Diversity and Inclusion in Tech. Who bears responsibility?


Benjamin Bryant

Job title

Developer Advocate




DevRelCon Prague 2022

In this talk from DevRelCon Prague 2022, Benjamin looks at how people both shirk and assume responsibility for diversity and inclusion in tech, and how those responsibilities can change based on the position that person is in. To illustrate his points, he draws on interviews and real life accounts of groups of people, abstracted into entities known as ‘The Company, The Majority, and The Marginalised’.

Developer Relations is almost synonymous with community. Whether it is intentional or not, a person’s actions can define who feels welcome and what behaviour is tolerated at a company or organisation. Being able to recognise bias, expanding awareness, and being open to learning from mistakes are key to understanding what it might take to improve the awareness and inclusivity of a community.

Benjamin argues that, with this topic, it is very easy to pass the buck, and it isn’t hard to justify doing so. Yes, you don’t have to do everything, but everybody can do something, no matter how small or big it may seem. You will leave this talk feeling enlightened!

Key Takeways

  • People either ignore or take on responsibility for diversity and inclusion in tech, depending on their circumstances.
  • Regardless of intentions, actions determine who feels welcome in the workplace and the kind of behaviour tolerated. 
  • The key to improving awareness and inclusivity of a community lies in having the ability to recognise any bias, being open and expanding awareness. 
  • Nobody is expected to fight every battle, but each person can do their part to raise awareness of bias, prejudice and a lack of inclusivity, starting with little steps.


Benjamin’s talk

Watch Benjamin’s talk on YouTube



Benjamin: So, welcome to my talk – Diversity and Inclusion in Tech: Who Bears Responsibility? So, first thing I want to quickly state is that you might see me rock side to side a bit while I’m doing this. I assure you that’s simply because I’m brimming with confidence. I’m a go developer advocate at JetBrains. I also organise the London Gophers meetup and I’ve been in tech for around four to five years. And so, a small preface about myself. This is kind of like an exploratory talk as I’m going to be going over the past three to four months of my journey, and that’s basically what’s going to be happening, so there won’t be too many answers within this talk. And so we’ll start in the place where I think most big life-changing discoveries happen, and that is at a McDonald’s near St. Paul’s.

Giving Feedback On Diversity Red Flags

And so, I was talking with a friend, and they had just conducted an engineering manager interview. They noticed in this interview, there was a red flag, and this red flag was that the candidate only used male terminology when referring to engineers. And so, in the discussion session afterwards, they decided there were a few other red flags, but they decided not to move forward with the candidate. And so I asked my friend in the feedback, did you let the candidate know? And then my friend said, no. And so, hold onto your initial reaction to that, because this is the scenario that I pitched to around 15 to 20 people to try and get an understanding of what they would do in that situation, and reasons for yes as well as reasons for no. And so, I basically just asked them, would you let them know? And then that was the scenario.

Reasons For No

And so reasons for no, a big reason was the idea of fallout. You don’t know who you are dealing with in an interview and reactions in this space can go from passive to the extreme. Someone basically told me a story about how someone’s given feedback about this and ended up going after a person who they thought was the responsibility for it, but it turns out it was the wrong person. And so there’s lots of perceived dangers when it comes to giving this kind of feedback, if there’s no support around you. Another thing that people brought up was the idea that if they know they can hide better, in the idea that if someone is very clearly showing biases and you have different spaces that you’re trying to protect, if this person isn’t reminded of like what they can do, then that means that this other place might be able to spot them easily as well.

And another story that someone shared is that an engineer manager told them that they learned what they needed to say, and they didn’t actually care about it. And this is someone who is in charge of promoting people and also in charge of interviews. So it could be quite dangerous if someone is let in and is just pretending. Another idea was that it isn’t the company’s responsibility to inform. And there was stuff here, but I will try and remember it. And so I guess I’ll first say, so they were saying it isn’t the company’s responsibility to inform in the sense that the company wants to hire someone who already fits the bill, and they don’t really want to waste time trying to educate someone who isn’t going to be part of the company anyway, so then what’s the use?

Reasons For Yes

But then there were reasons for yes. One big reason for yes was the idea that the candidate deserves to know. And so the idea was that, even when I gave these people reasons for no, they said, regardless, even if the reaction is extreme, there’s a chance you might be able to affect a change in someone. And so that means that they deserve to have feedback. Another idea is, what if it was a mistake? There’s a chance that this person might not be an insidious figure who’s trying to join solely to screw over people who they don’t like, but this is what they’ve grown up with, this is what they’re saying. And there’s also the idea of gendered language, in the sense that many languages are gendered. And so if someone is new to English, they might not even realise that what they’re saying is wrong. So maybe there’s a chance you could be more lenient in that case.

