Episode 003: Hiring People For Diversity with LaToya Allen of SheNomads

Panelists:

Coraline Ada Ehmke | Jessica Kerr | Sam Livingston-Gray | David Brady | Astrid Countee

Guest Starring: LaToya Allen
SheNomads
Big Cartel

Show Notes:

00:16 – Welcome to “Well, Technically…” …we mean, “Greater Than Code!”
01:34SheNomads LaToya Allen’s Introduction
03:18Dear Tech Companies: Focus on Diversity, Not Foosball
08:14 – How does “the team photo” reflect on you and your company?
10:33 – Article Backlash; Interviewing/Hiring People for Diversity

15:11 – The Talking-Over-People Culture

Ruby DCamp

We are (currently) listener supported! Support us via Patreon!
Thank you, Ryder Timberlake, for your support!

17:37 – Improving Job Postings; How do you find a company to work for that’s good?

“Save your ninja moves for the alley!” ~ Jessica Kerr

23:16 – What is something that your company or coworkers or someone at work did that made you feel included?
26:18 – “Signaling”
30:54 The SheNomads Job Board and the Vetting Process

  • Commitment to diversity inclusion
  • Provide meaningful work
  • Offer reasonable pay

33:33 #talkpay

Salary Negotiation with Ashley Powell

  • Use Google / Indeed.com
  • Talk to recruiters
  • Talk to your peers

35:56 SheNomads and Remote Work

Women in Tech Wellness: Chicago

We are (currently) listener supported! Support us via Patreon!
Thank you, Kurtis Rainbolt-Greene, for your support!

 

Takeaways:

Dave: Thinking more about signaling.

Astrid: I’m not the only person turned off by ninja-stuff.

Coraline: Bringing marketing personas into the recruiting process.

Sam: Recognizing the impulse to interrupt and taking a step back.

LaToya: Thank you for Greater Than Code!

Jessica: Gratitude for remote work and diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Listener Call to Action:

If you are not a remote worker, talk to management and see if you can work from home one day per week to introduce the idea of remote work and prove that you are effective and efficient even if you are not present in the office.

If you are in a management position, go work from home yourself at least one day per week, so you can build some empathy for what it’s like to be on the other side of those tools and that divide, so you can more effectively incorporate your more distributed teammates.

For company sponsorship inquiries, please email mandy@greaterthancode.com. Check out what goes into our editing process: A Letter From The Editor

Transcript:

JESSICA:  Good morning. I’m Jessica Kerr, better known as @jessitron. And today, I am happy to welcome you to everyone’s favorite podcast “Well, Technically…”

SAM:  Oh, yeah. I’m going to have to go ahead and sort of disagree with you there, Jessica. The name of the podcast that we all discussed was Greater Than Code, if I remember correctly.

JESSICA:  Greater Than Code!

CORALINE:  I kind of like the way that sounds.

SAM:  Yeah, it’s kind of cool. Anyway, hi. I’m Sam Livingston-Gray and I am here to welcome Dave Brady to the show as well.

DAVID:  Nice correction. [Laughs]

CORALINE:  We love you, Dave.

DAVID:  Oh, my gosh. That’s amazing. Thank you. Good morning everyone from sunny and cold Utah, where I left my office window open all night and I have regrets because my fingers are frozen. Today, it is my great honor to be on the podcast with Astrid Countee.

ASTRID:  Thanks Dave. I can’t believe that it’s cold in Utah. Do you know that it’s like 85 degrees here in Texas so I envy your coldness. And I want to welcome to podcast, Coraline, [whispers – oh, I forgot your last name].

CORALINE:  Oh, it’s okay. It’s Coraline Ada Ehmke and I’m really happy to be here today. It is cold and gray in Chicago but I am goth as spock and I don’t mind.

[Laughter]

CORALINE:  So Jessica, who do we have on our show today?

JESSICA:  Today, we are super happy to welcome LaToya Allen. LaToya is a self-taught engineer, currently working at Big Cartel. She’s also the founder of SheNomads, a community of under-represented folks in tech and allies who are interested in working remotely. When LaToya isn’t working abroad, she can be found in Chicago practicing Muay Thai and organizing local Ruby events.

LaToya, you move around a lot. Is that the SheNomads thing?

LATOYA:  I do actually spend two months working abroad from UK. I got there three days after Brexit happens. That was fascinating to see up close. Then I work from Tel Aviv in Israel, Barcelona and Bilbao in Spain, Lisbon in Portugal, and Oslo in Norway.

CORALINE:  LaToya, I had the honor of being on the SheNomads podcast and I will never forget at the end you’re like, “So, since you do work remote, what are some of the places where you have worked?”

And I’m like, “In my living room.”

[Laughter]

CORALINE:  It never actually occurred to me that yes, I can be anywhere. I make a tech salary, I could travel. I could go to interesting places outside of Ohio and Indiana and see some of the world, and just work 10 hours and be good.

LATOYA:  Well, that is so much cheaper. I actually saved money this summer. I rented out my apartment but you know, it’s not something everyone is interested in. But I rented out my apartment and when you’re in Lisbon, a glass of wine is $2 and a meal for a hearty, like full three-course meal for three people is like $15, you’re going to save up some money.

ASTRID:  Woah, I’m going to go to Portugal now.

LATOYA:  I have all of suggestions. If you ever go, please email me.

JESSICA:  So LaToya, one reason we wanted you to come on the show is because we read your article on Wired and Medium about hiring and job posting. Do you want to tell us about what inspired you to write that article?

