Show Me the Data with Tracy Chou
We’ve all heard companies talk big about how they value diversity. But many still aren’t willing to quantify how they’re doing: who works there? Who’s getting hired and promoted? Are people being paid equitably? On today’s show, we talk about diversity, data, and how one engineer’s call for hard numbers shook things up.
That engineer was Tracy Chou—a leading voice in tech industry diversity and inclusion conversations. She’s a wildly talented software engineer who believes in the importance of increasing transparency among tech companies, the need for tech to value a humanities education, and the pleasures of spending way too much time on Twitter.
As an engineer, I’m so used to having to have data for everything. But the lack of data on the workforce side just felt so hypocritical to me. It seemed like it wasn’t really a problem that we wanted to solve if we weren’t even looking at the data.
—Tracy Chou, Project Include founding advisor
We talked with Tracy about:
- What the real picture of diversity in tech companies looks like and where the numbers are.
- Why it’s important for tech companies to get comfortable releasing data about their workforce, and why it’s critical to consider the intersectionality of diversity efforts.
- A nonprofit Tracy helped to found called Project Include, which shares best practices around implementing diversity and inclusion solutions.
Plus, we talk about ch-ch-ch-changes and asking for help:
- Specifically, change at work—how we deal with it and how it can affect us emotionally and physically.
- And yup, we constantly have to remind ourselves that it’s ok to ask for help. The good news is, we’re helping each other do it more. Jenn even got to take a vacation complete with funnel cake, because she asked for help with childcare.
This episode of NYG is brought to you by:
Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Try it free, then use code NOYOUGO to get 50% off your first paid month.
[Ad spot] SWB Harvest makes awesome software for tracking time, planning projects, sending invoices, and generally helping me keep it all together at work. Or at least look like I have it all together—even if I’m actually still wearing sweatpants. I love how easy it is to use, whether I’m working solo or scaling up a larger team for a big project. You’ll love Harvest, too. Go to getharvest.com to try it free, and if you’re ready for a paid account, use code noyougo to get 50% off your first month. That’s getharvest.com, code noyougo.
[intro music plays for 12 seconds]
Jenn Lukas Hey friends, welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.
Katel LeDû I’m Katel LeDû.
SWB And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher. And today we are talking to Tracy Chou, who is an entrepreneur and an engineer whose push for tech companies to start revealing employee diversity data back in 2013 kickstarted a lot of huge changes in Silicon Valley, and put her on the cover of The Atlantic and Wired and a whole bunch of other stuff. It also led her to become a founding member of Project Include, which is a non-profit that is on a mission to accelerate diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. So we chat with Tracy about how she became a diversity advocate, how that’s changed her career and what she’s learned along the way. But before we do that, I just want to kind of check in with everyone. So, how’s life?
JL Life’s been a little wild this week. We kicked off some really big team changes at work. You know, some small changes, some big changes, but some people’s day to days got pretty changed up. And of course, seating changes.
KL Oh gosh, that can be a big doozy. How’s it going?
JL [sighs] Well, I can say this. People really just don’t care for change.
[All three laugh]
SWB [still laughing] No! Not at all.
JL You know, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about like why do people hate change so much?
SWB Because we all have habits and comforts and then you take them away and it’s very hard because inside we’re all just delicate little flowers. [Katel laughs]
SWB Seriously! We are!
SWB We are! It’s hard!
KL You get used to something and you’re like ‘wait, now everything’s changing and how am I going to adapt and how am I going to deal with this.’ And I think yeah, it just, it feels like it— it can feel overwhelming and especially when it has to do with sort of changing folks that you’re working with or places you’re sitting. Like I think physical changes can impact you a lot.
SWB And maybe also the thing with physical change like where you’re sitting is that nobody really realizes that it’s impacting them so much, right? People will underestimate how much of an impact that can have and so it’s the kind of change that can really affect your day to day, but that nobody’s kind of taking stock of and and it’s sort of assumed that that will just be fine. And I think that those changes are hard, right? The ones that we don’t invest enough time in planning for and understanding that there is an emotional component to it. The other thing I think about when it comes to change is that oftentimes people will know that the company needs to change and they’ll complain about the way it’s organized and it’s so hard to get anything done and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And yet when you try to enact changes, it’s really difficult to get people on board. And I think part of that is also like change that people are choosing for themselves versus change that is being done to them. And the reality is, nobody likes to feel like there is something being done to them and so that’s one of the biggest things I always think about is how do you make this something that people feel a little bit included in or consulted on? Or at least how can you put it into terms that will help them see it as something that is going to help them in their day to day or take away some of the pain that they were experiencing in terms of workflow or whatever. And of course, that’s not always invested in and it’s also not always true! Like for some people it’s it’s not actually solving the personal problems they had even if it’s solving company problems. And then it’s like okay, how do you get people on board and sort of get them through that hard part of of shifting gears?
JL One of the things we do with team changes that I think is really good is re-establish team norms. So sit down with everyone and everyone sort of discusses just like, what are the routines and what are the beliefs and the things that are important to people as a team. And I think that can really be helpful with new teammates to be like ‘here are things that are important to me, what are things that are important to you, and what’s it going to be like to live together at work?’
