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An open-source, diversity-friendly social software platform ... coming soon!

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FastCompany on Sidewire: wait a second, I'm noticing a pattern here ...

3 min read

The breathless profile of Sidewire in Fast Company raves about the quality of the participants in their "compelling" conversations: Ron, Shermichael, Travis, Tommy, Bob, Tim, Jon, Jacob, Kurt … hey wait a second, I’m noticing a pattern here!  Strangely though it isn't ever mentioned in the article.  I wonder if the author David, company founders Tucker and Andy, and investors Kevin and Mike also see it?*

Don't get me wrong, I very much agree that there's a strong desire for high-quality political conversation.  Sidewire's approach of discussions between "newsmakers" is an interesting variant on TVs and radio's classic talking heads formats.  It's high-quality content, from a range of political views.  By putting a premium on "expertise," it's very attractive to current influencers, so it's no surprise they've gotten a lot of interest.

From a business perspective, though, the site's lack of diversity certainly seems like a challenge.   Sure, there are plenty of people who who are so used to only hearing guys' opinions that they don't notice something's missing -- and for that matter, plenty of people who would just as soon not hear what women have to say.  But especially in a year where, y'know, we have the first ever major-party female candidate for President, and early polls show yuuuuge gender differences in people's reactions to the candidates ... why would you want to limit your audience?

Of course the guys who started the company, and the guys who are advising them, and the guys who have invested in them probably aren't thinking of it that way.  Given which, I though the the closing quote of the article was pretty entertaining:

Sidewire may be a slick app trying to transform texting threads into the next media format, but for [founder Tucker] Bounds and his newsmakers, it's a personal attempt to turn the clock back to the politics they want, not the politics we have.

 


* Women actually do exist on Sidewire, at least in small numbers.   Looking at their front page (which by the way is overwhelmingly blue, and no option to change colors), a handful of the chats actually are hosted by women; overall, the list of chat hosts is probably "only" 80% guys.  Still, that's a lot.  And the company's employees are similarly "only" about 80% male; Meredith Carden (who was the only woman quoted in the article) and Carolne Chalmers work on partnerships, Winne Cheng is an engineer.  

 

 

Some thoughts on Project Include: a valuable diversity resource from a great team

5 min read

Now that's what I call a high-profile launch!  

The first coverage for Project Include's effort to accelerate diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry was in the New York Times, which helpfully set it in context of the work that Kimberly Bryant and Laura Weidman have been doing with of Black Girls Code and Powers of Code 2040.  Then it got picked up by Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, ABC News, Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, and even The Onion as well as the usual tech press suspects like TechCrunch, Engadget, and The Verge....  

No surprise, really: the media hook of Ellen Pao bouncing back after resigning as Reddit's CEO and losing her high-profile discrimination suit against venture capital firm Kleiner-Perkins is hard to resist.  Fortunately, Project Include's got a fantastic team, outstanding content, and well-thought-out plan going forward -- so the attention is well-deserved.

True diversity means including all underrepresented groups across all aspects of a company and measuring outcomes so everyone has a fair opportunity to succeed — and ultimately building better teams, better companies and better results.

-- About Project Include

The core of the site is seven categories of customizable recommendations: defining culture, implementing culture, employee lifecycle, training, resolving conflicts, measuring progress, and leading as VCs.   The recommendations are primarily focused on CEOs and management of startups early to mid-stage startups, although most of them are very relevant to organizations of any size that are really committed to diversity and inclusion.  The combination of these different areas is an excellent snapshot of today's best practices for building a diverse and inclusive company.

Diversity is tricky and complex, and Project Include's material really respects that.  Each category discusses why they chose this area, how they think about it, concerns (for example, "The wrong metrics can present a misleading view of system health, and optimizing against them can produce distorted outcomes"), specific recommendations, and a list of resources.  The recommendations are excellent, with solid references to support them; and the strength and diversity of the team really shines through here:

  • Engineers bethanye McKinney Blount, Tracy Chou, and Erica Joy Baker have first-hand experience in the trenches and a lot to say about culture.  Chou is also an expert on diversity metrics, and Blount an experienced engineering manager and VP.
  • Freada Kapor Klein and Susan Wu, along with Pao, bring investor perspectives.
  • Readyset's Y-Vonne Hutchison and Atipica's Laura I. Gómez have expertise in recruiting, hiring, and employment policy

Why yes, now that you mention it, the team's strengths do in fact cover all the categories of recommendations.  Talk about an all-star team!

