Jul 11 2020

About being a diversity hire and why it shouldn’t matter

Category: MiscellaneousIuliana @ 14:37

I am going to start this entry with a dark-bitter joke.

Bertram Wooster and Ernestine Anderson were staffing up their teams. Bertram was hiring trainees to work in the company’s retail stores, Ernestine was hiring software developers to build a new supply chain system for the company’s operations. ”Bert,” Ernestine asked, “I have hundreds of resumés, how do I whittle them down to a handful of calls and a few interviews?”Bertram smiled. He grabbed a pile of resumés from his desk, then started dealing the resumés out, first one back onto his desk, second into the recycle bin, third onto his desk, fourth into the recycle bin. When he was finished, he had thrown half of the resumés away. “It’s simple.” Bertram told Ernestine. “Just don’t hire anybody who’s unlucky.”

This week, I saw a black developer defended himself on Twitter after being accused of being a diversity hire. And that pissed me off a little. Nobody should defend themselves for getting a job, because most passing job interviews is dependent on so many random factors that it could be considered … luck.

There will be people that will tell you that they are so good at their job and they are have such an exemplary character, and presentation skills that they can get any job they want. But that is simply not true.
There is a saying about people: no matter how great and awesome and kind a person is, there is at least one person in this world that hates them. Which means, you might consider yourself lucky to have met your partner, but there is at least one person in this world to consider themselves to be lucky to have gotten rid of you. This is just hoe the world is, you cannot please everyone.

When you go to an interview for a job, you interact with a bunch of people. Maybe you are very good at your job and maybe you are good at making that really obvious, but you do not control the people involved in the process of evaluating and hiring you. And they are different people, with their own background, opinions and frustrations caused by past events and they will evaluate you based on that. They will try to see if you are a fit for working with them. They wrap it up and say it about the company, of course. But it is about them, whether they want it or not. Because complete objectivity is only possible if you are a psychopath or a robot. It is quite similar in a way, to a marriage being set up by your parents. They will evaluate partners based on their liking, not yours. Also consider the possibility that maybe one of them is distracted during the interview process or something has happened to them that is influencing their decision behaviour that day. Really, your ability to do a job well, is just the first filter. The rest is luck.

I got my first job after an interview that I am convinced to this day that I sucked at. But my future team lead was also a teacher at the university I just finished and knew that I was hard working student, that could be taught and since it was my first job, I would also be cheap. And since I was a woman, I wouldn’t hinder the process of him teaching me by being stubborn and providing my own opinions. At least until I had a good base to form them on.
But it was my luck that he happened to work there and that he decided to take a chance on me.

I got my second job, because I seemed very knowledgeable and confident at the interview. The test was asking me to write a piece of code to solve a problem. I wrote the code in the way I thought it would be the best way to reuse, extend, test and maintain. Apparently, I used the Observer pattern, when I had no idea what the Observer pattern was. I was also having a very good day, not sure why, maybe it was sunny outside, so I chatted about Java and software solutions and made jokes with people that usually I would be very humble around. Maybe technically I was good, I definitely was better than two years prior, but they were looking for an engineer that knew JEE, EJBs and JSF and working with JBoss… basically advanced things I had no idea about.
But I got the job. And again… I was quite cheap. I basically accepted a ½ pay cut compared to my previous job, just for a chance of getting to learn “advanced things”.

I got my third job because I was good but also because the project manager liked my attitude. Yet another person that somehow thought I was meek and malleable, and I would be the employee that gets the job done without complaining and contradicting the client when they would ask idiotic things. And I would probably not contradict his evaluation of me that didn’t get me the raise I actually wanted. And he was right. So let’s say that me getting this job was not luck. I would have been exactly what that company needed me to be. But, at some point while working for that company I got myself and ambitious boyfriend. And with him supporting me and convincing me that I am worth more, I got another job.

The city I was working in at the time was quite a small one. The software development world consisted of people from two universities, and most of us knew somebody, that knew somebody. I’m not saying I did bad at the interview, but when I left there, I was convinced they wouldn’t want me.
I’m not saying I was lucky, but … to this day I would like to know who put in a good word for me and how did I get that job. Or maybe the company was just in a speed growth period so I guess I fell again in the “smart and can be trained” category.