LATOYA:  Absolutely. I was lying in bed on a Sunday evening, thinking about just ranting on Twitter because I was annoyed. Another woman that I know who started tech around the same time I did left tech. She decided to switch. She goes back to school for accounting because she felt like there wasn’t a space for her here. A part of that is because a job hunt, which is very difficult for her. When I talked to her about it, I was looking through careers pages and I realized how uninviting they were to people. The article is called ‘Dear Tech Companies: Focus on Diversity, Not Foosball’. And I basically looked at a bunch of careers pages on the internet and I noticed some common themes that I talk about in the article.

For example, apparently people on tech really love foosball, they really love ping-pong, they really love beer. There was actually a careers page that I saw that had a DJ booth in the office and an open bottle of champagne. So feeling like you’re working in a frat house isn’t enough for you, you can feel like you work at a nightclub.

CORALINE:  Awesome.

DAVID:  Nice.

SAM:  Where do I sign up to flee?

LATOYA:  Yeah, if you’re not that kind of person, you’re not going to fit in there. It’s hard enough getting in tech, I think, if you’re not a person that was at the intersection of the majority. So I can see why women leave. What’s the point of going and getting hired if you’re not going to fit in? Your reviews are going to be bad. You’re going to be underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated, and a part of that is because you just don’t fit into that culture.

CORALINE:  I’ve heard, sadly, interviews that I’ve been a part of, after the interview, it’s like, “Well, you think there’s someone that you’d want to have a beer with?” And I can’t believe that it’s 2016 and we’re still asking questions like that as part of an interview process.

LATOYA:  Absolutely.

SAM:  Right, and that question turns me off especially because I just don’t like beer. So pretty much everybody knows that’s a test for me.

CORALINE:  On a serious note though, Sam, there are people in tech, believe it or not, who do not drink and who feel really alienated by the drinking culture that is so pervasive in tech.

SAM:  Yes, absolutely. I worked once with an observant Muslim who was fairly generous to us when we occasionally did have celebratory beverages.

ASTRID:  I was actually reading something just yesterday and it was kind of related. It’s a woman who was asking this question. “I had to move with my husband…” she works in technology and she’s been out of work for about 15 months and she wants to go back to work but she just found out she’s pregnant and she’s really worried about how she is supposed to go and find a job.

I think that led to your point, LaToya, if you’re looking at a careers page and there’s a bunch of people drinking and popping bottles of champagne and you’re an expecting mom, that’s not exactly the environment that you feel like you’re going to be able to fit in, or maybe meet new people that you can enjoy working with, if you know the idea is everybody is having a party and you’re about to have a family.

LATOYA:  Absolutely. Something else I talked about in the article would be the order that the benefits appear in. For example, if you look, a lot of times, they talk about food and alcohol before they talk about things like maternity leave, paternity leave, or partner leave because not everyone is having a child with a member of the opposite sex. When I see alcohol show up or free lunch, that’s great but like what happens if I get pregnant and have a baby.

JESSICA:  Then even if you might enjoy a party now, where are you going to be in five years? Can you really find a future at a company where everyone looks like they’re 22?

CORALINE:  I’m a developer of a certain age and I can definitely see age isn’t creeping in, especially in startup culture. Not just in the faces that I see on a development team where everyone seems to be 25, but also the fact that people my age don’t tend to be developers anymore. They go into management or they go off and write books. So they do something else. I don’t have a lot of peers who are my age.

And then, there’s this assumption that if you work for a startup, you’re willing to work 60 – 70 hours a week and I have a life that I have developed for myself. I’m too old for that crap.

LATOYA:  Me too, I don’t really have a life. But I’d like to develop one at some point. But I’m 36. I just don’t want to be around much with 21-year olds who are in that mentality. Not to sound ageist or anything like that, but if you’re looking for a specific sort of person, I just know at my age, I’m not going to fit in that environment or I won’t last long.

JESSICA:  Maybe they really are targeting the people who do have 60 – 70 hours a week. Maybe that’s part of the message here of if you want work-life balance, we don’t want you. In which case, great! Thank you for letting me know.

LATOYA:  Yeah, I don’t want you either.

DAVID:  Yeah, self-selection.

CORALINE:  A lot has been said about the exploitative nature of the startup world and how they look for people who are just out of college and honestly don’t know any better.

DAVID:  LaToya, you said in your article, there was a great quote that you put in there about how the team photo is very monochromatic. Like you’re looking through the thing, it’s all white dudes basically. My first takeaway from this is why does Latoya think that women and people of color are bad at foosball? And I’ll let you answer that however you want. You can defend that on your own time.

But the real question I have is how does the team photo – we talk a lot about how this influences your jobseekers and I think a lot of companies put up this photo because this is what our team is, but that’s not what you’re putting on your job page, is it? You’re actually putting up a photo of what team you want.

LATOYA:  Yeah. I know that you were joking when you said ‘why are women and people of color so bad at foosball’, but I think a part of it is that we don’t hang out in frat houses all day. That’s the thing of people who don’t look like me, who don’t live in the same intersection as me. But if you’re going to foosball, how did you learn to get good at foosball, like what do you do in your spare time? You know, like the things you want to do on your time off might be slightly different than mine.

DAVID:  I also would have accepted just a one-word answer of ‘classy’.

[Laughter]

LATOYA:  I’m sorry, so back to your question. Yeah, it’s certainly reflective, I think, both of those things equate the team you have but also the team you want. Like someone from [ATSI] actually tweeted me because I mentioned that sometimes they have either a woman or a person of color but not both, or they’re not any people of color but they have a dog. This guy from [ATSI], he was like, “Oh, my God. You described at our careers page that we have a dog but no people of color.”