There's so much to like about the Project Include site that a brief summary can't do it justice, but two more things I want to call out are their evidence on a comprehensive approach (as opposed to one-off initiatives that at best address individual symptoms) and the breadth their view of diversity.  As well as race and gender, their case studies page discusses nonbinary people, LGBTQA people, transgender people, disabled people, caregivers, and religious backgrounds --  with scenarios and recommendations of what to do (and what not to do) for each.  This kind of inclusive approach respects the complexities of each dimension of diversity while highlighting the commonalities and synergies between them.

In other words, Project Include's site is already a great resource.  Their next steps are to work with a couple dozen early-to-mid stage startups for six months to refine and measure the effect of their recommendations. They're also talking about building a community, although it's not clear what the format or timeframe is on that.  While they're initially focusing on CEOs and management of startups, along with the VCs who fund them, a lot of the content is potentially useful much more broadly, including for smaller bootstrapping companies, non-profits and open-source projects.  Plus it's all Creative Commons'ed so can be remixed and repackaged for other purposes!

It's funny, a few weeks ago when Tammarrian Rogers and I were working on the proposal for our Open Source Bridge session on Supporting diversity with a new approach to software, several people encouraged us to focus more on the cultural and organizational aspects than on the software engineering side.  I'd usually reply by highlighting the complementary nature of the two, note that I've got a lot of expertise on the software engineering side, and end by saying "of course the cultural and organizational aspects are incredibly important, and you've got to start there, but quite frankly I think there are other people who have a lot more to say on that front than me."   When I'm right, I'm right :)

In the future, we’d like to look back at this period as a turning point. Out of this groundswell of attention and activity, how do we ensure that initiatives succeed and have lasting positive and meaningful impact? ... How do we work together to cause meaningful transformation — in behavior, in expectations, in standards — across all areas of the tech industry?

As Tammarrian I said in A new approach to software, the industry is primed for change.  There's plenty of evidence that diverse teams outperfom, but a lot of companies and investors who want to improve diversity and inclusion don't know where to start.  High-visibility high-quality content like Project Include is providing can make a huge difference, especially if it's coupled with a community of people sharing their experiences, measuring what works, and refining the recommendations.

So I'm optimistic that we will indeed look back on this period as a turning point.  And with so much visibility, the fantastic team, excellent content, and a solid plan going forward, Project Include is indeed well-positioned to have a positive and meaningful impact.

 

Diversity links, May 6

2 min read

A roundup of relatively-recent links on diversity, focused largely but not exclusively on technology ... potentially the first of a series :)

 

"Supporting diversity with a new approach to software": an Open Source Bridge 2016 proposal!

1 min read

I'm submitting a talk to Open Source Bridge - June 21–24, 2016 - Portland, OR

It’s time for a new approach to software, one that embraces differences (not just tolerates them), and sees diversity as a strength. The industry is primed for a change, and there are huge opportunities to do better by valuing emotion, intuition, compassion, purpose, empowerment, sustainability, and social justice.

This highly-interactive session includes discussions of current “best practices” and emerging ideas from projects that have focused heavily on diversity, issues and problems in today’s environment, imagining how things could be different, and figuring out concrete steps to make it happen..

-- the excerpt from Supporting diversity with a new approach to software

I'm pretty excited about the proposal Tammarrian Rogers and I submitted for Open Source Bridge 2016. It's the perfect conference for the topic; as opposed to most tech conferences, attendees already understand the value of diversity and the challenges of the current environment. 

Thanks to all for the feedback!

Update, May 6: the proposal was accepted, and the session will be June 21 at 10 a.m.!

 

Vote for your "Local Warriors": Black Girls CODE, HackTheHood, BAYCAT, Oakland Digital, Hidden Genius Project

3 min read

The Golden State Warriors are teaming up with PG&E are giving away $10,000 to one of five local non-profit organizations in their Local Warriors program.  I've been a big fan of Black Girls CODE and Hack the Hood since their early days, and they continue to do great work.  That said, the other three look excellent as well, and I'm sure that any one of them will make great use of the money.  You find out more about the organizations by clicking on their logos.

You can vote either by tweet using a designated hashtag -- ,  , and so on (you can see the full list on the Local Warriors site) or on Facebook.  I'm not sure how long the voting lasts, but why wait?

It's really great to see support for local organizations, and hopefully there will be more projects like this in the future.   If so, here's a suggestion: look for alternatives to a winner-take-most competition.

