A Different Take on Inclusion

My new job requires me to do a lot of research on teacher preparation programs in the United States. The need for diversity – in this case, specifically racial diversity – is mentioned in numerous reports on the current state of the teaching profession.

Being a woman of color, I had become kind of numb to the idea as the term is thrown around so much and I often feel as though I serve as the only marker of ‘diversity’ in various spaces. 

As I continued my research, the word just kept jumping out at me. Diversity was in almost every report, spoken at every seminar, and used by every university education program. Then the statistical data behind why diversity is necessary began to come to light. In 2012, 49% of secondary students in the US were of color but only 12% of their teachers were. That’s a huge disparity, right? This statistic also made me reflect on my own secondary education career and realize I only ever had one teacher who looked like me. Even with this knowledge, I was still not fully ready for what I was to find next…

Researchers at the Institute of Labor Economics found that low-income Black male students in North Carolina who have just one Black teacher in third, fourth, or fifth grade are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to consider attending college.

As I continued to search, I kept seeing different iterations of this phrase, ‘students of color perform better academically and are suspended at lower rates when exposed to at least one educator of their own ethnicity,’ but I still hadn’t wondered why that was the case.

Next, I read a report which stated students of color have higher levels of achievement when they have a teacher of color because those teachers hold a more positive perception of their students both academically and behaviorally compared to non-minority teachers.

As I read this, I had such a tough time grasping what was being said. Basically, a lot of the reports on the need for diversity were showing that non-minority teachers let their prejudice and stereotypes of minority students get in the way of their teaching ability – to such an extent that it negatively affects students of color – and the proposed solution is to hire more minority teachers. Not to call non-minority teachers to task or equip them to better serve their ALL of their students.

I was appalled by the proposed solution of merely diversifying the teaching profession. That lets so many people in our society out of doing the real work that is necessary to overcome racial stereotypes and prejudices – as these issues cannot be solved by people of color themselves.

At the same time, I was seeing the same idea being used in a social movement – the latest wave of the #MeToo campaign. Over the past few weeks, I have watched #MeToo take over my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds as so many – too many – female celebrities, activists, colleagues, and even close friends have all experienced varying degrees of sexual harassment or assault, most often at the hands of men.

As more and more stories of #MeToo are shared, I find it interesting that when it comes to the issue of sexual harassment of assault against women, it is the women we focus on the most, rather than the men who help to perpetuate this culture of abuse.

In the same way racism is not just an issue for people of color, sexual assault and harassment is not just an issue for women. But too often, these issues are labeled as the responsibility of those being harmed by them the most. The idea of inclusion needs to be applied to all actors who have a stake in an issue and not just to those who feel the direct and immediate effects of racism or sexual harassment or assault. We all share the responsibility of creating a more equitable and safe society.

Here’s the Good News About that Google Memo

Google’s now-infamous memo has both women and men up in arms about tech’s attitude towards women overall. The memo (not authorized by the company itself, but written by an employee and then circulated) suggests that women may be inherently less suited to the company’s workplace by virtue of their gender alone, and advocates stemming certain processes aimed towards diversity in recruiting.

(Note: the memo itself is not implicitly anti-diversity in its philosophy, as explained by The Atlantic. Nonetheless, it questions current initiatives to recruit across the board, and challenges attitudes towards promoting diversity in the workplace. Read the full memo here.)

The problematic ideas in this memo aren’t symptomatic of a new problem. There are countless examples of sexism and a penchant for the status quo that have emerged throughout the years, then disappeared in the fast-paced and unforgiving nature of the tech industry. In 2014, reporter 

Nonetheless, it is very easy to get upset about Google’s Diversity Memo. Google is a cultural cornerstone as well as a tech behemoth. For a company that is known as the good guy of the internet, to e-mail sexism directly to its employees’ inboxes seems a new level of egregious.

All over, news outlets are decrying the fact that winds of change have not yet hit Silicon Valley; but they’re missing an important development.

It used to be okay to say women weren’t as good at tech. It used to be okay to say they might be happier raising children, not rewriting code. The explosion on twitter, media outlets jumping over the story and the launch of 100 thinkpieces all sent the very clear message that society no longer turns a blind eye to discrimination.

Swift retribution from the company was the most powerful signal: Google fired the employee who wrote the memo. In the last few years, other companies have responded in kind to their own controversies. Uber fell over itself trying to reform its ‘toxic culture’ after a former employee wrote a blog post about the treatment she endured while working there. The co-founder of 500 Startups was asked to resign after investigations into sexual harassment (which he himself later admitted). Employees resigned and investors threatened to pull funding from Binary capital after six women accused the co-founder of harassment.

Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, conceded that employees should have the right to express their feelings but nonetheless found the memo too insulting to the company’s female employees. In a heartening message, he defended the subtle discrimination that underlined some of the memo’s assumptions.

“Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic’.”

From Google’s chief executive, these are powerful words, and indications of huge steps forward.

As women in the workplace, we’re still climbing a mountain, and a steep one. At moments like these, we have a tendency to look at how far we have left to go. However, it can be heartening to look back and consider, as well, how far we’ve come.