Minnesota Technology Diversity Pledge

Nancy Lyons of Clockwork Interactive recently announced a Minnesota Technology Diversity Pledge. Rather than skeptical, this writer is hopeful. Ms Lyons has been a thought-leader both in the tech and small-businesses communities locally and nationally for a number of years. None the less, this is only a start to confronting a much larger chasm. I had the opportunity to sit-down with Ms Lyons sometime ago, and we entertained curt conversations regarding diversity and activism in the community.

If there was one thing I took away from our conversation, it was how much content was being lost in interpretation. This is a consequence of lived experiences combined with consistently biased media exposure. Ms Lyons does confront the ambiguity of benefits to be gained by embracing diversity: we can't know what we don't know. While much of what we learn may be more about ourselves, than one's business; though this may very well inform how one runs their business. This having been the case in the aforementioned conversation; it is also here where we confront the initial obstacles of fear & opportunity.

Often times companies get very comfortable in their routines; and as oft they ought. There is a flow to each company, and if this is yielding consistently positive returns, that is to be appreciated. Diversity hires will disturb this. Society has not made room for marginalized people; we have created workflows that neglect, and negate, our existence. Accepting marginalized people into your circles will be a short-term expense, financially and culturally. We have two options, we can either wait for an ideal candidate who is the right "cultural fit", and mitigate the short-term costs. Diversity by assimilation practically voids long-term benefits. The other option is to acknowledge that there will be a learning curve for all parties involved; and that this is part of the long-term benefit.

This opens up the door of accessibility. In communication theory, different genders are considered different cultures with entirely different methods of communication. The intricacy of the communicative filter only increases as you add social labels. While in the remainder of the social sciences we come to learn that language, as a whole, is incredibly important in creating culture, and neural pathways. The first of these norms to be confronted, when inviting heterogeneity into a once homogenous environment, are the more conflictual disparities of communication. You are allowing your self access to a perspective that is, more often than not, told not to talk, and accept not being acknowledged. There are chasms to cross.

By preparing one's self, and your team, for this, a company is able to begin reaping the benefits of a diversity initiative. Felicity and agility of thought will become requisite in the work-place enabling a culture of learning and communication. The world is quickly becoming more diverse. Social norms are being redefined, and cultural fluidity is becoming a precious commodity.

Imagine yourself sitting at a bench over-looking a city and someone arrives to speak to you. They remain standing while speaking to you. Now imagine this scenario again, except that this time the individual sits down next to you, and attempts to speak with you. It is this ability to acknowledge, and be open to, narratives other than our own that will yield exponentiating returns in the future.

Rather than assimilation, adaption requires us to extend ourselves. Much is to be learned and gained in this process. Though, as with any form of growth, there is an expense to be incurred. Adaption of communicative norms is a problem solving methodology of trial and error, one is bound to make mistakes. Though by listening to topics through another's perspective, it is illuminating to one's own conception of the topic, and quite possibly much more. This being only the beginning. When we assimilate, or expect assimilation, we are not wanting to be confronted with perspectives that will challenge our own; rather we are seeking perspectives that will re-affirm our own views. Without this challenge, there can be no growth, or benefit, beyond the platitudinal.

And so while a pledge sounds great, it is the beginning of an arduous, precarious, and rewarding path. Minnesota has an extraordinary equity issue, for more than one cultural reason. Though if ever there were a time or place for Midwestern stubborn to display it's might and mettle, this would be the time and place. Minnesota has disproportionately been a land of plenty for those able to conform to strict cultural norms, and the symptoms are growing in gravity, rapidly towards illness. Technology is both a tool to build both bridges and people.

Additional Links:

Report Blames Structural Racism for MN Health Disparities
A Movement Against Racism Should Be a Movement for Mental Health
How Racism Is Bad for Our Bodies
Why it's so hard to talk to white people about racism