At my last job, one of our founders was a woman of color, the other founder was a gay man, and the company was progressive, so most people expected that we would be diverse and inclusive. We were not. Tech companies in general aren't very diverse, with white and Asian men in the majority of engineering roles, and we were a little worse than average. Not only that, we were getting worse over time. Many of the women, LGBTQ people, and people of color were leaving because we weren't as inclusive as we should have been.
I noticed it happening, but I didn't do anything about it. There's a pattern where female leaders or leaders of color put in a lot of work, and then a white guy comes along and says the same thing they had been saying all along and gets the credit. I didn't want to be that guy. But instead, I did nothing, which isn't any better.
One of my white male coworkers brought up diversity periodically, and eventually, it felt to me like we kept saying we cared about diversity but that we never did anything about it. So I reached out to the other white men I knew who cared about diversity to see if they wanted to help. They were interested but didn't know what to do. Then I talked to some of the people who had been most active about diversity and inclusion, mostly women, LGBTQ people, and people of color, and asked if they wanted help, and they did.
Because when they brought up their concerns with the executives, they weren't heard, and they didn't feel safe, so they needed someone to help amplify their voices. The white men I had spoken with had mostly been at the company for a long time, and many of us were managers, so we felt safe bringing up concerns like that, and we had the power to do so.
As a group, we eventually decided on a petition to the executives about diversity and inclusion to show that this was an issue that they should take seriously and to show people who had been excluded that there were a lot of folks who wanted to support them, even if we didn't know how. The petition was short and simple, and we got about a third of the company to sign on, including most of the managers. After that, the executives consistently talked about diversity and inclusion at company-wide meetings and hired a new leader to focus on those issues, which was our top ask of them.
I don't want to paint a rosy picture -- there is still a lot that needs to be done and a lot of lost trust that needs to be rebuilt. This isn't a story about success. This is a story about process. People like me with a lot of privilege often either do nothing or fail to follow the leadership of the people who are most affected by the issues we're trying to fix. We need to do better. Even if we don't know how.