Hack events are not a new concept. In Seattle alone, you can find a hack event almost every weekend. They bring a variety of people in from different skill sets and backgrounds. The events are often chaotic and cacophonous. The energy — palpable.
When I walked into the “Hack: Diversity” event held in the We Work spaces in South Lake Union, I was met by a crowd of close to a hundred people. They spilled into conference rooms, and eventually other floors. A sea of diverse faces, the crowd clearly spanned different ethnic and cultural backgrounds as well as age. Arriving early I found a spot in the crush that provided the opportunity to observe.
The din rose as the conversations gathered intensity. These were coders, designers, recruiters and entrepreneurs, all invested in creating and fostering more diverse companies. Sponsors manned tables to the side of the main room, but the crowd didn’t move. Getting to the food or drinks, let alone finding a seat would prove impossible except for the most determined.
Speakers kicked off the evening, clearly meant to excite the crowd – though by the time this kicked off the energy made the air vibrate. The speakers were boisterous, sharing personal stories of struggle and success. When the group broke into smaller groups focusing on specific issues they went off to conference rooms spread throughout the three floors We Work occupies.
When the groups broke out into their smaller groups, I followed one woman, Key, around. She hesitated to join a specific group, not seeing her interests reflected in the topics. She visited each hack group, and listened for a moment, before continuing on. After 10 minutes or so, and much convincing from one of the organizers she landed in the group focused on culture fit. Within two minutes she was deep into the conversation, sharing her concerns about how culture is measured in numbers, and numbers aren’t always true.
Out of the dozen or so people in the group, about half turned in toward her to engage. The discussion turned to how the individuals experienced culture challenges. One woman, Tamara Mack, shared her experience of being the token. When her leadership asked her to participate in outside events she knew it was simply because “I was the one token black woman, I knew why I was brought in ” said Mack.
The conversation turned from there into the bias in hiring. Key stepped back from the group, appearing visibly bummed. Digging deeper she explained how she wasn’t sure about the value of the evening. “It’s better than nothing, but are we actually addressing the issues? What about engaging youth earlier, before they even enter the workforce?” asked Key. The question hung in the air. No one had an answer for her.
I returned to Mack, asking for her thoughts on companies that lacked diversity but sought to make changes, to purposefully hire, how can they get someone if that first hire will see themselves as ‘the token’. Amanda Townsend, standing next to Mack, spoke up first. Telling me that companies need to be intentional, stepping outside their networks. Breaking in, “networks kill diversity” said Mack.
With that the 30 minutes allotment ran out and the team starts to pick up and head back to the main hall for the presentations. The crowd has thinned, but it’s still loud and impossible to see everything happening at the front of the room. One by one groups moved their way to the front to present their ideas.
Facilitators and participants each introduced themselves. The facilitators all spoke of caring about how to affect change and learn something new this evening, which was echoed from the participants. Teams broke down the problems in communication, recruiting pipelines, bias – conscious and unconscious. Each team had a list of solutions, many you’ve likely heard of:
- Introduce bias limiting processes to application review
- Actively seek applicants outside direct network
- Build a pipeline program that fosters diversity
- Engage with community organizations
- Foster a community that encourages employees to speak up
- Create employee resource groups
It reminded me of another event I attended, that focused on gender inequality and how to foster more equal workplaces.
In both instances, the rooms were full of people passionate about the issue. Both devoid of the people perpetuating the problem. Neither addressing that the bigger issue is not working with those who care, but with those who are apathetic.
Which really, is a representation of where American culture and society is at.
Every single one of these is reflected, not in the people who join in the effort, but by the people who don’t even raise their hands.
So when I think about this event and all the wonderful words and solutions presented, I simply echo Key, but what now? What next?
I learned quite a bit about diversity, inclusion, biases, and aggressions during this event, but what is to be done now? The gap in the evening was not in what was wrong, or how to fix it, it was how to turn the system upside down.
Diversity is the topic that everyone wants to talk about, but equally one that no one seems to actually do anything about. In the aftermath of major corporations not living up to promises (ehem, Google) it makes this writer wonder, is diversity really going to get better?
More than a month following the event, nothing appears to have come from it. How do you change these words into action?
Featured image: https://certificationgame.com/reflections-from-the-certification-game-hackathon/