. The wealth that we have gathered, we have had the ability to gather in a way that other people have not had the ability to gather. If everybody has an "equal" starting point, just wealth alone would put us in this much different place, not even talking about all of the differences that have to do with education, and opportunity, and jail rates. If you want to think about that, go read the book The New Jim Crow.

All those things are striated along racial lines in the US. There's just so many pieces where things are different and have been different for so long that you can't just come today and just say, "Okay, treat everybody the same. Now you're done." It doesn't work. Equity says, "You treat each person uniquely based on who they are, and the experiences they have, and the opportunities they have, such that the goal is for everyone to be able to end up in the same place." I'm not talking about socialism, you know, some crazy thing that will turn you all of. I'm socialist-ish, maybe, but I'm not talking about something crazy in terms of, like, "Well, nobody should be able to work harder or work less, or lazy people should get the same as everyone else ..." No, no, no. You should put extra work in to give people the opportunity to have the same chance for their hard work to get them a good thing.

It's going to take more work to help someone who has a historic lack of opportunities, and lack of wealth, and lack of education, and lack of whatever else. It's going to take more work to help that person have an equal amount of opportunity than it is to give someone who has privilege and power and all that kind of stuff historically to get the same amount of opportunity. In the end, they should have to do the work, and they will do the work. It's not about giving something a freebie, but it's about recognizing that someone has to do the work to overcome those disparities, so that everyone has an equal opportunity.

You could say, "Oh, well, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Take a look at this one guy who escaped poverty; why aren't you all like him?" If you want to think about that, Malcolm Gladwell has a podcast, and he has a couple of episodes recently that I'll link to talking about this exact same thing. Talking about what happens when big schools like Stanford and Yale have programs to basically give free rides to really bright students from really difficult neighborhoods, and the episodes talk all about that. I'll link that in the show notes. In general, it's just not that easy. Yes, a few exceptional people escaped, but the difference is, with white folks, white males especially, we don't have to be exceptional to graduate college. We don't have to be exceptional to get a good job. We just have to do okay. We have to be in the top 50% of our class or something like that. With people of color, with women, with people of historically oppressed groups, they have to be in the top, like, 1%, and overcome like 10 million other things. Again, we want the final amount of opportunity and freedom to be equal, and therefore we must be equitable.

All of that set up, when we're talking in the hiring context, ends up with me having said a thing that I wanted to share here, which is: "Somebody, somewhere, somehow is going to have to do the work to make that difference." One of the great examples of it I love, often, that we use in helping students understand this, it's basically this game where everybody starts in a line, and you say, "Your goal is to get to the other wall." Then, we start asking questions about your privilege. "Have you ever had this? Have you ever had that?" Everybody who answers yes to any question has to take a step forward--before the race even begins. Basically, people with privilege and power, where your parents had this kind of money, or your parents had this kind of education, or your schooling had this kind of thing, whatever, it ends up being you take a step forward, and another, and another, and by the end, before the race even starts, you recognize that the primarily white males end up basically a foot away from the wall. The people of color, and the women, and everyone else, end up basically against the back wall.

What we're recognizing here is, if we all have a starting point that is different, what we want is not to carry somebody over the finish line. We want to do the work to get everybody at the same starting line. Somebody's going to have to do that work. A lot of programs, and a lot of democratic type stuff says, "Well, the government should be responsible for that." I think that the government should help! Then a lot of, especially religious right, conservative people say, "The government shouldn't do it. The church should do it. Individuals should do it." Okay, cool, great. Church should do it. Individuals should do it. Great. Awesome. What I'm just saying is everyone should do it. I want the government to do it. I want the individuals to do it. I want religious organizations to do it. But for me, as a business owner, hiring is a place in which I don't want to carry somebody over the finish line of working for me. I don't want to give someone a job just because they're a woman or a person of color or whatever else. However, there's an opportunity in hiring for me to make things fair and for me to act with equity. What that ends up looking like is, sometimes, I need to put more work into bridging those gaps.

I can talk at another time about what that more work looks like in my specific context. I'm way out of time. This is going to be the longest Five Minute Geek Show ever, but that foundational concept is really weird to say out loud, but if we are saying we want to make a difference, we want to see diversity reflected, we want to see people all have equal opportunities, it's not just as simple as saying, "Okay, now where are the qualified women and people of color who want to come work for me?" You know what I mean? I'm not saying anybody in particular I know says that, but that's kind of maybe my first response. When I say, "Okay, I want to hire diversely." "Okay, well where are they?" That's, like, common refrain kind of thing, right?

The thing is, it's not just as simple as, "Where are they?" It is, "Am I willing to put in the work?" Somebody's got to put in the work to change the starting line so everybody has the same starting line, in your hiring process, right? Are you willing to put in that work? Are you willing to make a commitment to putting forth effort and money to changing the starting line of getting a job with you, or getting a job in your industry, or whatever else?

Yeah, I'd love to talk more about this. Maybe I'll do another Geek Show about this later, but I hope this helped someone think through these things. I'd love for you to contact me if you have any questions. I'm @StaufferMatt on Twitter. You can also hit me up at @5MinuteGeekShow on Twitter, or we're at

That's it. Thanks for listening!