Friday, March 27, 2015

Diversity, the Intro Textbook we Need, and Privilege

A few weeks ago, I posted about Professionalization, and how it affected medicine, law, and engineering.

While I wrote about the move to replace midwives with doctors, sometimes at cost of childbed fevers, I didn't get into how that affected my family directly.

I am told that when my grandmother was born, nurses had to do exactly what the doctor said, no more and no less. The doctor forgot to tell the nurses to change my great-grandmother's absorbent material. She died when my grandmother was just one week old.

It was clearly the doctor's error, and the doctor apologized. My great-grandfather accepted the apology, took his youngest daughter, and went home to raise his 12 children alone. There was no lawsuit.

Women in STEM are naturally following the court case of Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins. As the article points out, combating second-generation bias has proved difficult. There's a specific term for this type of problem, where the solution is NOT intuitive, but the term is slipping my mind right now.

In the time between drafting and posting this post, Model View Culture released an article that ties this together even better:
Possibilities and Limitations of Discrimination Lawsuits in Tech

My thoughts continue below the cut.

Women who sue their employers, the Lily Ledbetters, Ellen Pao's, and so on, are frequently at the end of their career. Suing one's employer tends to be career-limiting, as it can cost the plaintiff any hope of future work.

Despite the concerns I have heard about "frivolous lawsuits," my grandmother's story was a cautionary tale. Unlike Ellen Pao's Ivy League heritage and power spouse, my family tends to go to other schools and live... well, in adulthood, middle class lives. Most of my family is white, and as I posted earlier this week... many people have been effectively shut out of leadership and opportunities for wealth within corporations.

If Ellen loses her lawsuit, she becomes liable for Kleiner Perkins' legal expenses, and the reports suggest her former employer is not being frugal. Many other people who may have faced such discrimination, are not in a position to sue and take that risk.

The literature (Catalyst, McKinsey, Harvard Business Review, and others) shows that second-generation bias is not limited to any company nor any industry. While some companies do better than others, nobody has conclusively solved it.

Nicole Sanchez published an article on Medium a few weeks ago, "Diversity in Tech: The "Intro Textbook" We Must Co-Create." Read it, for more on why the book needs to be co-created, and why I am not looking at Diversity Consulting as my potential business.