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This Monday, instead of checking in on what you all are working on, I’d like to encourage some of us to take more specific action.

To all the privileged white guys like me, to those in positions of leadership, authority, and influence; let’s take a week off from arguing over dependency injection or Javascript frameworks and spend some time honestly examining how we are actively working against racism and other discrimination in our teams, orgs, communities, and personal lives.

I don’t know what that looks like for you, and I have so much of my own work to do in this area.  However, I can share some things that have helped me start doing this work.

#1 Listen

Actually listen to others when they share their experiences.  Don’t talk.  Don’t jump in with your counter arguments.  Listen to them, and actually try to understand them, their experiences, what they go through on a daily basis.  

This quote from Dr. Stephen Covey is applicable: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

#2 Embrace Vulnerability

That listening, and empathizing is likely to feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable.  You may have been raised to suppress, ignore, or look down on these feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty.  I struggled with this; and still do at times.  I found the work of Brené Brown to be extremely helpful; particularly Dare to Lead and The Gifts of Imperfection.  Read one of these books.  Watch a Ted Talk.  Journal.  Do something to lean into vulnerability so you can lean into uncomfortable topics.

“The secret killer of innovation is shame.” 

Peter Shaehan

If you don’t think vulnerability has a place in your team, or in tech, or whatever, I respectfully disagree, and think this quote from Peter Shaehan does a pretty good job pointing out why you should care: “The secret killer of innovation is shame.”  If you, or your team, or your direct reports, or your students, or whomever don’t feel comfortable and safe in their interactions with you or others, they, and your team, will suffer, stagnate, and you will never see the results you likely hope for.  

#3 Expand Your Circle

The internet is a big place, and yet it’s easy to make it look and sound exactly like you.  Follow people that don’t look like you; that don’t sound like you; that have different experiences.

Find people that might make you even a little uncomfortable.  Sitting in that discomfort might illustrate where you have personal work to do, or where you can spend more time/energy in understanding and improving a situation.

#4 Call It Out

Call out discrimination when you see it.  Don’t think that just because you’re “only an engineer” that you don’t have a voice or the potential to call these things out.  You might spot something in the wording of a job posting, you might find something in the language used in a UI design.  Think about how you can make your work inclusive and welcoming to others; especially those that don’t look like you.

#5 Educate Yourself

We have no problem researching that latest tools, libraries, patterns, etc.  Why can’t we educate ourselves on issues of race and discrimination?  There are numerous highly recommended books out there to start with — Here’s a great list to get us started from Tatiana Mac:

#6 Check In With Others

Check in with those around you.  Check in with your team.  Check in with your students; with your friends; with your family.  How are they doing?  How can you support them?  How can you help educate them?

#7 Check In With Yourself

Check in with yourself.  Are you angry?  Are you sad?  Are you confused?  Good.  Having a response likely means you’re paying attention.  Now sit with that, and seek to understand it.  Where are these feelings coming from, and how can those feelings direct you towards positive action? Imagine how some feel dealing with these emotions every day?

#8 Use Your Influence

Use your influence, your platform, your 1 on 1 conversations to make a positive impact.  Being “apolitical” or “neutral” is not a thing.  You’re either helping those around you, or signaling that you don’t have a problem with it.  You don’t need to set out to “solve racism” or “fix your company”.  Particularly as privileged white men, that’s not our place; but we can help those around us; we can amplify voices; we can create safe teams and organizations.

#9 Support Those Doing The Work

Donate to organizations and individuals doing the work to fight racism and injustice.  Donate to, and support, creators that don’t look like you.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is support others and get out of their way; it’s not always about us.

Again, please spend some time this week observing what’s going on, and trying to understand the pain, fear, uncertainty, and all the other emotions that people are going through right now.

As you sit with that, think of how you can support those around you; particularly right now your Black friends, co-workers, family, etc.


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