And I’m like, “Well, there you go.” [Inaudible] made it into the careers page photo.

SAM:  Which tells me that nobody there has pet allergies.

LATOYA:  That’s true, and the funny thing is someone actually left me a comment about that. Like, “If you have pet allergies and people bring their dogs into the office,” which they sometimes do then it’s a little uninviting for you.

CORALINE:  One of the jobs that I worked at, the careers page was very white. We actually had more developers named Blaine than we had female developers on the engineering team.

DAVID:  Wow.

JESSICA:  I want to brag about my team because my team at Stripe, we just added a 7th person who is the first straight white male on the team.

DAVID: Nice.

CORALINE:  Nice.

JESSICA:  And he’s also a parent, so now there’s two of us with kids.

CORALINE:  LaToya, if you’ve got blowback from the article that you wrote, if you got criticism and harassment because from what I hear, sometimes it’s difficult to be a woman with an opinion on the internet.

LATOYA:  You know I did. That’s not even a question.

[Laughter]

LATOYA:  You know the funny thing is that some of them, I think, were valid. For example, one person said that they would have loved if I would have included ageism. But I have not experienced ageism as I don’t look like I’m 36. Just thank you, mom and dad. But I don’t want to write about something that isn’t authentic to me, plus you can’t really necessarily look at a photo and tell how old someone is, I don’t think. You know, that wasn’t like an obvious one to me personally. But I definitely got harassed. For example, the first line of the article, I think, says something along the lines of, “Let’s pretend I’m looking for a job in tech.” So, someone just quoted it and then his response was, “Let’s not.”

CORALINE:  Wow!

LATOYA:  A lot of people explain to me, they’re like, “Well, the problem is that you want to take the affirmative action route. You want the easy road.” No, I don’t want those things. I just want to be considered to be a part of a dev team and I want to be able to be myself. I want to be an actualized human being when I’m at work and these careers pages are making me think that those things aren’t possible for me, or the idea that they somehow have to lower the bar for women or people of color. No, you just need to pull the bias out of your ass.

DAVID:  Can I rant just a tiny little bit here. I wrote a thing and I had to take a screenshot of it and stick it on Twitter because it wouldn’t fit in a single tweet. But I wrote a while back that people who are complaining and saying, “Why do I have to hire for diversity? I don’t want all these people that can’t do the job. Blah…blah…blah…” This makes me so angry on so many fronts.

The reason you need to be interviewing people for diversity is because you have so much bias for your own in-group and if you don’t overcome that, you’re never even going to interview people who can do the job better than the straight white dudes that you’re hiring because they look like you and talk like you and think like you.

I just get my knickers in a twist over this notion that when somebody who is being systematically biased against, when they step up and say, “I’ve kind of like a little bit of more level playing field. I’d like the bias to be tipped a little bit back to level,” and everybody else who has the bias and thinks that the playing field is level seems to think that you’re asking for handouts, for some special treatment, and for all these stuff.

It’s kind of like when I get approached by the people that are saying ‘All Lives Matter’, it’s not just Black Lives Matter. Well yeah, it’s true. All lives do matter. But could we stop killing the black ones for a minute. It’s not the same thing. We don’t have a level playing field.

ASTRID:  Dave, you’re talking about the people who think it’s special to hire like people who are women or people of color. What it makes me think is that in their experience, in their life, that is special for them because they can live a life where they don’t have to include people of color or women. But for the opposite, like if you’re a woman, I can imagine walking through my whole day and not talking to men. If you’re a person of color, I can’t imagine walking in my whole day and not interacting with people who are white. That’s crazy to me.

Sometimes, I wonder if they really just don’t have the perspective of what life is like when it’s not just people in the room like you and that’s why it’s so hard for them to even envision how do you do this, what do I have to do, what extra steps do I have to take because in their life, those are extra steps for them whereas for everybody else, that’s not.

JESSICA:  Yeah. There was a beautiful tweet the other day from Amy Nguyen, I think that said, “There’s a mental health Bechdel tests for women in male-dominated fields of ‘have you spoken to another woman today about work’.” The Bechdel test is the thing where a movie passes the test if two women have a conversation that’s not about a man, right?

CORALINE:  Two named women, I believe.

JESSICA:  Yeah. At work, I have another woman on my team now and that’s great, and it really helps. I’m not even sure why. But it’s really nice not being the only one.

LATOYA:  Well, I can speak to that for a second. I feel like when you have a good balance, I think, between men and women on the team, I think there’s a good balance of communication. But for me, I’ve certainly been on a team and felt the difference when they hire someone who is male, especially if they’re a little bit younger because sometimes it’s like you have people talking over you a little more. It feels like you have to work a little harder to get that actual word in. The perception could be that you’re shy or that you’re not confident in what you’re doing when in reality, it’s like, “Nope, I was just taught at a young age not to talk over people.”

JESSICA:  Yeah, the talking over people culture, it’s particularly hard on women because you can either like adopt that, which I can totally adopt that and fit in with programmers or you could not adopt that and fit in with women. But I love that in our industry, we are talking a lot about, at least people that I talk to you, getting rid of that talking over each other culture because that helps women more, but it also helps introverts. It helps people who are just quiet. It helps everybody.

LATOYA:  Yes, that also translates to pair programming. If you’re pair programming with someone and it’s someone who talks over people, they’re going to type over you. I don’t know of any person that’s experienced that.

CORALINE:  I have seen like, “Just give me the keyboard. Just let me do it.” A few years ago, I started going to an event called Ruby DCamp which is run by Evan Light. It’s a really wonderful experience. It’s in a campground, 76 people, I think, can attend because that’s how many bunks are in the cabins. The first day is a code retreat. With code retreat, what you do is you solve Conway’s Game of Life and you do it at about eight or nine times over the course of the day, each time with a different pair partner.

