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Josefine Schfr
Josefine Schfr

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From Bias to Belonging: Creating Inclusive Communities in Tech

If you think about what people might have in mind when you tell them you are a developer, what comes up?
Maybe developers are usually introverts, nerds, like video games, and are super smart? Or maybe the image of a hacker comes to mind? Someone who can fix anything? These are stereotypes, oversimplified, exaggerated images of people or groups. Some aspects of them may be true, some may be a bit hurtful or outright wrong. But usually, we are aware these are stereotypes and that there is some nuance in the real world.

This content was originally created as a talk for CityJS Berlin together with Arisa Fukuzaki. If you prefer something more visual, you can check out the slides as well as the recording of the talk instead.

Unconcious Bias

Unconscious bias is a little different in that regard - as it says on the package - it's unconscious. It describes a certain tendency or preference we might have without being aware of where it comes from. Maybe, if we assume all developers are super smart, we will trust them also in other regards - not only when it comes to coding. In this example, it's not particularly problematic, but it can be when unconscious bias interferes with other aspects of our judgment; for example in job application processes or in the medical world, where it can be outright dangerous.

Where does Bias come from?

While it might seem like bias is a bug in the system, something, that should be eliminated, it has its origin in the old days. Back when humans lived in caves and were hunting and gathering to survive, they had to make very quick decisions: will something eat me? Should I run away or attempt to kill it? Our ancestors had to make very quick decisions from very little information. And this ability to judge quickly and sometimes unconsciously, has stuck with us.

But don't worry, you are not alone. We all have (unconscious) bias.

Two characters from Toy Story, one pointing in the sky, the caption reads "Bias - Bias everywhere"

How does Bias hurt us? Why should we care to "fix this bug"?

While we all have bias, we should reflect on it to combat the negative effects it can have on our communities or organisations. Bias can lead to:

  • inequity
  • discrimination
  • higher turnover
  • difficulty attracting or maintaining talent
  • missed opportunities & growth
  • lower performance

After all, you don't want to end up with a team like this, right?

5 men in a meeting room all looking completely identical, wondering why they have no fresh ideas

Bias usually creates the biggest issues for minorities and underrepresented groups

There are many challenges in the tech world for minorities and underrepresented groups. Its a lot of added pressure to stand out, and usually, minorities are faced with a lot more unconscious biases. This can be felt in job interviews, on the job, when it comes to promotions, in work culture - basically on every step of the way. That's why it's super important to challenge ones own perception and put oneself in the minorities shoes.

The demographic data from the State of JS or Stackoverflow survey suggests that the minorities in the tech world are women and non-binary folks, people of color, and folks who are not in the age category of 24-35. Of course, this data is not a 100% accurate representation of our global dev population, but it does give an indication.

Gender Demographics from Stackoverflow and State of JS Survey showing a big majority of the respondents were male; 70% and 91% respectively

Are you a part of the majority?

Maybe you are a white, relatively young male dev and have never had to think about unconscious bias or reflect on being part of the majority in tech. Not to worry, today is a great day to start :)

What can you do to challenge your own unconscious bias?

Again - don't worry - you are not alone. We can all take these steps together to become more inclusive in our organizations and communities. There is something to be done in all groups, this is not your personal "fault".

Actionable Steps:

  • Listen to different perspectives
  • Recognize your own unconscious bias
  • Create an environment where people can call each other out (in a friendly way)
  • Educate yourself
  • Use data (carefully) and create structures to limit unconscious bias
  • seek feedback

As you see there are a couple of things you can do to get started in your own journey, but also as a team. The important thing is to start reflecting and challenging oneself, even though it might be a little uncomfortable from time to time. It's worth it.

How do you challenge unconscious biases in your team? What have you learned on the journey?

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