Why the diversity conversation is so hard for me

I read this awesome post by Katie Womersley and I love it.  The quick synopsis is that people who identify with a specific stereotype could cause them to do WORSE.  I believe in diversity and think it makes all of us stronger, but I don’t actually identify with ‘being a woman in tech’.  I have never liked the label, and part of me resents it a little bit. I am just ‘in tech’.  Or rather, I just ‘am’.

Recently, I’ve become fascinated with this idea of the player and the victim, and I’m seeing it everywhere.  The player is someone who looks at the situation and wonders how they impacted the outcome.  “Wow, that was a big fight.  In what way did I create or contribute to the situation to cause that fight?”.  The victim is someone who takes more of a blaming stance. “That jerk took his bad mood out on me”.  I’m seeing it literally everywhere.  “The investors don’t get my business” vs “I’m not articulating my business in a way that makes investors excited”.  “You don’t trust me” vs “What am I doing that causes you to doubt me?”.  “My startup failed b/c we ran out of money” vs “My startup failed b/c I didn’t understand the economics of my business well enough”.  “This meeting is brain damage” vs “I have an experiment I’d like to try with the format of this meeting, if you’re game”

I worry that being identified as the victim here, as a woman in tech, creates victims.  In fact I can think back on 2 specific  situations where I walked out of a meeting extremely frustrated from not being heard, thinking “I’m just in a room full of men, THIS is what they mean by being a female in tech”.   But in retrospect, I took the victim stance. I should have asked myself “What am I doing that’s contributing to my inability to get my point across?”.  If I can answer that question, I can take myself to the next level (which I have by the way!).  Blame them for not being included in the boys club, and I move backwards, never in control of my own destiny.

I’m not saying that prejudice and bias don’t happen.  They do.  And they did in both of those meetings where I was frustrated. But the only way I can change what the world thinks of me is by not playing the part of the victim.  I don’t want to play the part of a woman in tech – but rather of someone who excels in her role, who can adapt to constantly changing and fast paced environments, with people that I do and do not identify with.  It’s not about me being a woman.  It’s about me kicking ass at whatever I chose to.

Thanks Katie.  Don’t lets stop this conversation.

11 thoughts on “Why the diversity conversation is so hard for me

  1. Fiona Schlachter

    Keep on kicking ass Nicole, I couldn’t not agree with you more. Love your perspective. I tend to opt out of women-only events and encourage women to attend traditionally male-dominated events. This is a direct way to change the ratio and be heard.

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  3. Laura Spiekerman

    I like hearing this perspective. But if we don’t “play the victim” (or acknowledge when we were victimized because of our gender), don’t we run the risk of sweeping all the conscious and unconscious bias under the rug? Plenty of my male counterparts think a lot more about how their actions and words may be counterproductive to hiring and working with women in our startup. I think that’s only because we explicitly talk about it a lot. Including my own experiences as a woman in tech. If I don’t bring things up, they don’t notice them.

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    1. Yes, I agree! It’s why this conversation is so hard. Because it’s not simply ‘someone’s fault’. There are lots of dynamics at play. And to tackle it, we have to address all of them. I love the fact that men are more aware of it – but I don’t want women to just claim ‘unconscious bias’ every time something doesn’t go their way. It’s an effort on both sides. The conversation has to look something like “hey, this thing happened, and I can’t tell if it was unconscious bias, or if my behavior contributed to it in some way. Can you help me unpack this so I can learn and get stronger?”

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  4. Ben Wiener

    As a (male) VC actively involved in investing in female founders, I’m very interested in this point of view and agree with you. On the other hand women continue to be the victims of (conscious or subconscious) biases and women shouldn’t have to just conform their behavior or take responsibility for “working around” these unfair biases. For example, salary disparity / Equal Pay Assessments – if it wasn’t called out as such (rather than each woman saying, “what can i do to get the recognition I need to earn an equivalent salary?”) then I don’t think companies like Salesforce would make large-scale gender-gap-closing pay adjustments like they have. So it’s bit of both – women are still the victims of biases and discrimination and it needs to be called out and addressed at scale, but individually I agree (if as a man I have a vote) that it’s a good idea to also find workarounds and not just play victim. There are and have been great women trailblazers and they can and should serve as role models.

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  5. Patricia O'Sullivan

    Wholeheartedly agree.

    Now that we’ve woken men up to the concept, the ball is back in our court to prove we should be viewed as serious players.

    So head’s down all you non-men – let’s step up to the plate rather than waiting for someone to hand it to us!

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  6. Rebecca Antonino

    It’s like you’re all ‘in my head’ and totally agree – a multifaceted conversation!
    View me as a Peer vs a victim
    View me as Malleable vs marble
    View me as I am vs what society says

    Like

  7. Aksam Dar

    I guess a balanced approach is required. Failure to identify an elephant in the room may create problems so the bias has to be identified and should be talked about. At the same time, blaming one’s failure only towards bias from others would shut one’s ability to do a realistic self assessment and identify areas of self improvement.

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