At the end of a 50-minute session of pair programming, you throw your code away and you start over with the next person. I think Corey Haines was actually the person who invented code retreat. The interesting thing about it is, with every round, new constraints are added. One of the first things you do is you can’t talk to your pair partner at all. You can’t communicate with them in any way, including typing at them.

So the kind of coordination and frankly, empathy that is required for pair programming with no talking is a really remarkable experience. Then we get into hostile pairing and ping-pong pairing and some other ways that sort of change interaction between your pair. But it’s amazing how when you take out the ability to interrupt someone, pair programming really improves.

JESSICA:  If you do this without speaking and very quietly, does that make you a ninja?

[Laughter]

LATOYA:  Oh, goodness graciousness.

SAM:  Oh, I hope not.

CORALINE:  Jessica, that’s an amazing segue into hiring ninjas.

SAM:  A ninja walks into a bar. No one noticed.

JESSICA:  Here at Greater Than Code, we don’t have real commercials because we are listener supported. We want to say thank you to our patrons. In particular today, we would like to thank Ryder Timberlake, from Indiana. Ryder, thank you for making Greater Than Code greater!

We also mentioned earlier… No, okay, I mentioned that changing the culture from one of interrupting to less interrupting and not talking over each other helps everyone and that’s also the case with improving your job postings because you’re not lowering the bar by doing that. You’re making it more welcoming to everyone and you don’t only help women and minorities. You help everyone feel welcome.

One of the things that I really liked about your article, LaToya was this isn’t just about the people in under-represented groups. It’s about anyone who empathizes with them.

LATOYA:  Yes, and it’s not even for the most part anyone who necessarily empathizes with them. I mean, yes, absolutely it is. But it’s like not everyone wants to work in that environment. Even if you are, as this gendered straight white male that doesn’t mean that you want to work in that environment. Some people are just like quiet, calm, getting work done, and going home at the end of the day and doing whatever they want, and not working 80-hour weeks.

SAM:  Actually, when I read your article, I really, really loved it and identified with it because for years, I’ve done pretty similar evaluation process where when I hear from a recruiter, I’ll go check out the company’s About Page and I’ll perform the count on at least the visible aspects that I can discern. I’ll look at their benefits page and if there’s three or more of beer, foosball, happy hour, and all those other bro-ey things, like I am literally not interested. I don’t want to bother. What interests me is people that are empathetic and get along with each other and are interested in writing good code, and beer is not a proxy for any of those things.

JESSICA:  I do want a feeling of belonging at work. But I don’t want it from hanging out and drinking with my coworkers. I want it from alignment on a meaningful work goal or at least, a productive work goal.

SAM:  Yeah.

CORALINE:  I talk to boot camp graduates a lot and I always get asked like, “How do you find a company that’s good? That not [inaudible].” I talk about values. I encourage especially newer developers to figure out what their values are in a professional sense, what things they value, and find a company that shares the same values, has that same alignment because they are going to be hiring people hopefully, who also align with those values.

The next question is, “How do I know?” I tell them, “The interview is a two-way process.” The interview is your opportunity to learn what is important to a company, what is important to your managers, what is important to the teammates? We have a lot of privilege as developers who are very mobile and not so much when you’re entry level, when you’re an early career developer but you can ask those questions. As you advance in your career, you can get better and better matches with your value system.

ASTRID:  I was one of those boot camp graduates that have that question about how to find the best place, whatever type of environment I really want to work in. One of the things that I have noticed over time that kind of wears on that is the ninja thing, like when you have something in your job ad that’s like everyone want to be a ninja. You know, I’m not a ninja when I’ve been coding for six months or a year or two years.

So I don’t know if that means I can learn here because does that mean that I have to be already amazing? Or is it okay if I’m a little bit amazing in some places but maybe other places, I want to grow. One of the things that sticks out to me as if you’re not talking about what types of things I can learn and grow at, when I’m working at this company then I feel like you only want somebody who’s been doing this for X number of years and they’re already super great and has like a million talks on YouTube that I can go find and you don’t look for somebody like me who’s actually really interested in trying to learn more things and really excited about wanting to contribute to a team.

I don’t really find that many jobs where it looks like you’re looking for somebody like me, especially when you start talking about ninjas, superheroes, and all the rest of it.

JESSICA:  The kind of ninja coder that I want to work with is the real ninja that you don’t even know they’re there because they’re not out there drinking beer with everyone or promoting themselves on Slack. They’re just getting stuff done and the code works better and you don’t even realize that they fixed it.

DAVID:  They set a sign, hung up in my cubicle that said, “The best coders I know make nasty shit disappear.”

[Laughter]

LATOYA:  Yeah, like I would personally rather be the ninja who is fixing people’s bugs in the background, which I think is super valuable and super important, than like talking a bunch in Slack, but also creating all the bugs for the ninja to fix.

CORALINE:  A very dear friend of mine, we were talking about bug fixing and she said that she loves fixing bugs because it’s a problem that someone else already failed at and therefore, it’s probably an interesting problem.

JESSICA:  Sam, I like your point about elves that I don’t want the silent ninja who slicing things but we want the elves who are working in the background and just making things smooth.

LATOYA:  I practice Muay Thai and that’s about as close to a ninja as you’re going to get. But other than that, I’m not what you’re looking for.

[Laughter]

JESSICA:  There you go. Save your ninja moves for the alley.

SAM:  These aren’t the ninjas you’re looking for.

