DEI, Belonging, and Values Fit in the Workplace

The latest episode of Distributed interviews Sid Sijbrandij, Co-founder and CEO of GitLab. The episode prompted me to revisit the comprehensive GitLab Values page. There’s lots of good stuff in here.

Diversity, inclusion and belonging are fundamental to the success of GitLab. We aim to make a significant impact in our efforts to foster an environment where everyone can thrive. We are designing a multidimensional approach to ensure that GitLab is a place where people from every background and circumstance feel like they belong and can contribute. We actively chose to build and institutionalize a culture that is inclusive and supports all team members equally in the process of achieving their professional goals. We hire globally and encourage hiring in a diverse set of countries. We work to make everyone feel welcome and to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities and nationalities in our community and company.

We demonstrate diversity, inclusion and belongings when we foster an environment where everyone can thrive and ensuring that GitLab is a place where people from every background and circumstance feel like they belong and can contribute.

Source: GitLab Values | GitLab

I like the addition of belonging to DEI. That’s an important part of Employee Resource Groups: fostering belonging. Belonging helps address the leaky pipeline, and hiring for values fit instead of culture fit helps address getting in the pipeline in the first place.

Culture fit is a bad excuse

We don’t hire based on culture or select candidates because we’d like to have a drink with them. We hire and reward team members based on our shared values as detailed on this page. We want a values fit, not a culture fit. We want cultural diversity instead of cultural conformity, such as a brogrammer atmosphere. Said differently: “culture add” > “culture fit” or “hire for culture contribution” since our mission is that everyone can contribute.

Source: GitLab Values | GitLab

I love the rule-of-thumb: culture add > culture fit. I might add it to my old, neglected list of rules of thumb for human systems. Changing the framing from fit to add better includes neurodivergent people.

Speaking of neurodivergent people, the page has a section on neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is a type of diversity that includes: autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, cognitive impairment, and other styles of neurodivergent functioning. While neurodivergent individuals often bring unique skills and abilitieswhich can be harnessed for competitive advantage in many fields including cybersecurity, neurodivergent individuals are often discriminated against, and sometimes have trouble making it through traditional hiring processes. These individuals should be able to contribute as GitLab team members. The handbook, values, strategy, and interviewing process should never discriminate against the neurodivergent.


Source: GitLab Values | GitLab

“The handbook, values, strategy, and interviewing process should never discriminate against the neurodivergent.”

Wow, it sure feels good to read that so plainly written. Here’s some previous writing of mine to help avoid discriminating against neurominorities at work and, instead, create belonging.

Power, Justice, and Professionalism in the Tech Workplace

This account is based on interviews with six Basecamp employees who were present at the meeting, along with a partial transcript created by employees. Collectively, they describe a company whose attempt to tamp down on difficult conversations blew up in its face as employees rejected the notion that discussions of power and justice should remain off limits in the workplace. And they suggest that efforts to eliminate disruptions in the workplace by regulating internal speech may cause even more turmoil for a company in the long run.

Source: 🚨 How Basecamp blew up – Platformer

Right-wing narratives of woke capitalism are so off. Tech leaders aren’t remotely woke, as evidenced here, yet again. Over and over, tech leaders fail to rise to the 101 level of analyzing power and confronting injustice. The “disruptions” eliminated by suppressing internal speech are marginalized people. The silence is suffocating.

“Racism [and] white supremacy are not things that are so convenient that they only happen when full intention is present, or true malice is present,” the employee said. “Evil is not required. We’re not so lucky as for this to come down to good and evil. It’s as simple as creating a space where people do not feel welcome.”

The employee continued: “The silence in the background is what racism and white supremacy does. It creates that atmosphere that feels suffocating to people. It doesn’t require active malice. It’s not that convenient.”

