Tech Ethics, Roaming Autodidacts, and the White-Male Effect

The internet’s “condition of harm” and its direct relation to risk is structural. The tech industry – from venture capitalists to engineers to creative visionaries – is known for its strike-it-rich Wild West individualistic ethos, swaggering risk-taking, and persistent homogeneity. Some of this may be a direct result of the industry’s whiteness and maleness. For more than two decades, studies have found that a specific subset of men, in the U.S. mostly white, with higher status and a strong belief in individual efficacy, are prone to accept new technologies with greater alacrity while minimizing their potential threats – a phenomenon researchers have called the “white-male effect,” a form of cognition that protects status. In the words of one study, the findings expose “a host of new practical and moral challenges for reconciling the rational regulation of risk with democratic decision making.”

Source: The Risk Makers. The nuclear, auto, and food industries… | by Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly | Sep, 2020 | OneZero

That reminds me of Tressie McMillan Cottom’s observations on “roaming autodidacts”.

A roaming autodidact is a self-motivated, able learner that is simultaneously embedded in technocratic futures and disembedded from place, culture, history, and markets. The roaming autodidact is almost always conceived as western, white, educated and male. As a result of designing for the roaming autodidact, we end up with a platform that understands learners as white and male, measuring learners’ task efficiencies against an unarticulated norm of western male whiteness. It is not an affirmative exclusion of poor students or bilingual learners or black students or older students, but it need not be affirmative to be effective. Looking across this literature, our imagined educational futures are a lot like science fiction movies: there’s a conspicuous absence of brown people and women.

Source: Black Cyberfeminism: Intersectionality, Institutions and Digital Sociology by Tressie McMillan Cottom :: SSRN

I very much resemble the roaming autodidact. Tech and open source are full of us. It took longer than I’d like to admit for me to recognize the white-male effect in my own thinking. “A form of cognition that protects status” is an apt summary, especially for roaming autodidacts who’ve lived and believe the meritocracy myth.

See also:

Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group at Automattic

Members of Automattic’s neurodivergent community launched this ERG in 2020 to support neurodivergent Automatticians, serve as a resource for Automattic at large, and promote the principles of neurodiversity.

Source: Employee Resource Groups – Automattic

I’m happy to say we have a Neurodiversity ERG at Automattic.

Some of our goals:

  • Advocate for neurodiversity-related improvements to hiring and team practices across the company
    • Work with TalentOps to review and improve onboarding for new hires and new team leads by adding neurodiversity resources
    • Be a resource for team leads, meetup planners, etc. to ask questions, so that it’s not entirely on team members to educate
  • Support our neurodivergent community internally
    • Provide resources for neurodiverseomatticians to learn more about their own neurodivergence
    • Promote ERG members’ accomplishments
  • Support our neurodivergent community externally
    • Put together resources for awareness days/months
    • Bring in neurodivergent speakers for internal talks
    • Attend, sponsor, and support neurodivergent-in-tech events
  • Examine internalized standards regarding competence, communication, and other traits valued at Automattic which are expressed differently by neurodivergent people
  • Stand in solidarity with groups who often overlap with us: physically disabled and mentally ill people in particular

Some things an ERG can help with:

At 90 percent of the companies I examined, ERG members helped new employees to get comfortable during the onboarding process. Studies show that the first 60 to 90 days of employment are a critical time for any new hire, and they can be particularly challenging for members of traditionally underrepresented groups. That short window of time can mean the difference between whether an employee stays for the long run or leaves the organization before the year is out. ERGs can be leveraged to acclimate employees and engender a sense of loyalty and belonging to their new company.

These groups can also be great partners for identifying gaps in an organization’s talent development process.

Many companies also successfully use their ERGs to improve the organization’s leadership development process, to drive results, to forge relationships, and to ensure alignment between their business and diversity strategies.

Source: Are Employee Resource Groups Good for Business?

Employee Resource Groups have evolved from employee support networks created to achieve diversity and inclusion to a strategic resources that enhances business outcomes in the following areas:

  1. Involve employees in recruitment and talent management efforts
  2. Offer leadership development and mentoring opportunities
  3. Capitalize on the knowledge of diverse employees to create consumer sensitive branding and product development
  4. Create an engaged and inclusive work environment
  5. Promote your organization as an employer of choice and community partner

Source: Employee Resource Groups: A Strategic Business Resource for Today’s Workplace

Cultural competence is a business imperative that can no longer be ignored and employee resource groups must serve as the engine to make us all smarter about the future that awaits.

Source: 7 Ways to Enable Your Employee Resource Groups into a Powerful Advancement Platform

A big downside of ERGs that we hope to avoid:

We joined the ERG because we needed help, but we became the help.

Source: Black employee groups in Silicon Valley find that their unpaid second job just got harder – The Washington Post

Ask me about my pluralist agenda

I got a coffee mug to pair with my “Militant Inclusionista” shirt.

“Ask me about my pluralist agenda” from Chrissy Stroop.

A white coffee mug with black text reads: Ask me about my pluralist agenda. Beneath that, blue text reads: NotYourMissionField.com
A white coffee mug with black text reads: Ask me about my pluralist agenda. Beneath that, blue text reads: NotYourMissionField.com

Pluralism rocks.

Emracing Pluralism Is Good Citizenship: Democracy Demands Equal Accommodation
Emracing Pluralism Is Good Citizenship: Democracy Demands Equal Accommodation

Source: Infographics – Not Your Mission Field

Via: A Personal Update and Some Thoughts on Pluralism – Not Your Mission Field