CORALINE:  And to come back around to the values thing, what you were saying about not feeling maybe a job was a place where you could grow. If a company values growth and if they value investing in their developers, they should be saying that in their job ad. They should be saying, “We will mentor you. We will provide you with learning opportunities. We’ll send you to conferences.” Those are things that should be explicit. Those are benefits that are cultural and should be touted.

JESSICA:  I have a question for everybody. What is something that your company or coworkers or someone at work did that made you feel included, that was the opposite of the discouraging things we’ve been talking about?

SAM:  Honestly, the thing that comes to mind first is like I work from home and I am plus three hours from everybody else in my company. I’ve been isolated a lot these days and just having a coworker who actually is also a supporter, Chris Sass, reached out and say, “Hey, I haven’t talked to you in a while. Do you want to take some time and pair?” He was even willing to offset his schedule to match mine. I mean just that was really nice. It made me feel more connected to the rest of the people I work with.

CORALINE:  The last company I worked for before GitHub was a very small company out of Madison, Wisconsin called healthfinch. My first week there, I had a lot of meetings scheduled for on boarding and so on. And I noticed on my calendar, I had a meeting at 5:00 on Friday. I got really, really angry because I’m like, “Who in the world schedules a meeting for 5:00 on a Friday? That’s ridiculous.” And it was called ‘stand down’, and I’m like, “Oh, so it’s like a retrospective or something like that?” I was really annoyed.

So Friday at 5:00, it came around and I get on video chat and it’s my entire team just hanging out and just talking. Not about work, just like getting to know one another and talking about things that they’re going to do that weekend, sharing funny stories, sometimes even playing guitar. And it was just an opportunity for everyone who is remote to come together in a non-work situation and get to know each other better. That was really amazing and that’s something that I plan on bringing with me to every remote job that I ever have again.

ASTRID:  It’s really cool. I would say for me, as a newbie, it was being assigned real problems to work on, not just baby problems but like real problems. Then having senior developers come check in with me and see how I’m doing and see if I need any help. But not really treating me like I can’t do it.

LATOYA:  I think for me, when it comes to stand ups, I’m not the most talkative person. I’m more of like a one-on-one, quasi-introvert kind of person. So for me, I really appreciate it when someone who I’ve had a discussion with about a problem or about the way to solve it and I have to give credit where credit was due, “This is actually LaToya’s idea,” especially depending on the personality, they may not say as much when we’re in that group setting and I should probably speak up a little bit more. But it’s just nice to know that you’re included in that way.

JESSICA:  Yesterday, one of my teammates pinged me on Slack, “Hey, you look kind of sad in that meeting today. Are you okay?” That was cool.

CORALINE:  Wait a minute. You mean, developers have emotions, Jessica?

[Laughter]

JESSICA:  Yes. We are allowed to be sad.

ASTRID:  Men just aren’t supposed to have emotions.

SAM:  And rock stars, just have lots and lots of drugs.

CORALINE:  But no brown M&M’s.

[Laughter]

CORALINE:  I will give a shout out on the show to the first listener who tells me what that’s a reference to.

DAVID:  Sam, you said something a little while ago that I thought was absolutely fantastic. You said beer is not a proxy for something that you wanted. I really like that thought. I don’t have a problem with companies that say, “Come, be a rock star. Come, be a ninja. Come, be a robot. Come, be a pirate.” I don’t know what…

[Laughter]

DAVID:  They’re being silly. They’re being frivolous. They’re having fun and that’s great. I tend to be a little bit of a spaz and I like frivolous, fun, and adventurous. But when you say proxy, all of that kind of becomes meaningless. I don’t want ninjas as a proxy for diversity. I don’t want rock stars as a proxy for diversity. I don’t want foosball as a proxy for diversity. I think I would love to be on a team that was diverse and had foosball ninjas on it. I think that would be more fun, but not as a proxy. Does that make sense?

SAM:  Yeah, as you were talking, I found myself typing the word ‘signaling’ into the chat and I think signaling is really what’s going on here. When companies use words like ninja and rock star, or when they put pictures of dogs and foosball tables, what they’re doing is that they are signaling a certain kind of culture. I mean, really LaToya, that’s what you were complaining about in the first place with your Wired article?

LATOYA:  Yes, absolutely.

CORALINE:  I want to talk about signaling because I think signaling is one of those things that is understood by under-represented people in tech naturally and instinctively, and maybe not something that comes to mind for the majority. But signaling is a way that we can kind of, through a back channel, indicate to each other or an employer to a potential employee or an open source projects to a potential contributor that you are free, saved, and encouraged to bring your whole self to that situation.

DAVID:  Yeah.

JESSICA:  “Did you belong here?”

CORALINE:  Exactly. It’s a, “You belong here. We’re not going to belittle you. We’re not going to strip away things that make you unique. We’re going to celebrate you and engage you in every level.”

LATOYA:  Yeah, the thing is it’s like if you don’t conform to their sense of what your identity should be, you’re going to have a problem. It’s this signal that I get. Sometimes I wonder if it’s blatant. I mean, I’m confident that sometimes it’s blatant and sometimes they don’t want people who aren’t like them, for whatever reason. I think sometimes, by accidental, I think sometimes companies look at what’s working for other companies and they’re just like, “Okay, let’s kind of make our careers page like this super awesome Silicon Valley company is doing,” because they’re in Silicon Valley so they must be doing everything correctly, and that’s just not the case.

ASTRID:  Sometimes, there’s this cargo cult thing.

LATOYA:  Cargo cult thing? I’m not familiar.