Source: 🚨 How Basecamp blew up – Platformer

Marginalized groups are tired from the exhausting work of coaching white men to understand their world. The leadership at Basecamp, and pretty much every tech company, are so far behind at understanding worlds outside their own that their professionalism is in question.

For this reason, I would suggest a renewed focus on MESH education,which stands for Media Literacy, Ethics, Sociology, and History. Because if these are not given equal attention, we could end up with incredibly bright and technically proficient people who lack all capacity for democratic citizenship.

Source: Forget STEM, We Need MESH. The importance of media literacy… | by Tim Wise | Our Human Family | Medium

The price of relevance is fluency,” and these leaders are not fluent.

Worse, that visibility of critique means that powerful people now have to do work that they didn’t want to do. They can’t stand it.

Suddenly, even the most powerful people in society are forced to be fluent in the concerns of those with little power, if they want to hold on to the cultural relevance that thrust them into power in the first place. Being a comedian means having to say things that an audience finds funny; if an audience doesn’t find old, hackneyed, abusive jokes funny anymore, then that comedian has to do more work. And what we find is, the comedians with the most privilege resent having to keep working for a living. Wasn’t it good enough that they wrote that joke that some people found somewhat funny, some years ago? Why should they have to learn about current culture just to get paid to do comedy?

Similarly, CEOs keep fussing about how it’s hard to not offend people these days. (Being a CEO myself, this one ends up on my radar a lot.) Now, every person in marketing knows they have to try to stay culturally relevant, and certainly every ordinary worker knows they constantly have to be learning new skills and developing professionally. But if a CEO has been in his seat long enough, he’ll often get deeply resentful of being told that he has to learn new ways of being respectful to the people who were systematically obstructed from reaching his awareness in the past.

Source: The price of relevance is fluency

Previously,

Interrogating Normal: Autism Social Skills Training at the Margins of a Social Fiction

Social skills training programs for autistic youths and adults exist in nearly every school district and community; these programs focus on bringing autistic people into synchronization with developmental, linguistic, and social norms. However, these norms have not been critically evaluated, and autistic people themselves have not been surveyed about their experiences of, responses to, or opinions about these programs. This study sought direct input from autistic people about these programs.

Nothing About Us Without Us (NAUWU), an anonymous cross-sectional survey study, was posted online from 18 February, 2014 to 4 April, 2014, and was open to adults (18 years or older) who were formally diagnosed or self-diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum.

Major findings from the NAUWU study are that most of the 91 autism-specific social skills programs studied are not focused on individuals or their unique sensory and communicative needs, do not recognize participants’ existing social abilities and accomplishments, do not provide age-appropriate or gender-inclusive instruction, and do not consider or support autistic ways of learning and being social.

Source: Interrogating Normal: Autism Social Skills Training at the Margins of a Social Fiction

Via autism researcher Noah Sasson:

“Interrogating Normal: Autism Social Skills Training at the Margins of a Social Fiction”

I love that title. This paper from 2014 really is prescient. Social skills programs are detached from our needs. Recent studies and polls reinforce what autistic people, and this paper, have been saying.

A friend working on experiments related to autism representation lamented the state of the field in recent correspondence.

At this point I’ve read about 80 studies related to this, and I’m so grossed out. Also furious. EVERYTHING gets done from the clinician/special ed educator perspective, with an occasional entry that includes the parental perspective for comparison. NONE of the studies include the perspective of autistic people.

Similarly, the author of “Interrogating Normal”:

In 2012, I entered the education program at Sonoma State University in order to search through the literature in education and the social sciences, and I hoped to bring together research on the enforcement of normality that would describe and illuminate the everyday dehumanization autistic people face. This dehumanization is not restricted to the exclusion and bullying that is a reliable feature of the social lives of autistic people; it is also a regular feature in clinical settings, in academic research, in seemingly authoritative books about autistic people, in media reports, in education, in social services, in fundraising narratives, and in social skills training for autistic youths and adults. This dehumanization is so widespread that it seems to be an intrinsic aspect of normality – an accepted and acceptable way to view the bodies, minds, and lives of autistic people, or of any people who consistently breach the unwritten rules of normality.

