BeyondTech 2019

I attended the inaugural BeyondTech conference in London this week. It was great! I found out about the conference from a colleague, and I’m really glad they pointed it out to me.

My particular highlights were:

  • Sapphire Mason-Brown’s Just Add Diversity—why a diverse tech industry isn’t enough. Particularly alarming to me were the statistics from the survey of people leaving the tech industry: a quarter of people of colour experienced stereotyping; 1 in 10 women had received unwanted sexual attention; 20% of LGBTQ folk had been bullied.
  • Gitte Klitgaard’s Psychological Safety: Overprotection or Not? Spoiler: it’s not. It makes it all the more enraging when people say “we’re all grown ups here” or “only bad developers need it.” Not true. When you’re in an unsafe environment, you feel like it’s your fault, and you can’t expect people to say no.
  • Stella Windsor with Why Ethics Matter And What we Forget About Our Past. This hit the nail on the head, and said the kind of stuff I want to say about inclusivity and ethics much more eloquently than I ever could. Particularly the fact that the discussions around ethics, diversity, and inclusivity need to be uncomfortable, and make people evaluate their privilege. A key takeaway is that ‘too much “bias training” exists to make white people feel ok.’

One thing I noticed was that this was the first conference I’d been to where it seemed like it was only a plurality, rather than a majority, of white men who made up the bulk of the attendees and speakers. (This is not based on any scientific data, but just a guess based on who I saw.) I was delighted to see so many women attending and speaking, particularly a large number of women of colour.

But a recurring theme was that marginalised people—women, LGBTQ folks, Disabled people, people of colour—are expected to take on the emotional labour associated with diversity and inclusion. And, of course, they’re less likely to be listened to.

And what’s the point in addressing the tech skills gap if marginalised folks aren’t going to feel welcome when they come into tech? If their concerns are going to be ignored when it comes to building stuff?

Overall: BeyondTech was a stark reminder of how far we have to go. But it’s reminded me that I, as a cis, white, able-bodied, university-educated man, have more sway in these things. I’m giving my ethics talk, So You Can Sleep At Night, at Agile Manchester next week. BeyondTech gave me a ton of new material, and a burning need to shout louder until people listen.