JESSICA:  Oh, I love this phrase. This is probably a legend but whatever. Supposedly there was a tribe in the Pacific Islands that it was used as staging base for supplies in World War II or something and there were planes that would drop supplies there. There were troops manning the airfield and the troops would wave these lights around. Then the planes will drop the supplies there and the army would use the supplies or whatever. Supposedly, after the war was over, some of the people who lived on the island would get lights and wave them around in the hope that the plane would drop supplies. But it really just mean copying what other people are doing without knowing why they did it that way, just figuring, “Well, it works for them so it’ll work for me.”

LATOYA:  Got it.

JESSICA:  What if it makes sense to use really strong signals in a job ad because you’re trying to hire like one or two people and you don’t need to attract everyone mildly. You need to attract a few people strongly?

SAM:  That’s good marketing.

LATOYA:  It’s funny that you say marketing because in a sense, isn’t that what it is? You’re marketing to potential employees. So if you start to pass on marketing department, why not get with them and say, “Hey, what can we do to better attract someone who we’re looking for?”

For example, if you’re looking for more people of color, if you’re looking for women, then you make up a fake profile — this is a marketing thing that I’ve learned recently — and this person is like, “Oh, we want this woman named Samantha. She lives in Chicago. She has dog allergies.” You make a fake profile and then you base your marketing piece on what this person would want, and it would be so great if tech companies could just do that. But they can’t so that’s why I had to do something about it and I decided to create a job board. I’m not sure if this is a good time to segment into that or not.

CORALINE:  Of course.

JESSICA:  Job board! The job board!

LATOYA:  Once I wrote the Medium article, obviously, I had a ton of people contacting me and asking me what to look for in jobs, and then I also had companies contacting me, asking me how they can attract more diverse clients. At first, I was answering all the emails but I realize it’s hard to take a lot of my time. So I put up a job board for remote gigs, for people that are part of SheNomads community, which is again under-represented folks in tech and allies, who are looking for jobs, and companies that want to find them. It’s going really well and I’m super excited. It’s a lot of work because I do have to pre-vet the companies.

My thing is like, if the community as a whole has a set of problems while searching for jobs and your company is a representative of those problems, we probably don’t want to work for you. So I’m not going to endorse a company that has a problem with women or people of color or has bottles of champagne sitting around their office.

CORALINE:  LaToya, I am really curious how you actually carry out that vetting process?

LATOYA:  There’s two parts of this. I’m sure some of you or all of you are probably familiar with the Whisper network. For me, specifically, I do go to a lot of tech conferences and I talk to women. We always say there’s a meeting in the ladies room and that’s where the good stuff is happening. That’s where you find out what companies you should and shouldn’t work for.

I often reach out to women who are working at companies, or who have in the past so I’m not getting anyone who’s currently employed [inaudible] in trouble and kind of talk about their experience a little bit and see if anything comes out of that. A lot of companies actually let me know that it’s not a good fit because they don’t meet the minimum criteria, which is three things.

Number one, they have to have a commitment to diversity inclusion. Number two, they have to provide meaningful work, which is a subjective thing. I’m just saying that most people within the SheNomads community don’t want to work on the next [Tinder?]. Not that there’s anything wrong with [Tinder?] people who need dates or whatever. But it’s not something that people within the community seem to be interested in. The third thing is that they have to offer reasonable pay.

Every woman I’ve talked to at some point has been — not every woman. But a lot of women I’ve talked to at some point have been the lowest paid member of their team. They’re making less than the interns. They’re making less than someone who just came out of college and they have five or six years of experience and they’re leading the team and teaching. So we don’t want that.

Then sometimes they’ll say, “I’m sorry, we need to work on some of those things internally but we’re just not a good fit. This is not where we are yet,” which is an interesting thing to me because it makes the process really easy, and there’s always your careers page. You know, I can look at it and say, “Okay, you want to hire women,” but when they get there, they’re probably not going to last in this environment.

CORALINE:  Can we talk about pay for a minute? I see a lot of talk about pay. I’m on a Slack community called Women in Tech Chat and we actually have a talk page channel. I think, we have to credit Lauren Voswinkel for her work to surface conversations about equitable pay.

She started the #talkpay on Twitter and announce that on May 1st, in the International Workers’ Day, and I believe this was last year. She would be publicly discussing her job title, her experience and her salary, and she urge other people to do so as well.

A lot of people think that you cannot tell other people what you make but you can tell them what your salary is and I really think that that is a tool, that is a misconception that serves employers well. Especially, undervalued people in tech [inaudible].

ASTRID:  How do you know what you should be getting paid for what you’re doing?

CORALINE:  you have to talk to your peers.

ASTRID:  Well, then what happens if you don’t have peers?

LATOYA:  There’s a woman named Ashley Powell who did a fantastic talk at Write/Speak/Code and another fantastic talk at WindyCityRails. She offers three things that you should do. I’ll give her 100% credit for this but this is what I’ve done when I’ve negotiated salary.

First thing is use Google. Google ‘what does the average Rails or Ember or whatever engineer’ in your market. What are they making? You can use Indeed.com for that. The second thing is when recruiters contact you on LinkedIn, and they ask you to come work with them, you can say, “You know, I’m not looking right now. But I’m in the process of negotiating a salary with my current employer and I would like to know what you’re offering just so I can have a better idea.”

It’s a win-win because if they come with a number that’s a lot higher than your current employer, of course, you’re going to continue the conversation. They probably will but then at that point, obviously, look at things like company culture, look at things like the work that you’re doing because is ten grand worth it? Maybe or maybe not.