SWB Do you have any sort of particular structure for doing something like that?
JL We have the scrum masters run that and sort of they have a questionnaire list that brings stuff up. So, people eating lunch at their desks or how you use the shared space or the tables. So we—like I said, we switched the teams so we had to discuss ‘hey, can we still use this table to watch Jeopardy at lunch?’
[All three laugh]
KL Very important!
JL [laughing] Yeah!
SWB Yeah, bullet point number one: Jeopardy!
JL Right? But I mean also things like how you point stories. So pointing stories is basically a level of effort of how much an effort will take to get some sort of feature work done or something at work. We do daily stand ups at work where people tell you what your status are at meetings. You know, what time is that? Or are you doing them over Slack or like virtual stand ups? I think it can also be things like ‘here’s how I receive feedback best’ or ‘here’s how I think we should handle reviews of other people’s work.’
SWB Yeah, I mean there’re so many questions that come up when there’s any kind of change like that. Since I don’t work in a company—but the kind of consulting I do with companies is always about change because invariably they are coming to me because they realize that their content or their user experience isn’t working as they want it to and the reason that it’s not working is always rooted in their not being able to make it work as a company. The way that they’re organized, the way they do things, who’s in charge of what. So, I have to talk to people about how their jobs are going to change and how things are going to be different. And I’m a big fan of having people practice some of those skills. So if it’s like okay, we are going to do a different kind of writing process where instead of—you know—you produce this content over here in this department and then you ship it out the door to this other department, there’s going to be a collaborative process. Well then, okay, we should practice that. And so we’ll do that in a workshop setting where we’ll pair people up and we’ll actually practice—how do we work on these things together, how do we share drafts and get feedback from each other? And I think that those kinds of low stakes practice sessions—because you’re not doing your real job, you’re just kind of practicing the new thing in a short period of time—I think that that can help people feel more comfortable with talking to people they aren’t used to talking with.
JL Yeah and I mean I also think that it lets you feel more in control, and sometimes if you embrace that, if you know change is coming, you can do more exercises like that. And sort of prepare and be ready for this. So if you are expecting change or just knowing it can happen or knowing specifics, you can just be better ready I think to deal with it.
KL I love thinking about kind of how a different perspective or sort of embracing a different kind of approach to the change can kind of help you through it. It makes me think of when I was at National Geographic, we would go through organization changes from time to time, but at a certain point, we actually went through a really big physical change where we went from everyone was in cubicles and not just cubes that were like low sort of where you can see everyone. It was like six feet tall and offices and everyone went to cubes that were like four feet high. So, everybody could see everybody—including managers, it was all sorts of like all different levels, and people were really freaked out. And one thing that we realized immediately was going from sort of a perceived sense of privacy to not having any, meant that we kind of had to think about the workplace etiquette a little differently and just no one had thought about that. Like no one. It wasn’t—you know—a matter of management doing something wrong or folks not thinking about it, it just was like ‘oh, wait we have to work together a little bit differently.’ And something I’ve actually seen work really well is at a co-working space I go to here in Philly. [Laughs] Someone made these little coasters that were like red light, green light. So basically you put your little green circle up if you were ready to chat to people or didn’t mind having people coming up to your desk, or you put the red one up if you were like ‘I’m going to be heads down and working on something.’ So—I just think this idea of kind of looking at things a little differently too can help.
JL It’s like Fogo de Chão, [Katel laughs] the Brazilian steakhouse where green means bring me more meat and red means no I’ve had enough.
KL [Laughing] Exactly.
JL Yeah I mean I really like that because we used to say the universal sign was headphones, but I think we all know that doesn’t work. I was reading a bit on Harvard Business Review about this. They had some interesting things about finding humor in the situation, talk about problems more than feelings, don’t stress out about stressing out, focus on your values more than your fears—this idea that remembering that you’re you no matter what the change is can really help you. The change doesn’t have to define who you are. But something else I really liked was this like ‘don’t expect stability,’ where they talk about this 70’s research that was done where they studied two groups of managers and one group thrived and the other didn’t. And they said—you know—the adaptive leaders chose to view all changes as an expected part of the human experience, rather than as a tragic anomaly that victimizes unlucky people.
JL And then the struggling leaders were ones who were consumed by thoughts of quote on quote the good, old days. And they spent their energy trying to figure out why their luck had suddenly turned sour—because they kept looking back to something that wasn’t there anymore.
SWB That’s so interesting too because that just reminds me so much of politics, right? You have so many people who are talking about the good, old days. And you’re like ‘wait, when were the good, old days and for whom exactly?’ And I think it’s true at work too where it’s like when people get obsessed with the good, old days, those are probably also mythical. Right?
SWB They may have been good for some people in the organization but it’s undoubtedly that they weren’t working for other people.
