Reply All: #52 Raising The Bar
January 21, 2016 9:40 PM - Subscribe

Leslie Miley went from being a college dropout to Twitter's only black engineer in a leadership position. So why did he quit? And what does it have to do with ketchup? Plus a new Yes Yes No involving the manosphere and Star Wars.
posted by radioamy (6 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Really glad to hear the Reply All treatment. I work in the tech industry and this question of diversity, particularly racial diversity, is really challenging me and my colleagues. Leslie's essay that was mentioned at the start of the episode is well worth reading.

Why Doesn’t Silicon Valley Hire Black Coders? is interesting companion reading. It was published by Businessweek the same day this podcast episode aired.
posted by Nelson at 9:54 AM on January 22, 2016

I think there was a classic example of the sort of thinking that leads Silicon Valley to be so resistant to hiring people of color right here. The African-American subject pointed out that there was sizable evidence that diversity benefits a company, which there is.

We then went to a white expert, who said, well, we can't trust that, because it hasn't been tested in silicon valley. And there may be reasons not to test it, because diverse workplaces have communication issues, and that might slow progress.

Note that Silicon Valley also hasn't tested whether or not there are communication issues either. And yet the idea that people of color might be a detriment is proposed and accepted, rather than being dismissed, despite the lack of evidence for it in Silicon Valley, whereas the possibility that people of color might be a benefit is treated as an uncertainty.

That's how racism becomes institutionalized. Reasons for hiring people of color can always be made suspect, while reasons for not hiring them can always be treated as credible. But I sincerely doubt that a black engineer from Silicon Valley is actually going to have any measurable difficulty communicating with white engineers from Silicon Valley -- except where the subject of race is concerned, because the whites are so obviously blinkered.

And so you end up with a racist system that can never be challenged, because if a black person raises the challenge, it is evidence of a communication problem, rather than evidence of racism.

It was weird to see it happen in real time on the show, and weirder that it mostly went unchallenged.
posted by maxsparber at 10:36 AM on January 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

And as I said before, these blinkered sexist and racist attitudes are eventually going to come back and bite SV in the ass. And when SV looks like Detroit, the plaintive wail will be "We never saw it coming!
posted by happyroach at 4:04 PM on January 22, 2016

It's interesting if you compare this episode to the most recent Slate Money podcast (warning: a fair amount of talk about Davos), where Cathy O'Neil talks about the lack of women in finance and similarly argues that the problem is twofold: not only is there not enough commitment to diversity in hiring (which might be changing?), but it's often also a hostile work environment. She gave a great example of an office that unofficially expected constant overtime but also officially promoted work-life balance only to women and made them feel even more singled out.

So yeah, maybe you'll get that first handful of hires [black engineers/women financiers/etc.] but they'll be driven away because it's a sucky place (for them or possibly for everyone) to work, so you're back to square one. Which means there's actually two humps to get over - not just get new blood in, but change the culture in the office too.
posted by psoas at 9:25 AM on January 28, 2016

FWIW, there's a update to this in the "bonus" #54 episode in which they are called on omitting Rosalind Franklin from the "diversity in science solved the mystery of DNA" example.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:30 PM on February 26, 2016

That omission of Rosalind Franklin was killing me. Talk about erasure. I am quite glad they came back and addressed it, although it induced a different sort of cringing over the crystallography explanation.
posted by janell at 11:45 AM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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