The third thing is as Coraline said, talk to your peers. I’ll ask everybody. I’m like, “What is your salary? How long have you been doing this? What’s the deal?” Because I want to know how I can get to your level. I can’t do that if I have a base line of contacts. I can’t do that if I’m not going out on a Friday night getting drunk with the guys, listening to them spill their salaries.

ASTRID:  We haven’t talked much about SheNomads. I want to know why you started it. I love that it’s about remote [inaudible] because I meet so many people who want to do that, me included. I feel like it’s unfortunate that there’s not more people who are working remotely because of what you have mentioned earlier about how you can do so many different things and it can be cheaper. What was the inspiration for it?

LATOYA:  The inspiration for it was this. When I took the job at Big Cartel, I knew that I was able to work remote and I told them that I wanted to travel when I was working. But I didn’t really know how, like how do I find a good flight deal? How do I decide if I want to stay in to a hostel or a hotel? How do I find other people that are traveling and working?

There’s this whole like digital nomad subculture of folks who have a lot of knowledge in that area and there are people working in tech that have also been working remotely for a while. So I said, “Hey, why don’t I start a podcast. This is a great way to pick people’s brains and learn what I need to learn.” It started off as a podcast and it’s kind of grown since then. But I’ve definitely learned a lot.

For example, I found out, through my podcast about a place called Surf Office in Lisbon. It’s a co-living co-working space and it’s famous of surfing. You know, it’s like a four-story building and people come from all over the world and they’re all working. They’re not on vacation and they’re there to work. So it’s really fascinating to see how the culture of remote work has changed through the people that are coming into the shared space.

For example, I met someone who was a videographer. Whatever country he lands a job and that’s just where he stays for months. He travels all over the world doing that. There were bloggers, there were other people working in the tech space as a software developers and it’s just such an interesting subculture.

I definitely think that remote work is about accessibility at its core. Not everyone wants to get on a crowded train and go to the city for an hour. Not everyone wants to work in an office with people. Some people have family members that they depend on so they need to be not necessarily in the same room with them. But they need to be home, while other family members are there just in case they need anything.

I think that like explain remote work in that sense — the sense of the accessibility is really interesting and important. I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to explore it in the sense of traveling and doing all these really cool things. People with disabilities, chemical sensitivity, social anxiety — I hate riding the train so much. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it so I can only imagine someone who has a social anxiety, that’s a barrier for them to get to work. They might take a good job where they know that they can work at home. But if they can’t find a remote engineering gag, then it’s a huge barrier for them.

JESSICA:  We got to the opposite of the team of people drinking beer around the foosball table. If you get to work remotely, you really get to be you. It gets to accommodate yourself.

LATOYA:  Yeah.

DAVID:  I don’t have anybody to play foosball with, though.

[Laughter]

LATOYA:  Do you even have a foosball table?

DAVID:  No.

CORALINE:  ‘Foosball with myself. Oh-oh, oh-oh’.

[Laughter]

JESSICA:  So really, they have automatic foosball tables by now that you can play against. This is a problem we can solve with technology.

SAM:  Foosball.com

CORALINE:  Jessica you just spawn a Silicon Valley startup for saying that out loud. Thank you a lot.

[Laughter]

DAVID:  They’re all busy. Let’s get some real work done.

JESSICA:  LaToya, how long have you been working remotely?

LATOYA:  I’ve been working remotely for a little over a year now.

JESSICA:  Would you ever go back?

LATOYA:  Never say never. I think right now, I’m very happy working remotely. I really love to do things like do my yoga, my kickboxing, hang out with my plants, my [inaudible] or whatever. I can’t do that at work. Can you imagine me coming to work with plants and my little crystals, wearing everyone out? No. You cannot. For me, and where I am in my lifestyle right now, it’s pretty important that I have the freedom to make my own schedule and work from home.

ASTRID:  One of the things that people say to me about working remotely is that they’re afraid that they’ll be lonely or they’ll be bored. So what would you say to somebody who told you that?

LATOYA:  When you’re working remotely, communication is very important. Very, very important. I think that whether via the Slack or HipChat or Google Hangouts, you’re going to have meetings. You’re going to have times where you need to talk to someone else. Like the company that I work at, if you’re pair programming, you’re just not going to get lonely because you’re interacting with someone the entire time.

Also, I always recommend that people lean towards companies that get the entire crew together, at least once a year because just having that additional face to face time, there’s something about it that makes you feel included and a little less lonely, even though you’re working by yourself.

JESSICA:  Yeah, I love meetups and like after a day at work, I’m too tired to go to programming meetup. But after a day of working by myself, I can do that social.

LATOYA:  Yes, I will say that there is a meetup called Women in Tech Wellness that I started in Chicago so if anyone listening is in Chicago and you want to go to a meetup and you want to interact with other folks in tech but you don’t want to write code, we meet once a month at Braintree. You don’t even have to bring your yoga mat because we supply them and there’s a fantastic yoga instructor then after we just talk.

JESSICA:  Awesome. Okay, so it’s time for another shout out. This week we want to take another minute to thank one of our $10-level Patreon, Kurtis Rainbolt-Greene. Kurtis is krainboltgreene on the Twitter and it is people like him that helped us in the position to bring you shows like this one. Thank you, Kurtis and thank you to all of our awesome contributors.

Now, for the takeaway. Dave wants to go first.

DAVID:  I really enjoyed this call today and the thing that I’m really going to takeaway and think about really hard is this notion of signaling. Hopefully, Mandy will embed this out of the podcast but I took two really awful stabs at trying to explain a concept that I was trying to tease apart here, and I couldn’t. That means, that I need to go think about it some more.