JL And the other thing that you might like if you dig in, you might be like ‘okay, well this part was good, but this part wasn’t’ and you can think about how to get that good part back. So if what you missed was that you sat with someone or you worked with someone really closely that you didn’t—you know—make sure you’re setting up time for lunch with them or maybe you set up pairing sessions where you still work together. But you know, trying to figure out what it is that you did like and then what are things you can apply moving on? What are the things that you’re excited about now? And what are the things maybe that you didn’t really like then? And maybe you didn’t get a chance to work on these exciting things or work with this person and now you do get to work with this new person or you do get to work on this new project. Or maybe this new seat allowed you to clear off the desk that you’ve been meaning to do. [Laughs] It’s funny, I was actually like—in the seating change I ended up not moving seats and I’m like ‘ugh, but I’ve got all these boxes I’ve got to bring down.’
KL [Laughing] You’re like ‘no, I need a move to help me reorganize.’
JL *[laughs] *Yeah, so just—like you’re saying. Trying to figure out really what are the positives moving forward? If there are things you will miss from those days, how do you keep them up and try to make the best going forward, as much as you can. I mean, It’s always hard and I don’t want to make it ever sound like that’s easy, but I think we can all do it.
[Music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out]
SWB So we’ve been talking a lot about change and our interviewee today definitely talks a lot about change in the tech industry as well so I’d like to get to that interview, but before we do, we have one last little segment. It is brand new, it is called Time Trivia. Because we talk about time on this show all the time! We need more time, we try to balance the time we have, we rant about how we are sometimes feeling a little bit unbalanced. And so our friends at Harvest wanted to see if we could stump each other when it comes to time. So let’s see. Katel, you’re up today and our theme is women authors. Are you ready?
KL Oh gosh, let’s do it.
JL Okay, Katel. Here is your first question. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was rejected twelve times before it sold for an advance of only £1,500. Now she’s sold more than four hundred million copies. How long did it take her to write that manuscript? A) 5,000 hours, B) 15,000 hours, or C) 50,000 hours.
KL Oh my gosh, this is already a lot of numbers. I’m going to say C) 50,000 hours.
JL Katel— that is correct!
KL [Gasps] Yayy!
JL It took her six years to write Harry Potter.
KL That’s a lot of hours!
SWB We even tried to stump you with the twelve times £1,500, 400 million copies—you were unstumpable. Question two. More math, sorry. [Katel laughs] Emily Brontë published Wuthering Heights under the pseudonym Ellis Bell in 1847. If she’d been paid a freelance rate of $50 an hour – pretty good in 1847—how much would she have earned for her wild, passionate tale of Katherine and Heathcliff’s love?
KL Ugh, I love this book.
SWB Is it A) $740,000, B) $60,000, or C) $330,000?
KL Ohhh my gosh, I’m going to go with B) $60,000 even though I feel like it should be more.
SWB It is way more. It is actually $330,000 because it took her nine months to write that book, which is still a real short time considering how great that book is, ugh.
KL Yeah, it is! I’m glad it was more than $60k.
JL Okay, Katel, last question. Stephanie Myer’s classic tale of vampire love and lust—yes, Twilight—[laughs] has become a five-film series. If Stephanie had been billing her time to clients instead, how many 15 minute increments would she have billed? A) 870, B) 8,700, or C) 87,000?
KL Ooh. 8,700?
JL Katel, you know your 15 minute increments. That is correct! B) 8,700.
SWB Two out of three, not bad. I think that’s a winning score! So, thank you so much to Harvest for sponsoring our time trivia today and for supporting women authors, which they do, and women podcasters. So check them out at getharvest.com.
[Music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out]
Interview: Tracy Chou
SWB Tracy Chou is a wildly talented software engineer, who has also become a leading voice in tech industry diversity and inclusion conversations. She has been an engineer at Quora and Pinterest, an advisor to the US Digital Service and is one of the cofounders of an organization I am personally super fond of and that’s Project Include. She was named on Forbes’ 30 under 30 tech list in 2014 and she has been profiled in everything from Vogue to Mother Jones. So I am extremely excited to welcome Tracy to the show today. Tracy, thank you so much for being here.
So, you went to Stanford, you interned at Facebook, you were one of the first engineers at Quora and one of the first engineers at Pinterest. That is kind of like a perfect Silicon Valley pedigree to a lot of people. Except, you’ve also written about feeling out of place during a lot of that time and not necessarily feeling like the industry was designed for you. And I’m wondering if we can start there—what was it like in the beginning of your career? And what was exciting about it and maybe what was not so great about it?
Tracy Chou Yeah, so I grew up in the Bay Area surrounded by tech and I think that made it very easy for me to naturally fall into the tech industry. When I started working in tech I think I just accepted things for the way they were, including the lack of gender diversity, racial diversity. I honestly didn’t notice or think that things should be different. But there definitely were experiences I had when I started working that felt off, but I didn’t know how to articulate or pinpoint them. I tended to blame myself or think that there was something wrong with me when I had a lot of coworkers hitting on me all the time, for example when I was interning. And—you know—when I started working and felt like I might be treated differently, I assumed that it was because I wasn’t as qualified or there was something about the the way that I was approaching my work that was inferior and therefore caused people to treat me differently. So it took a while for me to put all the pieces together, and so I was just talking to a lot of other people in industry, other female engineers. One of my early conversations that really started to make me aware of these sorts of issues systemically, was with Tristan Walker who is an African American founder. And he had reached out to say that he had seen some of my writing about being female in engineering and wanted to share that he had similar experiences even though he wasn’t technical and he wasn’t a woman. Being the only black person in the room oftentimes felt as alienating and he could really identify with a lot of the things that I was saying. And that helped me to see how pervasive the sort of experience of marginalization is. Even though the tech industry is one that tries to pride itself on being so innovative and designing the future, being this engine of progress, there are so many ways in which it is still very backwards.
