Because I lack discipline and any real “life structure,” my email habits are rather capricious. I either respond RIGHT AWAY or I phantom respond. That is, I will BELIEVE I responded but what really happened was I wrote a response in my head but never actually committed it to something anyone could receive. BTW does everyone talk to themselves a lot? I feel like I talk to myself as much as John Nash as depicted by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, like when he was becoming full-on schizophrenic.
This morning a self-described tech industry exec wrote to say he mentioned me in his blog post, and was that okay? It turns out we had an email exchange back in 2014 when I was covering the tech and culture beat. The topic was the lack of diversity and women in computer engineering. (I had been writing a lot back then about the alarming gender and racial disparities in tech.) He had emailed me to say that the engineering team at his company was overwhelmingly white male but the problem was “nearly impossible” to change. I don’t remember what I wrote back but he did.
I know this because of the SHOCKINGLY FLATTERING post he wrote about it. I mean, seriously, I could not have made this up because if I were to make up a situation in which I helped someone out, I wouldn’t make is sound this nice because it wouldn’t be believable.
“I have not always been the greatest advocate for women, but I am learning. In 2014 a reporter from NPR, Elise Hu, had written a series about a lack of diversity in tech. At the same time I was actively hiring and trying to fill the role with women. That said, I had gotten resumes from something like 50 candidates and roughly 47 of them were white men. What was I supposed to do? How could this be my fault? How could I be accountable? I reached out to Elise and pointed this out to her, thinking it was definitive proof that myself and people like me were off the hook.
She wrote back in a little over an hour. She said many smart things, but asked me simply who had taught me to program? The answer was my uncle. She then carefully explained to me that white men were often teaching other white men to program and there in lies the problem. They were sparking interest in computers in young white men, and doing nothing to spark an interest in more diverse populations. The cause of the pipeline problem was outside of academics.
This resonated with me because it is my belief that while you can learn a lot about technology in academics, applying that knowledge successfully often requires direct one on one mentorship. The pipeline is our responsibility because we have the knowledge and even though we might not be academics we can still spend our time mentoring and sparking the interest in more diverse populations. The problem is not caused intentionally, but simply based on normative behavior and pre-existing relationships.
We are accountable. Until that moment, I thought the best thing I could do was simply stand out of the way and avoid being biased as much as possible. Essentially be passive. It was again a strong and intelligent woman who changed my thinking, and taught me that it is everyone’s responsibility to play an active role in change.”
First, GO STEPHEN!
Second, the lesson of this is that sometimes the exchanges with strangers who write you can seem really mundane and perfunctory. But if you can offer your time or thoughts, they could potentially make an impact or have quite a ripple effect.