And another one was the idea that it’s the company’s responsibility to inform. I think what I wrote was the idea that essentially if you want to create a space that is both diverse and inclusive, and there are people who are afraid of giving this feedback to the candidate, why is that? Is your space not particularly safe enough? Do you want to advocate beyond your own space, or are you just trying to keep it where it is? And so it feels like it should be the company who could take responsibility for that.

Responsibility for Creating and Building Awareness

As the investigation went on, I would use arguments from previous conversations to combat viewpoints and strengthen the discussion. A recurrent theme was the idea of responsibility. The discussions grew beyond the scenario and delved into whose responsibility it is to create and build awareness. If someone is unaware of something, whose job is it to inform them? And so for the next section, I basically abstracted the discussion into three responsibility groups: the company, the majority, and the marginalised. And I attempt to argue the perspective of those groups using the collective viewpoints of those who I spoke to. And the reason why it was like this is because I feel this can be applied to many different groups. So the question was, whose responsibility is it? So we’ll start arguing from the purpose of the company.

The Company

Should the company take responsibility? Well the company could, again, as I mentioned, argue no, because why is it up to the company to educate candidate inclusivity? The company would prefer to hire someone who already displays those traits and it’s riskier to bring on someone into a management role who may already harbour those biases to certain employees, and surely the candidate should already know. And there’s the cost involved if you want to educate every single person who tries to enter your doors. 

The Majority

So the next would be, should the majority take responsibility? Well again, they could say no. And as controversial as this may sound, technically the majority doesn’t really have to. The privilege of this position is that you don’t really have to do anything. In this scenario, the candidate could easily move onto a different interview process, where the members of the majority are the only ones who interview them, and likely won’t be able to see the biases or the same biases or red flags.

The candidate can carry on as they always have. You don’t really need to know the plights of the marginalised, and depending on how you build your circle, you never need to hear about it. And if occasionally it’s ever brought up, you can pass on the responsibility to others without there being any negative effects on you. And if you aren’t exposed to any of these things, can you be blamed for not knowing about it? And if there were any changes that made things more diverse or inclusive, the worst case scenario for the majority is equality, which isn’t all that bad really. And additionally there are benefits to keeping the power in ballots because, well, you would have power. 

The Marginalised

So should the marginalised take responsibility? Again, you could argue no because why does it have to be the marginalised every single time? They weren’t responsible for the circumstances of their birth, but now they need to know, learn and research all of this additional information as well as constantly struggle just to be considered to be on the same level as the majority. And even then the majority can overlook and ridicule the marginalised by speaking up. It can paint a target on their back to be harassed, and to be torn down simply for wanting to be treated the same. 

So why is it always on the marginalised to inform the majority of the same things over and over and over again? Especially when it’s potentially dangerous to do so? Are the majority incapable of learning by themselves? Are they incapable of helping, or are they being willfully ignorant? Or does the majority simply not care? So we spelled out a bit of a conundrum because, using these arguments I gathered from these different people, it was possible for anyone in any position to justify not doing anything in regards to diversity and inclusion.

How The Marginalised Can Take Responsibility

And so the next question is, why is it that people still choose to try? If it’s easy to not do anything, why do people still try? So, how do you take responsibility? People choose to try because they see an unfairness in the system and then make the choice to rectify it. And this next section covers some of the different ways people try to take responsibility and take action when raising awareness. So the question is how the marginalised could take responsibility. 

Sharing Experiences

A lot of people suggested the idea, and this was a very powerful one, it was about sharing experiences. There have been many examples of someone sharing an experience that they were unsure of, only to find that they weren’t the only ones to experience it and it turned out many others had gone through similar things. The fear here is depending on where you share your experience, there could be backlash and not everyone can have the strength to fight against it, at least not alone.

And while going and talking to different people in these interviews, it kind of felt for some of the people I talked to that was literally the first time they shared anything about what had happened to them during their journeys through tech. 

Building A Support Network

And so when it comes to not fighting alone, the next thing is the idea of building a support network. Yesterday we had a really good example about the female professionals league inside of the music industry. Sorry if I got the name wrong, but that’s a brilliant example. It’s easy to feel like you’re on your own if you’re the only person like you that you know. One positive of the internet is that it’s made it easier to find others who are in the same situation and connect with them. If these communities don’t exist, they can be built. And having a space where you can share experiences without fear of reprisal, or meet others who are further along than you, is incredibly valuable.