SWB What year was that? That was like 2010,11,12 in there that you were really kind of getting going in your career and having those experiences?
TC Yeah, the first sort of Silicon Valley tech internship I had was in 2007, but I started working full time in 2010.
SWB So in 2013, you wrote this post on Medium that got kind of a lot of attention, where you were calling out the lack of data about women who are working in tech—and maybe specifically working in engineering, and the lack of success metrics attached to company’s diversity efforts. So if companies maybe had diversity efforts, they didn’t necessarily have any sense of whether they were working or not. And so that post kind of blew up and a lot of companies started sharing their numbers in a GitHub repo. And for listeners who aren’t familiar with GitHub repos, it’s just a site where you can work collaboratively usually on software projects, but you can also do things like collaboratively share data. And I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how that happened. First up, what made you sit down and write that blog post and did it feel risky when you did it?
TC I had been working in the industry for a few years at that point and had gotten to know a number of the female engineers at other companies. And it started to be this thing that I would keep track of in the back of my head like which startups, which companies had which female engineers. Whenever I went into rooms I would automatically start counting, so it was just something that I was keeping tabs on personally. At the same time, I was looking at diversity at Pinterest and I wanted to make recommendations to the team about what we should do to be more diverse and inclusive. Facebook and Google were getting a lot of really good press around their parental leave policies, for example, and lots of companies were talking about how they were sending lots of people to the Grace Hopper conference, which is this big annual conference of women in computing. But I found it very hard to justify recommending any of those things to Pinterest because there were no success metrics. So these kind of thoughts were swirling around in my head when I went to Grace Hopper that year—this was October 2013—and I was at a breakfast where Sheryl Sandberg was speaking in front of the room and she made a comment about how the numbers of women in tech were dropping precipitously. Which, I didn’t disagree with the sentiment of, but it made me wonder what numbers she was talking about, because to my knowledge there were no numbers really out there. And so when I got home with all these thoughts rolling around my head, I ended up writing this post around diversity data. I was also reflecting on how the way we treated workforce issues was so different from the way we treated product development. As an engineer, I’m so used to having to have data for everything. We’re pretty religious about tracking all this data on our users [laughs] and understanding their behavior and that’s the way that we approach problem solving in product development. But the lack of data on the workforce side just felt so hypocritical to me. It seemed like it wasn’t really a problem that we wanted to solve if we weren’t even looking at the data. And of course I understood all the reasons why companies were skittish about even tracking the data because it would also mean that they would start to acknowledge the problem and have to solve it. But when I wrote the post, I wasn’t expecting much of a response. I didn’t think that it would be something that many people would even read, much less act on. I would also add though that in hindsight it seems like this post became big immediately and started this whole movement, but it did take some time as well. It was more of a slow, snowball effect. And so there were smaller companies that contributed their data first and the bigger companies took a little bit more time to process and work through what they wanted to do before they all started releasing their reports as well.
SWB When I look back on it, it kind of reminds me of in some ways like the moment that happened last year when Susan Fowler published her Uber blog post where there was this moment—the table had already been set for this conversation and it was just it pushed it over the edge or something. And I’m not sure if it’s exactly the same by any means, but it did really feel like a moment was happening and I’m curious, why do you think it ended up really snowballing? What was it about that moment that you think caught on?
TC I think there was general appetite to do something about diversity and inclusion. More people were acknowledging that it was a problem. And I think the way that I framed it, which was, “let’s just start sharing some data,” made the problem seem a little bit more tractable. At least there was a first step that people could take. There was one thing that an individual contributor, for example, could do. So if you’re working at a small startup, you can look around the room and see how many engineers and how many female engineers and count that up and submit that data into the repository. And it felt easy, actionable, and also clear that this would contribute to a broader cause. I think I had a little bit more credibility as an engineer working at a company that a lot of people knew. And I think that piece is still important, I could speak from the perspective of being on the inside. And I think also I just got lucky. In a lot of ways I think of this project as a startup where startups have the markets that they’re going after, the products they’re trying to build. Sometimes they’re too early and the market isn’t ready for them, sometimes the product isn’t just quite right yet for people to want to engage with it. A lot of things have to come together all at once and luck, timing, all of that plays in. And somehow this Medium post in a row and the GitHub repository that I set up just happened to be just right at that time to capitalize on this increasing intent from people in the community to do something. And I think I was the right person at the right time to be pushing on that message.