Source: Interrogating Normal: Autism Social Skills Training at the Margins of a Social Fiction

Lit reviews through the ignorant and ableist morass of autism studies are gut-punching for autistic researchers. I share the sentiments of autistic autism researcher Kieran Rose.

Perspectives that lack knowledge are often dangerously misinformed.

You would think that would be a pretty obvious statement and perhaps you might think that there are certain contexts where that should be a mantra imprinted in the brains of everyone involved.

Naively, when I was much younger, less knowledgeable about myself and much less worldly-wise, I used to think that Autism Research would be one of those contexts.

How wrong I was and how terrifying it is when I look around and see so many Autistic people invested in Autism research like it’s written in the holy scripture of [insert religion here].

Autism research is incredibly flawed in an enormous number of ways. One example of how, is the fact that the sum total of all knowledge of Autism in academia is based on the work of two incredibly flawed men, both with incredibly flawed ideas and practice from the 1940s. Everything we know professionally and societally about Autism is underpinned by their work. As I’ve said so many times in talks and trainings the whole of Autism research is built on a foundation of sand.

Why is it a foundation of sand? Well, right from day one the narrative of Autism research has been this:

  • Expert’ looks at Autistic person (usually child; usually white child; usually white boy child; usually white boy child that presents in a particular way).
  • ‘Expert’ takes notes.
  • ‘Expert’ forms opinion.
  • ‘Expert’ writes it up.
  • Another ‘expert’ nods wisely.
  • ‘Expert’ publishes.
  • ‘Experts’ applaud ‘Experts’.
  • Whole world believes ‘Expert’.
  • Services are developed around ‘Expert’ knowledge.

Source: Autistic Masking: Kieran Rose a new Academic Paper

This is a depressingly regular occurrence.

A fellow late-diagnosed autistic summarizes the state of things well.

The tyranny of the norm, thoroughly institutionalized and instrumented against us:

This ableism follows a long tradition of devaluation of disabled people in regard to their deviations from the norm. As educator Thomas Hehir (2002) writes,

ableism uncritically asserts that it is better for a child to walk than roll, speak than sign, read print than Braille, spell independently that use spell-check, and hang out with non- disabled kids as opposed to other disabled kids, etc. In short, in the eyes of many educators and society, it is preferable for disabled students to do things in the same manner as nondisabled kids (p. 3).

In nearly all media accounts, and throughout much of the research literature, autistic functioning is portrayed in thoroughly ableist terms as a medicalized deficit that requires extensive correction. For many autistic toddlers and young children, the requirement to do things in the same manner as non-autistic kids often means that months and years are spent in some form of intensive behavioral training meant specifically to make them appear less autistic. Educator Lennard Davis (2010) calls the ableist enforcement of normality onto the bodies and minds of disabled people “the tyranny of the norm,” (p. 6) and states that “the ‘problem’ is not the person with disabilities; the problem is the way that normalcy is constructed to create the ‘problem’ of the disabled person” (p. 3).

This problem-focused and medicalized approach to autism, which is devoid of autistic voices and autistic agency, leads to treatments, therapies, and educational approaches that do not respect the humanity, autonomy, or dignity of autistic people – and this is especially true for many of the treatments that are focused on autistic toddlers and young children.

Source: Interrogating Normal: Autism Social Skills Training at the Margins of a Social Fiction

Yes.

To get off this foundation of sand, listen to us, respect NAUWU, and reframe away from the tyranny of the norm.

understanding the perspectives and experiences of autistic children and adults in particular was essential. Time and again I found that issues aired say, by teachers, would be completely reframed when the autistic adults discussed the same points.

Source: Inclusive Education for Autistic Children: Helping Children and Young People to Learn and Flourish in the Classroom

Previously,