There’s a culture in every office situation and I think it’s worth sitting down and thinking about what kind of culture you project. I work at a company that is very white collar. We work in health care so it’s a little stuffier, people dress up a little bit more. There’s not as much ninja-rockstar-pirate-monkeying going on. I like that kind of atmosphere. I don’t have to have that in a place but it’s kind of nice and we definitely signal to certain people that you’re not going to be happy here, and other people, you definitely are, and I really like that. I really want to go and think seriously hard about how do we signal, where do we signal outside of work.

ASTRID:  My biggest takeaway is that I am not the only person who doesn’t like ninja stuff, even though I’m new to this, and that there are other people who kind of turned off by that too and it’s not everybody’s ideal version of a senior developer. But that’s actually really helpful for me.

CORALINE:  My favorite idea that came out of this, I really enjoyed talking with LaToya and hearing so much about your experiences and your perspectives. But the idea that is going to stick with me and that I’m going to try and do something with, is the idea of bringing marketing personas into the recruiting process. I think that is an amazing idea and could be so useful and could be such an amazing tool. I’m definitely taking that back with me and I’m going to talk to people at GitHub about whether or not we do that and if not, why not?

SAM:  For me, one of the main takeaways from this call is not anything that anybody said but a pattern that I’ve noticed, which is that Dave and I are the only two men in this call and I caught myself pretty early on in the episode doing that thing where I just say the next thing that comes into my head as soon as there’s a space to say it. I know that that’s the thing that causes me, especially, to try to dominate a conversation so I made an explicit effort to step back and let everybody else go. With having ADD, that’s kind of hard for me to do. But it was really valuable. It’s a skill that I think, more of our listeners should try to practice.

LATOYA:  One of my takeaways is that I really do appreciate what you all are doing. I think this information is so valuable, not only to the people that are in positions of power in the tech community. But for those who are new and coming in and don’t really know what to do. I just want to say thank you for my takeaway, for having this podcast, and doing what you do.

JESSICA:  My takeaway from this show is a sense of gratitude for being able to work remote and for the diversity of my team at Stripe. For the way at work, we can talk about these things. We talk about in Slack, whether we experience a sense of belonging and inclusion. Especially, the remote work, I’m going to do even more to promote that because I think it’s humane.

CORALINE:  So if you’re not a remote worker, if your work is not remote, I would challenge you to talk to your manager, talk to your team lead and see if you can work from home one day a week and see if you can introduce the idea of remote work and prove to them that you can still be effective, efficient, and productive member of your team, even though you’re not present in the office. So start talking about that.

SAM:  Oh, can I piggyback on that?

CORALINE:  Yeah, go for it.

SAM:  I have another challenge for you. If you are listening to this and you’re on a partially distributed team, where you’ve got a bunch of people in an office and maybe a few people out in satellite offices, or working from home, I would challenge you, especially, if you’re in a position of management to work from home yourself at least one day a week. So that you can build some empathy for what it’s like to be on the other side of those tools and that divide so that you can more effectively incorporate your more distributed teammates.

CORALINE:  Wonderful. Are we all done? Thank you everybody and this is podcast number three and I am so happy to be part of this. I think this is really wonderful. I think we’re doing some great work and I can’t wait to see what happens next time.

DAVID:  We are so close to reaching our goal of continuing to bring you twice monthly episodes. On Patreon, we’ve raised $723 of the $950 goal. Now, we’d like to bring you weekly episodes. So if you are someone or if you know someone we should talk to about company sponsorship opportunities, please get in touch. Or if you’re a dear listener that would like to support us, please visit Patreon.com/GreaterThanCode and that link will be in the show notes.

CORALINE:  I understand that we have transcriptions that are becoming available for our episodes now.

DAVID:  Yes, we have transcripts up now for Episodes 1 and 2. It’s very exciting.

SAM:  Yay! I love transcripts.

DAVID:  I love being able to Google a quote. I think somebody said this at some point and at Google, you can type in ‘site: GreaterThanCode.com’ and then the quote from the show and Google will take you to that episode. I love it.

CORALINE:  Also, I want to point out that we are on iTunes now. So if you prefer iTunes that’s your podcast source, you can search for Greater Than Code and we will appear there you can play it in iTunes.

SAM:  And thank you, Coraline, for making that happen.

CORALINE:  It was an ordeal. LaToya, thank you so much for coming on the show. We had a great conversation. I was really happy to be able to talk to you again and I had covered some great points and you’re a wonderful guest so thank you so much, and to our listeners, thank you and we will talk to you soon.

[End of podcast]

This episode was brought to you by the panelists and Patrons of >Code. To pledge your support and to join our awesome Slack community, visit patreon.com/greaterthancode. Managed and produced by @therubyrep of DevReps, LLC.

2 thoughts on “Episode 003: Hiring People For Diversity with LaToya Allen of SheNomads”

  1. Thanks for the show. I just became a patron.

    As for the reference, I’d google for “van halen brown m&m” 😉

  2. According to a friend who read David Lee Roth’s autobiography, the “No brown M&M’s” contract rider was kind of test that Van Halen’s road crew should double check the technical setup specified in the rest of contract. If the site crew were lax in the details for a bowl of M&Ms, they might have been lax in setting up more critical power, lights, sound elements required. It was rationalized as providing a consistent experience with a technically demanding show (they most popular band, drawing the largest crowds) in a wide variety venues, with a wide variety of resources available on site.

    Why brown? I’ve never heard an explanation, but I’m inclined that it was perhaps a reward for the person who took the time to filter them out of the bowl. Among M&M connoisseurs it’s well known that the brown ones are the best.

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