SWB If you’re an engineer or anybody who uses GitHub already, it’s also like, it feels sort of a natural place or a more comfortable place.
TC Yeah, I think the GitHub angle was also interesting because it spoke more to engineers and people who write code, as opposed to HR. So it was getting engineers submitting their data through pull requests, and those people were less encumbered by thinking through, what are the legal ramifications and what are the HR risks here. They’re just thinking, like, this is the team that I work on, I want to report the data on the team.
KL This is so fascinating to me too because in that post in 2013 you also focused really narrowly on defining the technical roles. You wanted companies to talk about actual engineers—not every other role, not business development or whatever. Sort of as a way of saying companies shouldn’t pad their numbers about the women they hire if women aren’t in those roles. And I see that point. I’m also curious if that perspective has shifted over the past few years or changed at all?
TC One of the reasons why I wanted to be really specific about just tracking women in engineering is that for something that was crowdsourced, it had to be as simple as possible to contribute that data. The more you ask from people, the more drop off you get in that flow. So I wanted to make it super simple. But the other point about just looking at engineering versus the rest of it was that I did want to get away from that sort of padding of the numbers. And in the tech industry engineers are very much valued because they are the ones—we are the ones—building the products that are being sold, very close to the core value of the companies. So there’s this idea of looking at where the prestige is and how much inclusion you have there. Now that there’s more data coming out, we can see that even if you have a reasonable amount of representation across the companies, usually they’re lower ranked, few of those people are in decision-making roles. One interesting data point that I would love to see that is very hard to get is diversity on the cap table, and so that’s looking at ownership of the company—like who owns the shares. And I would suspect that ownership in these different tech companies skews very heavily white and male, because founders will have a lot of stock, early employees will have much more because the stock grants are risk-adjusted so people who are joining early will get much more stock, investors get stock, executives get a lot of stock. So even if your company has a lot of women, but they’re all in the lower-ranked, non-technical roles, the value that they get out of the company doing well is much less. So I really wanted to dig in on engineering within tech because that is so close to the core of Silicon Valley.
SWB One thing I’d love to ask about—we talked with Nicole Sanchez of Vaya Consulting back in June and her company focuses on diversity and inclusion in tech and consults with a lot of tech companies. And one of the things she said to us was that she flat out does not love the way that the numbers are being reported by tech companies right now, that there’s still a lot of gaming of the system because so much of the numbers is just about percentage of people in full and percentage of new hires, right? And that there’s not a lot of information about things like retention of those employees and seniority of those employees and, as you mentioned, who is actually getting a cut of these companies, right? Like who’s really taking home money? And so it sounds like—and I’m curious about your thoughts on this—but it sounds like the way that you were initially looking at some of these metrics was sort of really, really important at the time, but maybe isn’t quite enough to answer the questions that we have about how that industry is doing and to answer the questions that we have about whether things are getting better.
TC Absolutely. I think we need much more comprehensive metrics and there is certainly gamification of the current metrics that get released. I think getting people even into the flow of releasing any data was a pretty big step. And I think it’s good to keep pushing on companies to release better data. So one obvious thing is intersectionality—instead of just putting gender on one side, race on one side, looking at those intersectional cuts and just see is it just white men and white women getting promoted? How does it look for women of color? Those sorts of questions can’t be answered if all the data is being split out. I’ve been relatively heartened by how much companies have been willing to release—enough that we can look at their data and see that in the last few years even if we’ve made some progress on gender diversity, we’ve had backsliding on racial diversity, which is not a good statement on the industry, but at least we have that data that we can even point that out and see that some of these diversity efforts aren’t uniformly benefitting different people and, in fact, are causing some harm to different groups.
SWB So another thing I was really hoping to dig into that I think you kind of touched on a little bit when you were kind of talking about technical versus non-technical roles, is I’m also curious how you feel about who’s considered technical in Silicon Valley and sort of the valuing of engineers when you are also kind of thinking about sort of the appreciation for what it takes to build tech products? I was reading an article you wrote—I think last year—about realizing that it’s not really just about engineering, and realizing the value of learning things like understanding people and human behavior and communication skills and—you know—liberal arts and humanities. And the stuff that you hadn’t necessarily taken that seriously when you were in college as something that was important for ensuring that the things we’re making aren’t laced with bias or harmful to people, and being able to think through sort of the impact of our work. And so I’m curious how you think about those things together. Like okay—we value technical roles a lot and so it’s important to look at who are in the roles that we value the most. But are there also issues around the kinds of roles that are valued or the kinds of roles that even exist? And how do we sort of make sense of that?
