Words on Diversity from the PHP Rainbow Elephpant

Enfys, the PHP Rainbow Elephpant, is intended to help promote Diversity within the PHP Community: but what exactly is Diversity? What are the benefits of Diversity? And how can Diversity be achieved?

What is Diversity?

Perhaps my favourite definitions of Diversity – based on the definition found on many other Diversity-related and University websites – is:

The concept of Diversity encompasses acceptance and respect: it means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognising our individual differences. These differences can be on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender-identity, socio-economic status, nationality, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, technology, or other ideologies.

The main difference that I’ve added to the standard core definition found on other websites is not to discriminate on the basis of “technology” (highly appropriate for a technical community). As developers, we shouldn’t be disparaging of other developers just because they use WordPress or Drupal or Magento or Laravel (I’m listing these specific frameworks because they are regularly derided) or any other technology stack or framework; or because they are familiar with a different programming paradigm to ourselves (functional, OOP, procedural/imperative).

Diversity is a set of conscious practices that involve:

  • Understanding and appreciating interdependence of humanity, cultures, and the natural environment.
  • Practising mutual respect for qualities and experiences that are different from our own.
  • Understanding that Diversity includes not only ways of being but also ways of knowing.
  • Recognising that personal, cultural and institutionalised discrimination creates and sustains privileges for some while creating and sustaining disadvantages for others.

Diversity is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other as individuals, and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of Diversity contained within each individual.

Why is Diversity so important?

Diversity isn’t simply a matter of opening our companies or communities to those from different backgrounds to ourselves. While being a Diverse community is a worthwhile goal in itself, it is also something that will benefit the community or business.

As individuals, we learn a lot from people who have different experiences, beliefs and perspectives on things to ourselves; and the knowledge that we share within a Diverse community helps our own growth as individual developers. Everybody has something that they can teach us, no matter how much we think we know.

Diversity exposes us to new tools and technologies, to different ways of thinking about problems, and different ways of working. Being surrounded by a group of peers who are all similar to ourselves stifles our growth as developers, because it limits our exposure to new ideas. Working with peers from a broader range of backgrounds and lifestyles introduces us to new technologies, methodologies, approaches or solutions to the problems that we encounter, broadening our own learning in the process.

For a business or a community, a culture of Diversity is more valuable than simply a business culture that provides beanbags and air hockey tables in the office, a large screen TV for watching the football World Cup, and beer on a Friday afternoon (unless you recognise that some people might prefer soft drinks as an alternative): that type of culture tends to attract people with similar backgrounds and mindsets.

A Diverse organisation is one that values the differences in people. It is a business culture which recognises that people with different backgrounds, skills, attitudes and experiences bring fresh ideas and perceptions to the business. Diverse organisations encourage and harness these differences to make their services and products more relevant and usable; and more appealing to a Diverse customer base, increasing their potential market. Diverse organisations draw upon the widest possible range of views and experiences so they can listen to and meet the changing needs of their users and customers. So the encouragement of Diversity benefits that organisation.

How can we promote Diversity?

You cannot just pay lip service to the ideal of Diversity, and expect it to happen; you need to be pro-active; and believe in what you are doing, and the reasons why you are doing it; and continually work at it. It’s necessary to support and protect Diversity by valuing all individuals and groups without prejudice, and by fostering a climate where equality and mutual respect are inherent.

What’s important is that Diversity means more than just acknowledging and/or tolerating differences. Simply tolerating those differences doesn’t make a workplace or community where people feel comfortable expressing different views. Simply silencing intolerance creates its own tensions that are counter to what you’re trying to achieve.

Codes of Conduct

Somewhat contentious among certain members of certain communities, who consider that it curtails their right to freedom of speech. If their freedom of speech involves being insulting or derogatory to others, then they’re probably not a good fit for any business or organisation. But a code of conduct isn’t about restricting freedom of speech, it’s about reminding people that with freedom, there is also a responsibility and a consequence; but also a way of removing some of the obstacles that make some people afraid to speak up.

Simply having a Code of Conduct doesn’t mean that an organisation is open to Diversity, but it is a positive step along the route. A Code of Conduct provides a set of guideline that identify certain behaviours as acceptable or unacceptable, and a clearly defined process for handling issues and breaches of that code. Having a Code of Conduct, and acting upon it where appropriate, is an indication that the organisation does take Diversity seriously.

While the wording of a Code of Conduct can’t cover all potential circumstances and behaviours, it should provide a set of guidelines for what is and isn’t acceptable that can be assessed based on the situation. What it boils down to is:

Do not insult or put down other people. Behave professionally. Remember that harassment and sexist, racist, or exclusionary jokes are not appropriate for a business or community.

Generally speaking, think before you speak, or before you post that e-mail or slack message: behave professionally.

More important is the willingness to act when there is a breach of that code of conduct. Typically that action should entail understanding what the breach is about, and perhaps a form of mediation between the parties involved, because it is likely that many breaches will come down to misunderstandings rather than a deliberate culpability, and the situation can be defused in a manner that is acceptable to all parties. Any form of disciplinary action should be a last resort; but it should still be an option, in the same way that any other breach of a company or business rules (such as frequent bad timekeeping, etc) is subject to disciplinary action.

What are Diversity Issues?

A Diversity Issue exists when…

  • An Issue (policy or business practice – formal, informal, internal, or external) has a different impact on a particular group (i.e., impact on men vs. women, black vs. white, British vs. foreign, urban vs. rural, married vs. single, etc).
  • It happens more frequently to a particular group (i.e., different groups may have dramatically different “numbers” – turnover, terminations, promotions, discipline, few or no role models, etc).
  • It is more difficult for one group to overcome (i.e., upward mobility for a particular group within an organisation – “glass ceilings”).
  • A Diversity Issue exists where the policy or business practice has an impact exclusive of difference (not inclusive of difference). Is there a trend or pattern (intentional or unintentional)?

Having a Diversity Issue is not necessarily a bad thing. Doing nothing about it once you have knowledge of the Issue is where organisations and communities go wrong. Being in denial about these Issues do not make them go away. Ignorance is not bliss. The real question is why do we have this Issue? And can we take action to correct it or improve the situation?

Promoting Diversity within a Business

Hiring and Promotions policies can address many of these Issues: make sure policies are transparent, so that all employees and potential employees know that hiring, promotion and selection for roles and projects is based only on ability and merit, and not on meeting quotas.

Having a public Code of Conduct is a sign that you are trying to promote Diversity in a way that might attract new hires, but it isn’t enough on its own. Your recruitment process also needs to indicate that you are open to Diversity: whether job adverts, recruitment agencies, or word of mouth, actively indicate what you have done to promote a more Diverse organisation.

Make the company more welcoming. Flexible working hours can make things easier for parents (school runs, taking children to a doctor/dentists appointment) or those of various religions (prayer times and daylight hours). Likewise, an awareness of religious or national holidays can help promote Diversity.

Diversity has to be driven from the top, but must involve every member of the business or organisation. If you’re working within an existing organisation, then holding seminars or workshops explaining the “whats” and “whys” of Diversity for existing employees; and always make new hires aware of the policies on Diversity.

So there’s a few of my thoughts. It’s not a comprehensive lists of do’s and don’ts, and is certainly missing lots of good ideas; but hopefully you’ll consider what I’ve posted here on the Interwebz for what it’s worth.

This post transferred from a post originally made on the blog site at markbakeruk.net on 30th August 2016.

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