Some things we can do to make sure we're a more inclusive workplace
March 8, International Women's Day or Day of Feminist Struggle, is a global holiday celebrated annually commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women and other people of marginalized genders. It's also a focal point in feminist movements, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women and gender minorities.
Cis and trans women, nonbinary people, trans men, queer and intersex people have their unique share of hurdles when it comes to entering, staying and succeeding in the tech industry. They get more harassment, less pay, they're not taken as seriously, their unique needs are ignored or even ridiculed, and the list goes on. They share many of these burdens with other marginalized people.
With that in mind, I want to lay a roadmap of how we want to do things at TelemetryDeck. None of these will solve the bigger problems, but maybe they can nudge the status quo into the right direction, and we're hoping that they will make the lives of people who work here easier.
Right now we work with a (paid) intern and a handful of freelancers, so some aspects of this text don’t apply fully yet and are more aspirational. But these are some of the things I want to think through before we hire our first salaried employee, in the hope to do things right or at least right-er. I'm pretty sure we will not hit this out of the park on the first try, but I want to keep learning, listening and improving.
Let's start with job interviews. Many assessment interviews in the tech sector are flawed.
- They don't assess the skills the applicant actually needs for their job.
- They put a lot of performance pressure in the “right now” even though most programming is sitting quietly at your desk.
- It's easy to veer into assessing a very biased idea of "social fit", which leads to a very homogeneous culture.
Of course, we need to assess the competence of our applicants as well as their general fit. We'll need a conversational interview, and a competency test of some sort. It's just that neither of these needs to be in person, and the competency portion doesn't even need to be synchronous.
Instead, we can offer applicants a small take-home task: “recreate this aspect of our business in the programming stack you're applying for”. The task should not take longer than 2 hours and can be accomplished within a two-day-window. We'll then have them present and discuss their solution with a domain expert, who can assess their skills. All without suffering through a whiteboard interview.
Making this as async as possible greatly reduces stress, while the time limit ensures this is a thing that more people can fit within their varied schedules. (Such as parents. Women especially are often burdened with a majority of the care work, which is invisible to employers and coworkers.) And of course it's way closer to actually doing the job, too.
Another trap we don't want to fall into is only hiring senior developers – who, because of the existing biases in our world, tend to be more privileged. Instead, we want to try to build a pipeline for young and diverse developers to enter into the industry and find a safe space where they can grow their talents.
Fair compensation and working conditions
Compensation is one of the clearest examples of bias in the tech industry. Women in tech get offered less money, get less raises, and less recognition. And it's worse for black women in tech. And it’s worse for trans and genderqueer people in tech.
Our attempt to mitigate the problem will be a salary table, where title, seniority, and maybe (we'll have to think some more about this) a skill modifier defines how much you earn, as well as possible stock options and bonuses. This gives our future employees a more level playing field on which to discuss career options and advancement.
Vacation days and remote work are untouched by this. We believe that everyone deserves a reasonable amount of vacation days, and we very much want to build up our company remote-first. There might be an office in the future, but we'll always have structures in place to make sure remote employees are just as present and integrated as the ones breathing the same air.
We also need to take into account the special needs of parents, who might have a more fractured workday, reduced working hours, and might need days off to care for their children.
There will be a code of conduct, and there will be ways it can be controlled and enforced. We already take great care to put rules into all contracts forbidding the use of racist, sexist or transphobic language and harassment. These have no place here. (Or anywhere, really.) We want to expand this further in the future, with an explicit code of conduct that clearly lays out what is okay and what is not. There should also be resources so that people who aren't as aware of their privileges can learn more.
Any code of conduct is worthless without reporting and enforcement channels. That is why we want to have a clear escalation policy from talks, to warnings, to reprimands to even firing in extreme cases.
We also want to have reporting channels that can circumvent the problem where the person being reported is directly up the chain from the person being harassed. It should be possible to report either one level higher, or to the side (or to HR once we're big enough). When we create structures for this, we should also make sure that we consider people for these positions that do not have the same privileges as us white cis founders.
We want to create and foster a culture where missing stairs are unacceptable, where people feel empowered to speak out, where it is possible to see a mistake, talk about it, and fix the mistake in a way that people can learn from and grow in.
This is not a complete list, but it's a start. We're always trying to better ourselves, by reading, by listening, by talking. What do you think is missing? What do you think we're getting wrong? What's good? We'd love to hear from you on Twitter. @breakthesystem is the author of this text, and we're @Telemetry_Deck.