TC Yeah, absolutely. I think our whole way of approaching technology building right now is pretty flawed. I think for a long time we’ve unquestioningly assumed that technology is always progress. So whatever we do in the software realm will be positive. And we’re seeing very clearly now that that’s not the case. It’s very easy for the software products that we’re building to be used for harm or used in ways that we didn’t anticipate. And for the people who are building these products, whether it’s the engineers running the code or everyone else involved, we do need to think more holistically and broadly and contextualize our work in society and understand what the impacts of technology are before we can assume that we’re doing good. Some people have drawn analogies after the election cycles in the last couple of years to the sorts of ethics considerations that other domains have had—so, chemical engineering or in physics. When the people in those fields realized that their work could be used to create weapons, they had to think pretty hard about doing science or doing this kind of research and I think the people in the tech industry and in software right now really need to have that same sort of introspection and deep questioning. For a long time in the tech industry, we’ve really downplayed the value of a humanities education and and I think that is problematic. You see that reflected in compensation. For example, who gets these big payouts, who gets really big salaries. It’s tricky because also the sorts of value of someone who can bring in terms of the ethical reasoning and product guidance, that work is not as easy to value, put a dollar amount on. It’s a little bit easier to look at what an engineer is producing or what a designer is producing and say this is the value of their work and it ties very directly to the final output and I think if the whole system is fundamentally shifted around, we can start to see the value that non-technical folks are bringing, then hopefully that is reflected in the compensation and payouts as well. At the same time, you have this very classic supply and demand type issues around sorts of talent that you need, so the engineering salaries will be high for a while because engineering is very obviously needed and there aren’t enough engineers to fill all the roles. Even if we were to recognize the value of the non technical work that needs to be done, if there is such a mismatch in supply and demand on the technical side, the salaries will still be higher there. So there’s a lot of things to address systemically, but I think one starting point even just within the companies that we’re looking at is trying to shift the culture to acknowledge the different viewpoints that different people from different educational backgrounds and different training can bring.
SWB I think one of the things that’s also interesting and maybe compounds all of this, is the way that a lot of the kinds of roles that are more based in humanities or social sciences or that would benefit from that kind of background, they are tending to have a lot more representation of women in them, and so then you kind of have this interesting cross section of the skills are in less demand. Also we’re used to paying women less, or we’re used to putting women into sort of more caring roles versus rational roles, and so it’s hard to tease out all of those different issues that intertwine and result in gendering of who’s in what kinds of roles, and devaluing of some roles, and then also to have the conversation about well, “why is it that so many women are in these kinds of roles and not in these other kinds of roles?” And to be able to talk about all those things at the same time I think is really hard for a lot of people. It takes a lot of investment in the discussion to be able to pick apart things with that level of nuance, and I think a lot of the time organizations aren’t there yet.
TC Yeah, I completely agree. [Laughs] There has been some research into when professions become more lucrative and prestigious how they—how the men tend to crowd the women out. So, there used to be more women in software engineering and they were kind of pushed out. So the 37% of CS degrees in 1984 went to women and it’s been declining, the percentage has been declining since then. But in other industries as well, one that I found kind of interesting was beer making used to be mostly women and then men found out that beer making was cool and it became all male brewmasters. Even in things like cooking, when men reach the top and become these top chefs, it’s very prestigious. Even though women still do most of the cooking around the world, it’s just not viewed as as prestigious or lucrative for them. So as you were saying, there’s all these interesting dynamics at play and it’s really hard to tease out specific effects.
SWB Yeah totally—I think about some of the conversations I’ve had with folks when startups starting hiring people to do quote growth hacking and you’re like ‘wait a second—isn’t that—wait, aren’t they—isn’t that marketing? I think they’re doing marketing!’ [Laughter] But marketing was always more women in the field and growth hacking was this very hardcore bro kind of role. If anybody out there is a quote growth hacker as their title, I’m sorry if I’m making fun of your profession. But it is, it’s one of these made up titles that’s almost—I think—masculinized a lot of skill sets that were traditionally perceived as being more feminine. And then low and behold, those people are being paid a lot more money.
TC I think you also see this reflected in the maker movement—where it’s been rebranded as this very male type of thing where you’re making things. But if you actually look at what is being done—creating things from the raw materials—that’s stuff that a lot of women have been doing in different domains, but it had to get rebranded for men to be super into it and for it to become prestigious.
SWB Totally, like what’s not being a maker about being a knitter?
SWB You’re literally making things out of thread, right? [Laughs]
SWB I’m amazed that we have not gotten to this yet because it’s so important, I want to talk about it. Okay, we have not talked about Project Include. So, you started doing all of this work to share this data that you were gathering and to talk about this issue. Can you tell us a little bit about how that grew into founding Project Include?
TC Project Include was eight of us women in tech getting together a couple of years ago. So, there was a lot of discussion in the broader sphere about the problems and everything that was going wrong, but not nearly enough about solutions. And for the people that wanted to do the right thing, they still didn’t know what to do. So, we thought that the highest leverage thing we could do was write down our recommendations and resource—what we knew to be best practice around implementing diversity and inclusion. Our initial launch was just a website with a lot of recommendations—everything from defining culture, to implementing culture, to doing training, hiring, resolving conflicts, measuring progress, and also a framework to think about all those things, so it’s not just like pick and choose some of these tactics and apply them to your org and then you’ll be fine, but thinking through more holistically how to approach diversity and inclusion truly inclusively so it’s not just gender or just race or just one facet of diversity and then being very intentional about measuring progress. So, there was a bunch of these recommendations we wrote down. The feedback we got from the community was really positive and people wanted us to do more with it, which is how we ended up incorporating as a non profit and adding Startup Include as a program where we actually work with cohorts of companies on implementing these recommendations. But our hope is really to drive these solutions forward and we’re focused on startups for now. We think that the highest leverage opportunity is with startups before they become too big and are hard to steer—try to get those good practices and processes in early and hopefully some of the startups that are thinking about D&I early will end up becoming the big companies of tomorrow and they’ll already have baked in these best practices. We also acknowledge that what we think to be best practice now may change and so we really do want to build more of a community around these issues and solutions and kind of in the same way that open source software works where you put stuff out there, everyone can benefit from it. As they’re using it, they may think of ways to extend it or improve on it and they’re contributing that back to the community—we want that sort of a community around diversity and inclusion.