The next job I got a year later… the interview was remote, I just talked about technical things with a guy that was a software architect. We just happen to click, we just understood each other. I’ve yet to meet another person that I could talk about software with and feel confident about what I am saying in the same way as I did with him. I cannot explain it.
Yes, I was technically quite good at this point, but I was also lucky that I was able to express my knowledge in such a way that made this person feel confident to work with me.

I got my next job after a phone interview that went on for more than one hour. The phone company actually interrupted the call and he had to call me back. At that point in my life I was on my way to change everything about me as a person. The relationship that I thought would be my last ended up in a horrendous way leaving me scarred and depressive. I did not care about anything anymore. I just wanted to get the hell out of that city and as far away as possible and bury those four years under a lot of unrelated memories. Also, for me, that interview was just an interview training me for other interviews. I had no intention to move to the city where the company was.
But they wanted to hire me, and they made an offer. And in an effort to discourage them, I told them I would not move half a country away for the same salary I had now. They asked me for how much money I would move, and I gave them a number I thought they would say no to. And they didn’t. So, I moved to that city, and got a job I did not really wanted and ended up loving it and those have been the most wonderful four years of my life.
I wouldn’t call it luck… but they could have said no. I am sure they would have found somebody else. But … somewhere in that multitude of people involved in making the decision, there was one or more that said, let’s give this woman a chance.

I got my next job, after a technical test that made me seem valuable enough to be called to a city across the world for a face-to-face interview. I cut my hair short and got bangs to look geekier, just to increase my chances. I know its silly, but it wouldn’t hurt, right? This wasn’t luck I think, this was just me being really cheap again.

One year after I got myself another job. I am the only woman engineer in my team. I am trying to turn full stack and I have days when I miss the cosiness of typically structured Java projects with a simple profile for unit and integration tests and a team of testers to catch all my functional mistakes. Nowadays it’s all YAML, Go templates, TOSCA, AWS, bash scripts (oh my heavens so much bash!!!), maybe a little bit of Java, Python, JavaScript… anything really. Every day I feel like I am failing to learn something properly. :) Sometimes I talk to my engineer colleagues and I have the impression they know everything, and their technical jargon is so rich and different from mine that it makes me feel like having the least expertise of the whole team.
I did wonder if I am a diversity hire, being the only woman engineer. And it made me feel bitter initially, but then again, did I ever question the kind of luck that got me the other jobs? I did not, I was just happy I got it and promised myself to show them I was worth the money I was being payed.

The reason why you get hired is not important. What is important is you being up to the challenges that come with the job. Because no company in the world will keep paying a person for any other reason but being worth the money. I’m pretty sure the CEO of the company where I work now is not saying to himself: “She is not as good as the others, but it looks good for PR to have at least a woman engineer”. If diversity would be what makes this company successful and their projects valuable, I’m sure they would hire one developer of every shape, colour, nationality and sexual orientation.
So, stop inventing terms such as “diversity hire” and try to offend people by labeling them as such. At the end of the day, we are all trying to survive, keep a roof over our heads and our bellies full. We shouldn’t care why we got hired, we should care if we are doing a good job or not. Because if you think this way, and view being a “diversity hire” as an unfair advantage, then having a recommendation from inside the company is an “unfair advantage”. And I am sure there are plenty of people being considered for a job based on an internal recommendation.  So, wake up, the world is unfair and has always been unfair and luck helps sometimes to make it less unfair.

Your CV might not get you a foot in the door – look at the joke at the beginning of this entry. And this is even more true in a world where CV screening is made by AIs and anything that does not fit a certain pattern is discarded. But anything else that gets you that foot in the door, will smash the door in your face if you fail the practical interview and are deemed unsuitable for the job. Luck that gets you to the practical interview can take many forms. Does it really matter, if it is your attitude, way of speaking, the color of your skin, nationality, gender, sexual orientation?

It doesn’t matter for me. It never mattered why I got the job. My primary concern was to rise up to the expectations and maybe above them when I wanted a promotion.

I know some of you may not agree with me. And I do not care. This opinion does not hurt anybody. It is just how I view the world, as mostly out of my control. I can only do my best and hope there is a chance it will work out.

When you have no expectations, nothing can disappoint you. But you can be surprised in the best ways.

Stay safe, stay happy!

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