Eventually you may even become an inspiration for others, and a voice can become stronger and unified, which is useful for this next part, which is the idea of standing up. 

Standing Up

If you want change, you have to let people know about it, and sometimes it has to be loud. However, this is one of the most difficult ones to do due to there always most likely being arguments and backlash. Hence why having the support and having a place to share experiences can be so valuable. The idea of standing up sounds really large, but standing up can be as small as correcting a friend, or it can be as large as trying to hide something inside an organisation.

How The Majority Can Take Responsibility

Make The Choice To Be More Aware

And so the next step is talking about how the majority could take responsibility. Next, is a good idea of making the choice to be more aware. There are books, essays, research, a lot of stuff is already out there. And though you can’t live the same experience as the marginalised, you can choose to take the time to learn about it. Listen to those that are in your life, learn from those that are in the community, and by having an increased understanding of what’s going on with people around you, you may make a better ally and be able to fight with them through their struggles.

Speaking Up and Showing Support

So, next one is the idea of speaking up and showing support. It’s very easy to say that it’s not your fight, so why bother? But more often than not, by being a member of the majority, your words may hold more weight to the majority and the backlash might be less severe. And you can be the person who speaks up with the one other person in the room who feels like they have to speak up. 

Make Mistakes and Grow From Them

And the next one is the idea of accepting that you will make mistakes and grow from them. A lot of people who I talk to, who are part of the majority, were worried about trying to help, but doing the wrong thing. Ultimately deciding that it’s safer not to do anything or to pass on the responsibility to others. And I suppose, if you make a mistake, you can’t, you use it as an opportunity to grow. You can listen, you can try, you can fail, you can learn, you can try again. And if you are generally someone who wants to help, are you really going to give up at the first hurdle?

For example, this would be me. This is my first time writing an article like this, and it’s the first time I’ve turned that article into a talk. I, a hundred per cent, guarantee there’s a chance I’ve missed something, and I could say something that’s either offensive or incorrect, but how else am I supposed to know without giving it a shot?

How The Company Can Take Responsibility

Build an environment that allows for safe discussion and support

And so now we move on to part three, how the company could take responsibility. Next is building an environment that allows for safe discussion and support. Having an environment that allows the marginalised the ability to speak freely about fear of reprisal, or overtly negative reactions. This can help foster discussion and allow for previously hidden viewpoints to be displayed. And this could help with widening perspectives and perhaps alerting those in the majority of their potential biases, as well as ways they could help. An example is that two people who I spoke to had very similar stories, in the sense that they try to help someone who was being isolated by their team, or overlooked by their team.

We’ll call them ‘Bob’ and ‘Alice’. In Bob’s case, in the company surrounding him, there was no help at all, and so he had to essentially try for months to talk to the manager about how this person was feeling. Eventually he ended up leaving the company, but he didn’t know what eventually happened with that person. Whereas in Alice’s case, when this isolated person came through and spoke to her, she knew that she could go to the manager. That manager then went to the tech leadership, and then they went through and plucked this person out of that group and moved them to another team. They then went back, and there are consequences for that team for creating that environment, which leads to not tolerating intolerance.

Paradoxical, but, as mentioned above, there is a reason the majority would want to keep the status quo the same as it’s now. Why rebalance power if you have it? But there needs to be a level of confidence that there will be consequences to a person who acts in an inappropriate or abrasive manner. If they can remain and act in the same way even after being reported, what’s the point? And if you ever have a situation where someone is reported and nothing happens, and that person can remain, that can really damage your community beyond repair.

Show Your Support Openly

The final one in this section would be to show your support openly. Actions speak louder than words, so why not do both? There is the common idea that companies want to be diverse and inclusive, but no one who checks the box of a diverse or inclusive person seems to apply.

There aren’t any, so what can we do? And the question is do you know why you want your company to be diverse and inclusive? Do you generally care beyond simply meeting a quota? Do you help fund programs or support communities that assist those that are marginalised? Can you look upon your hiring processes where you source candidates, your company environment and management structure, your company benefits and the agency of your employees towards these matters and say that your company is an inclusive space? And do you share any of what you do beyond your own spaces? If you’re able to show your working and the results are still the same, the fact that you are able to show your working is a lot more than most. And perhaps people could offer advice as you could be doing things in the wrong way. If you’re actively assisting the marginalised community, even if your workplace is solely the majority, you wouldn’t need to worry about simply wanting to hire the marginalised, help tick a societal box – a box that only exists because of the many people who suffered and struggled to get society to that point.