SWB Yeah, that’s really interesting and I think it’s one thing to identify problems, it’s one thing to try to address them, but we clearly don’t really know how to fix this yet. So, I’m curious is there anything that you’ve found as you’ve been advising Project Include and sort of seeing it grow and adapt—is there anything that you’ve seen out there that you’ve really feel like you’ve been able to learn from and that’s helped to shape where you’re making recommendations now?
TC The biggest takeaways still are that you need metrics to understand where the opportunities are and also where things are going well. So we recommend that all companies do look at their data. It’s cool to see so many people trying out different things. I think it will take some amount of time before we learn which things really work in a long term sustainable way, but definitely excited to see lots of people experimenting with D&I now.
SWB So Project Include, that was founded in 2016, right? You’ve got a couple of years of kind of starting to shape the organization and provide more than just your manifesto, but also the actual community and practices and working with these companies. So I’m excited to see what else comes out of that.
TC Yeah, one thing we’ve been thinking a lot more about is how to achieve leverage impact across the industry and some of that is going to be working with other organizations. Earlier this year, a couple of us launched this project called Moving Forward to get venture capital firms to first of all, have anti-harassment policies and then publish them, make them available to founders and then also have points of contact as accountability. And so this came out of some of the #metoo harassment stuff that came out last year, where what we saw was that in that relationship between founders who were trying to raise money and venture capitalists that control this money, there is this gray zone of interaction where they’re not necessarily in a professional relationship yet. As in cases where there is a power imbalance, sometimes there are abuses of that power. So our idea was to push venture capital firms to be very explicit about what’s acceptable behavior between people that work at the firm and potential founders that they might want to be investing in or other people in the community. And so we launched Moving Forward, now have over one hundred firms that have their anti-harassment policies out there and the points of contact. This is something where I worked on that separate to Project Include, but we ended up realizing that there was a good opportunity for collaboration between Project Include and Moving Forward so I could serve as a little bit of that bridge.
SWB That’s so cool, it’s sounds like you just have your hands into so many different parts of this problem and like trying to sort of untie the knot from lots of different angles, which I really love.
TC Yeah, I mean there’s a lot to be done here—so lots of opportunity.
KL That is so true. I feel like we’ve been talking a lot about your work as a diversity advocate and I just want to go back to you for a minute, because I saw you write a while ago that you don’t want to just work on diversity issues because you love to code and you like your life a lot more with that in it. How do you balance those things and stay excited about both?
TC I still identify as a software engineer and someone that likes to build products and build things. Sometimes that means building teams and companies, but the diversity and inclusion piece will, I think, always be a part of my life and that conversation is still just so prominent in the industry, it’s hard to not take part of it. So that always be a part of what I do, but in my more full time capacity, I do like to be thinking just about technology, how powerful it is and how it can be used to hopefully impact the world for better.
KL I’m also curious—you know—if the move from San Francisco to New York has had any impact?
TC When so many things change all at once, it’s hard to say. I do think being in New York has helped to broaden my perspectives quite a bit. I’m not surrounded by tech people all the time and I like being around people who don’t think about the same things I do all the time and just to be surrounded by this greater diversity of people.
SWB We talk a lot about place on the show because I feel like so many conversations in design or tech or publishing or whatever can be so limited to such narrow places, so I’m always interested in—you know—kinds of perspectives that people can bring in. So we are just about out of time and before we go, I wanted to say: Tracy, I have been personally inspired by your work for a long time and I know I’m not the only one. So I want to thank you for being on the show and ask you, is there anywhere that our listeners can better keep up with everything that you’re up to?
TC The best place to keep up with me is Twitter, so I’m @triketora on Twitter. It’s t-r-i-k-e-t-o-r-a. I tweet a lot, so I also will not be offended if you follow and then unfollow because there’s too much going on, but that’s the best place to keep up with me.
SWB Well I know that a lot of our listeners will definitely want to hear everything you have to say, even if you tweet all day. Thank you so much for being on the show.
TC Ahh, thank you for having me!
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KL Hey y’all, time to talk careers with our friends at Shopify. This week we’ve got a tip on what to look for in a company from Shannon Gallagher, a product manager on the merchant analytics team.