Why?  Well, Black Girls CODE is doing valuable work by empowering girls of color by teaching them to code in Ruby on Rails.  So is Hidden Genius Project, by training and mentoring black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills.  Although I'm sure this wasn't their intent, at some level the Warriors and PG&E are asking people choose between having people choose between helping girls of color and black male youth.  And there are similar tradeoffs having to choose between other organizations.

One alternative would be to split the payout based on the relative share of votes.  Even better, instead of having the teams compete with each other, they could have set a collaborative goal -- maybe the amount that actually gets awarded is tied to the total number of votes.  

Of course, both of these alternatives would work even better if the pool of money being awarded is bigger so that each organization gets a reasonable amount.  That certainly seems possible: Warriors are worth several billion dollars and owned by local VCs and investors; and for that matter the Warriors players, some of whom are very strong supporters of the local communities, probably could find some money to contribute as well.  And there are several other successful, profitable local professional teams!

Still, better is the enemy of good enough.  Kudos to the Warriors and PG&E for doing something that helps all these projects gets visibility and steers some money to one of them.  So please help get the word out!

 

Open Source Bridge 2016: early-bird tickets and call for proposals #osb16

2 min read

Open Source Bridge is one of my favorite tech conferences, with a great mix of attendees, a strong focus on culture and diversity, and a well-designed venue in downtown Portland. A few years ago, I was actually pretty burnt out on the sausage factor feel and cookie-cutter presentations of so many tech conferences.  OSBridge reminded me how good the experience can be!

 

Last year's excellent sessions included an outstanding software engineering presentation by Denise Paolucci of Dreamwidth (When Your Codebase Is Nearly Old Enough to Vote), the back-to-back combo of Finn Ellis and Jonthan Harker on gender-inclusiveness in data collection (Male/Female/Othered) and Nova Patch on naming (Hello, my name Is _____), Kronda Adair's keynote Put Up or Shut UpAzure Lunatic on community moderation ... and so many more.  The presentation Lynn Cyrin and I did on Building Diverse Social Networks was well-received as well, with some very interesting followon discussions.  There were lots of other fine talks as well -- the session list gives an idea of the range of topics that get covered. 

This year's conference is June 21-24.   Half-price early-bird registration is available until April 15 (and there's an even larger discount for students).  

The Call for Proposals just went up, with a deadline of April 13.  There are already some very intruiging ones like Audrey Eschright on Unraveling the Masculinization of Technology and Creating a Third Wave of Free/Open Source Software, Anjuan Simmons on Debugging Diversity, and Denise Paolucci on Hard Problems in Terms of Service Enforcement.  So it looks like another great year.

See you in Portland!

 

 

 

 

An /@WithKnown question: how to reply "thanks" to @KevinMarks as a comment w/o having it show up in my stream?

 

Where do you get your news? A question for intersectional feminists

2 min read

Happy New Year!   Hope you had a wonderful holiday season, and a merry and/or happy Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Saturnalia, and/or New Year!  Here's looking forward to a great 2016 ...

One of the things I do at the start of each year is look at where I'm getting my news from.  Google News is useful, but like any algorithmic selection it has its biases.   In particular, I notice that most of the articles it shows me are guys writing about guys.  Which isn't surprising, in a world where most large media companies are run by guys and most employees at those companies are guys and Google's algorithms are implemented by guys (etc. etc. etc.).  Thus does patriarchy reinforce itself!

Crowdsourcing is a potentially an alternative, but the crowdsourced sites I know about like reddit or (in the tech space) Hacker News aren't any better.  When the population is mostly male, and guys are more likely to submit links, guess what happens?

And of course it's not just the bias against women.  Trans people, queers, Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, people with disabilities ... the groups that are marginalized in society will tend to be marginalized online as well.  And it's even worse at the intersections.

I'm sure it's possible to do better.   What I'd really like is something that's been designed with an explicit goal of diversity, run by a woman-led organization where the software has been designed and implemented mostly by women and where the majority of the content comes from women and the people involved are intersectional feminists and/or womanists.  There are some examples of this (Geek Feminism's Linkspams, for example) but the ones I know about are topic-specific.  So I'd settle for approaches that have at least some of these properties -- or for that matter, just give me a more diverse set of perspectives!

Any suggestions?

 


Image credit: By Valerie Everett via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

 

Good turnout at in Portland -- @aaronpk's kicking things off

 

Building Diverse Social Networks: a presentation at #osb15 with @LynnCyrin

1 min read

Here's the talk Lynn Cyrin and I gave at Open Source Bridge on Building Diverse Social Networks.   (If you can't see the embed, here's the slides as a PDF or a Google Doc.)