This appeared in the Spring issue of PBS TechNews. Now you can read it too.
Not too long ago I attended an event for broadcast engineers. After more than one welcome to “engineers and wives,” a speaker talked about how important it is for us to bring new people into broadcast engineering. I, and many others, nodded in agreement.
Then they handed out gendered raffle tickets. Blue for the men, pink for the women, with different prizes.
This perfectly illustrates one of the difficulties we face in bringing on new people: a lot of them already feel excluded. By saying “engineers and wives,” the presumption is that wives can’t be engineers. Every woman in that room was assumed to be a plus-one, while every man was by default a professional. If you were a female engineer, or student looking to get involved in engineering, would you feel welcome?
I know it wasn’t the intent of the organizers to be exclusionary. But if we truly want new and diverse talent to enter this industry (and stay in it), we need to do a lot better at making everybody feel welcome. And that starts with acknowledging that we need to change some things.
Now, I can feel some of your rolled eyes and shaking heads. So let’s pretend for a second that there isn’t a pervasive diversity problem in our industry (there is), and that we need proof that we should be working on inclusive diversity (we don’t).
The simple truth is that inclusive diversity is strength. Companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity do better than their competitors. Companies with more female Board Directors experience higher financial performance. Inclusive, diverse teams work better. And a nerdier example: what happens when you buy all the same model drive from the same vendor at the same time for your new RAID array? That’s right: one problem takes the whole thing down, because you’ve got no diversity.
So what can we do?
Believe there is a problem
It’s all too common when we talk about these issues to retreat into defensiveness. “I don’t do that!” or “I can think of an example that refutes this!” – while that may be true, it doesn’t change the issues that our coworkers and colleagues are facing every day. We need to believe them when they tell us something is wrong, and ask them what we can do to help. #YesAllWomen
Foster diversity in hiring
We all gravitate towards people who we feel are like us. It’s human nature. It’s also called implicit bias, and it is the enemy of diverse hiring. So we need to be aware of it and counteract it wherever possible. Not sure where your biases may lie? Try this test from Harvard.
Then make sure you have a diverse applicant pool. It doesn’t just happen, you need to seek it out. The best way is through old-fashioned networking, but you can also Google it and find things like this list of women in post-production or the Women in Media Crew List. It’s hard to hire a diverse team if you can’t even get people applying.
To that end, also take time to craft a job description to maximize applications. Only list requirements that are absolute requirements. If you put a long list of nice-to-haves on there, women will self-select out, and you’ll be left with a bunch of men who routinely over-estimate their own skills. Want more tips on writing inviting job descriptions? Here you go.
Foster inclusivity in our shops
Make places where people want to be, not just where they’re allowed to be. This is even more important in public media. We’re consistently asked to do more with less – we can’t afford the inefficiency of a dysfunctional team. Our people need to all work together in a trusting environment towards a common goal. We can create that environment by setting an example of support and encouragement, and proactively addressing toxic behavior.
And speaking of toxic behavior: unfortunately, it’s too common for high-performing technical employees to also be highly toxic within teams. Those people who yell a lot and belittle everyone? They’re not worth it. So if performance management isn’t working, it’s time to part ways.
Work at it
None of this is easy or fast. It takes time, effort, and a willingness to confront some of our own faults and implicit biases. But the results are more than worth it. Strong teams are just as important to our success as proper wiring, if not more so. So we as technologists need to step out from behind the racks and take ownership of solving a long-lingering problem.
As we work hard to bring a diversity of perspectives to our viewing audiences, so too must we work to include that diversity in our shops and stations.