I imagine that most women are familiar with the feeling of reading an article, whether it be on women in the workplace, or women in sports, or women in media, and just having an immediate feeling of exhaustion.
Bone-deep, weary, how-long-do-we-have-to-keep-hearing-this-same-BS exhaustion.
Last month, at a computer graphics conference, two white men sat down to talk about the lack of women in the video game industry. They plaintively discussed how very hard it is to find qualified women, and how much it distresses them to have so few women on their team. They even talked about how they put out job announcements with “heavily feminised wording”, and yet it still didn’t work!
Side note – I would really love to see their interpretation of feminised wording. Because of course, all women are exactly the same and want the exact same thing, and we are just like a video game character, where if you select the right dialogue options, you will get exactly what you want from us!
Next, reportedly, they mentioned how a different group at the conference expressed a desire for 50/50 representation within a couple of years, and how it was so very “interesting that they set themselves such harsh challenges, instead of letting it more naturally grow”.
Yes…so interesting that a company would set goals rather than rely on something naturally correcting itself. Because women patiently waiting for our patriarchal societies to self-correct for equity has proven to work so very well in the past, and we have never, ever had to fight for what we wanted.
Both men did acknowledge that the problem runs deeper that job announcements, and solutions must be implemented at a deeper level. At which point they apparently decided that the answer was education, and better diversity in schools. “And then, hopefully, in a few years we’ll start seeing the results from that.”
So close…and yet, so far.
I’m using snark because otherwise I’d be banging my head on my desk, and that’s a much more difficult way to write.
I just can’t believe we’re almost to 2020, and we still have to put up with this kind of “dialogue”.
But we do. So let’s talk about hiring for diversity.
Every time the conversation turns to improving representation within organizations, a contingent of people, usually primarily white men, will cry foul. The popular argument is that you should just “hire the best person for the job”.
There are certain phrases in our culture which are immediate signs of someone’s understanding of institutional inequities, and “best person for the job” is a huge one. As soon as I see or hear that phrase, I know I’m dealing with someone who thinks that white men are dominant in the workplace because they just “happen” to be naturally better at everything (hence why it’s usually white men saying this – who wouldn’t want to believe they’re just naturally superior).
“Hire the best person” is on the same plane as wanting something to “naturally” correct itself. It completely dismisses bias, systems built to exclude, lack of opportunities, and straight up harassment. These issues are present everywhere, and are absolutely present in education as well, hence the ridiculousness of relying on schools to correct the problems of industry.
It takes so much more to build representation. It takes work.
Who makes the rules
The men in the interview above talked about how they couldn’t ask for women specifically because of hiring laws. This is a very common response to accusations of discriminatory hiring practices. A stepping back, a brushing of hands, a “what can I do” kind of attitude.
It’s a good reminder that many of these laws, well-intentioned or otherwise, are still in service of the status quo. It’s the kind of attitude that claims that colorblindness is a good strategy, that no kind of assumption ever kicks in when seeing the name on an application, that the people conducting the interviews are completely and utterly devoid of bias.
I should note here that even with these anti-discrimination laws in existence, they vary greatly depending on location, and there are still a number of very vulnerable groups that are often unprotected, including LGBTQ, disabled, and fat individuals.
But whenever someone talks about following the law, it’s important to ask – Who made the law?
Last year, there was a really interesting interview with Stephen Colbert. Like the games industry, the late night talk show realm is highly dominated by straight white men. And like the games industry, many of these white male hosts talk about how much they want a diverse writers’ room, and how hard it is to get it.
Jay Leno was recently questioned about the fact that he had zero female writers when he left the air, and responded, “I hire them based on material,” Leno said. “People just come up and give me the jokes and I read them and I decide whether to hire ’em or not.… One guy was so handicapped he couldn’t leave his house, but he wrote good jokes so it didn’t matter to me. A lot of times, I got a few female writers out of it.”
It’s the good ole “what are ya gonna do” argument, the “hire the best person” practice. And it’s trash.
Contrast this to Colbert’s discovery, when he actually committed to hiring women writers.
“We would say, you know, it’s very important, we want writers of color, we want women, and you would get 150 packets and there would be eight women. And we’re like, ‘God, that’s so frustrating.’ Until I said, ‘No, only women’—then I got 87 women. And I thought, ‘Where were these people before?’ And that was sort of the realization of my naiveté, that it’s not enough to say you want it, you have to go to the not-ordinary step.”
Colorblind doesn’t work. Genderblind doesn’t work. Every part of the process, from who has the connections, to who gets taken more seriously, to who gets the interview, to who is hired, is all tainted. And it has to be consciously dismantled. The “non-ordinary” step.
Listening to the right people
I think what mostly makes me want to headdesk myself after reading the game conference dialogue is that both men talk in theoreticals about why women aren’t applying, and yet not once does either one of them mention actually talking to women about it. They talk in broad terms about industry and education, but they’re not talking to the people who are most affected. They mention adding “feminised” language, but they don’t mention who’s writing these announcements, who’s reviewing applications, who’s conducting interviews.
This reminds me of all the times we see conference panels on gender that are entirely made up of men.
At no point do they talk about the rampant sexual harassment and discrimination that infuses the games industry. They don’t talk about the fact that women developers are harassed online much more than men. They don’t discuss the crunch culture of the industry, how workers are being driven to extremes of mental health to keep up with corporate goals. They don’t talk about how women leave STEM education paths due to a variety of cultural, social, and economic factors. They don’t even remotely acknowledge how these factors are enhanced for women working through intersectional oppressions, whether it be based on race or disability or gender expression.
But if you had a diverse panel of all women on the stage? They could tell you a great deal about all of these things.
So why are we talking like there’s no way to know what’s going on?
Just making excuses
Shortly before I left my job, there was a great deal of talk about improving the equity of the organization. It was great talk and I loved hearing it, until I realized there was very little to back it up.
This was highlighted when a special high level management position was designated to be focused on diversity. And they hired a white woman.
Now, I am a white woman. And I like to think that some of us are capable of understanding a great deal about oppression and bias.
That being said, we cannot be truly intersectional when it comes to gender and race. Sorry if that’s disappointing to hear, but that’s part of what white women have to come to acknowledge. We can support women of color, we can make space for them, we can ally with them, we absolutely cannot be intersectional in the same way that they can.
And if you are hiring someone to be in charge of diversity for your organization, it should not be someone white. Not now.
When questioned, the director who made the hiring decision said that the diversity manager was hired because they “couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t white”.
Look, I know I live in a very white state, but this is just a completely asinine response.
It’s an excuse, just like saying you’re following the law, or hiring the “best person”. You can find qualified and talented people in all arenas of life.
You just have to put in the work.
In the end, it all comes back to the same thing.
Do these people bemoaning lack of representation truly want to create change, and make life better for people of all backgrounds?
Or are they actually comfortable in the status quo, and with the privilege they enjoy, and just see the benefit in sounding aware?
This is why I wrote about ethics last time, because these are things that every person has to answer for themselves. We all make the choices that lets us look at ourselves in the mirror, and if someone doesn’t truly believe equity matters for all of us, nothing I say will change that.
But what I’m really done with are the people who are half-assing this entire process. Talking the talk, and yet walking the path that just keeps reinforcing the status quo.
If you truly want more women on your team, hire more women. If you want more people color, hire more people of color. Stop passing the buck, stop waiting for “natural” progress, stop relying on systems outside of your own to create the fixes.
Do the work. Or stop talking.