SG: Being a lifelong learner is super important to me. I need to constantly grow and push my boundaries. The nice thing is, that’s one of Shopify’s core values, too. When you make a positive impact here, you can move into new roles, new disciplines, and new spaces. That’s had a huge impact on my career. Two years ago, I was on the recruiting team. Now, I’m in product management… And I’m still expanding my knowledge and reaching for new goals every day. This kind of environment means I’ll never get bored—or feel like I’m stuck in one place. The point is, you’ll love work so much more if you’re with a company where the goal is growth!
KL Thanks, Shannon! If you want to join a team where you can keep learning and make unexpected and wonderful moves—if you want—then you should check out Shopify. They’re growing globally, and they might just have the perfect role for you. See what’s new this week at shopify.com/careers.
JL Okay, so I’ve got a fuck yeah this week, ladies.
KL Let’s hear it.
JL Sutter and I are taking a vacation this week.
SWB Fuck yeah! [Laughs]
JL [Laughs] I know, I mean we could just stop there, mic drop.
[All three laugh]
JL But this vacation is to Wildwood, New Jersey—and for those unaware of the magic that is Wildwood—it’s a wonderful place at the Jersey Shore with boardwalk, food and funnel cake, and soft serve ice cream. And perhaps most importantly—it’s only a bit over an hour from Philadelphia. And here’s what we knew. We wanted some time to get away to ourselves, but we’re not really in the place where we wanted to plan something big or get on a flight. We just wanted some time with each other. That’s not because we don’t love our son, but two years ago we took a babymoon, which we gave ourselves a long weekend before a major change in our family. And we’re going to have that again soon, so we wanted to do something like that. But how do you get that time to yourselves when you have a toddler? So we were really thrown off and honestly I just—was like ‘that’s fine, we don’t really have to do it,’ like—not a big deal. But then this wild idea came to us. Why don’t we ask his parents if they’re available to watch Cooper for two nights?
KL What did they say?
JL [Laughing] They said yes!
JL And so it’s amazing what happens when you ask for help!
KL That’s awesome. And also grandparents love to help in that way.
JL It’s like—I don’t know why, but asking for what you need can be such a hard hurdle to overcome, but it can totally pay off awesomely, so I am saying fuck yeah to asking for help!
KL That’s awesome. This actually resonates with me, too, because when I take time off at A Book Apart, I have to make a point of putting it on the calendar and asking folks to cover some stuff while I’m out so that I don’t have to worry about it or think about it. Because otherwise I would never actually really get time off. Like I have to actually set up that—you know—those boundaries and ask for help and I didn’t realize that until late in the game and I was like ‘oh, I actually need to raise my hand and do this so I can properly take some time off.’ So I love this.
SWB I love this too because it’s actually a really good reminder for me. Because I think as both of you know—because you’ve called me on it before—I do not like to ask for help and I sort of take it almost as a point of pride to do it all myself. And that’s been good for me in some ways, but everybody needs help, myself included. And it’s one thing to ask for help, but it’s also another thing to actually accept the help and let go, right? Because part of what you’re saying, Katel, is that when you set that boundary where you’re like ‘okay, I’m taking a real vacation, can you please handle this for me’—you’re also saying ‘and I’m not going to check in so I need to be confident that it’s handled.’
KL [Laughing] Yeah.
SWB Right? And I think that’s something that’s hard for me—just to fully let go and to just say ‘nope, this is handled and I’m not going to get all anxious about this, I’m just going to accept that it’s handled.’ And I realize it’s not a lack of trust—it’s like I trust them—but it’s almost like my brain doesn’t trust me enough to fully let go, you know? [Laughter]
SWB I have to remind myself like no no no no no, you asked for help, now your job is to take the help and then walk away.
JL Yeah and it’s—it is hard to do things like that, but I think it gets better with practice. I mean, I read a bunch last year—some manager books and they talk a lot about just delegating things, delegating tasks and how important that is. But what’s really important is when you delegate the tasks, to trust that they’re going to get done and then be okay with the fact that whoever does them will probably veer from the way you were going to do it. So, we left an agenda or notes of what Coop’s normal day is for the grandparents and not to be like ‘you have to do it this way,’ but just so they have a guide-ish like ‘here’s what we would do.’ But I understand if you’re not going to do it exactly the same way and you know what, that’s okay. I’m okay with that, thank you for the help. I’m going to be able to now focus on other things that are more important than making sure that you did this exactly the way I would have done it.
KL Yeah, I think that is so true. I’m thinking about this and I feel like we need to come up with an acronym for all the parts so… accept help, let go, enjoy—ALE!
SWB That’s also what I would like to have on my next vacation.
KL Yeah, exactly. [laughs] Well, fuck yeah to asking for help and to getting it, and we hope you enjoy.
SWB Eat some funnel cake for me.
JL Okay. [Laughing] You got it!
SWB Well, that is it for this week’s episode of No, You Go—the show about being ambitious and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and is produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thank you so much to Tracy Chou for being on the show today. If you like what you’ve been hearing, thank you so much, you’re the best. And you could be even more the best if you would take a moment to leave us a rating or review on your podcast listening app of choice and let your friends know about No, You Go because we’d love to have them here too. We’ll be back again next week!
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