Should You Let A Candidate Know About A Diversity Red Flag?

So now the question is kind of on me. Would I let the candidate know? Well, before touching on that, I have to go over why I asked my friend the question in the first place. when she mentioned that, that was the first time I’d ever heard about it. And I realised that I didn’t actually know too much about this subject at all to be honest. And so, yes, but I also didn’t consider the many reasons someone would or wouldn’t want to tell the candidate because of my own biases towards this scenario. I saw myself as the candidate and I knew that if I’d gone through interview processes, and I didn’t realise I was doing this, I would generally want to know, because at least I know with myself I’d want to change. But that isn’t the case for everyone.

Still, I can’t deny that being informed of this scenario even passively has led me to hours of conversation and discussion, simply gathering different viewpoints on something that at first seemed as simple yes or no. And if it hadn’t been for that late night conversation, how long can I have gone without thinking about this, and how long have I currently gone without thinking about something else that I don’t know about right now? And when will I take responsibility for that? And is there anything stopping me?

It’s The Little Things, Constantly

And so now we are on to chapter three. It’s the little things constantly. So we restarted London Gophers after the pandemic and um, it’s just like a little go community in London where we meet up and do go stuff. And so basically this picture is what I used to do, as in I would take one panoramic photo, we put it on Twitter, I did it.

Reaching Out

But the thing is this is meant to be like my kind of perspective prior to going through all these conversations, because after discussing with all these people, I decided to write a small hit piece on my own meetup to try and analyse what parts of it might not actually be as fair as we thought it was. And so, we’ve actually started doing different things. We’ve gone out and basically reached out to different communities to try and understand what they’re doing because, one I’m kind of new as a community organisation, but I also just wanted to figure out ways we can help. Maybe there are ways we can hang out together or that kind of stuff. Maybe there’s a way we can team up and all that kind of thing, or maybe there’s a way we can share or help grow speakers and things along that line.

Be Open With Communications

And then we also started being more open with our communications. Every time we do our meetup we basically have the go community conduct read out at the beginning, every single time. Previously we had it, but it was in the description of the meetup page, and we figured out by talking to some people, people didn’t even realise it existed. Whereas to us we were like: ‘Oh, it’s there, it’s easy to find’, but we hadn’t really thought about it. And we wanted to refurbish our website, it might take a while because we’re not front end developers, but we’ll figure it out. We want to refurbish our website so it’s a place where people can go with information, because right now it’s out of date and it is probably affecting people’s ability to communicate with us.

Priority Queuing System

And we also introduced this new priority queuing system where we reserve 20% of our attendee spots for people who are underrepresented or overlooked in tech. When we first started, we had around 14 or 20 slots filled, but now we have 20 slots filled. I think before that we would’ve had maybe five or six who would be part of that group, and it kind of showed that what was missing was opportunity within our meetup. So that’s just kind of what we started doing. And then what I do now is I go around and take collage photos. I’m trying to use this as a representation of perhaps my change of perspective, when I feel like this is probably more the standard I want to try and hit, as opposed to just doing the panoramic shot, because I kind of focus on all the different people here, and I guarantee every single person here would have a story that would lead them to have a different opinion on the scenario that I said at the beginning of the tale.

Opening Your Mind To New Topics And Ideas

And obviously there’s still a way to go. Four minutes in fact! That’s what this slide’s for. And so basically, I wanted to talk about how while going through this it kind of opened me into a bunch of different topics and ideas that I hadn’t really thought about, just because of everyone who I was talking to. I’ll do some very slight ones, like the idea of what drives someone to act, like having support behind you can make you more likely to report things as opposed to if you feel there’s no support, you’re probably not going to do anything because you feel nothing would happen, and then you feel there’s more backlash on you. I was introduced to the word ‘intersectionality’, which I guess is a short descriptor. If people don’t know what that is, it’s like I’m black, but I’m also a man. So in different areas I’d have different power. But then it goes further to dialect as an example. How I speak currently could actually change my power dynamic in comparison to someone who is like me but speaks differently. And it’s a lot more of a deeper topic.

And another one I want to hit is the idea of my university experience versus my mother’s, in the sense that she did computer science at uni. I didn’t know, so I apparently have followed her without realising it. I started talking about this and she mentioned that she’d done some, but her experience is that she said that she wasn’t good at it. Then when I asked her to go deeper into what had happened in her university experience, she was kind of on her own for most of it.

In comparison to me, I guess I felt freer to just talk to everyone, mainly the smart kids, in order to try and get through uni need much easier. It was just interesting that it popped up. But the other things are much deeper. I have to go. And so, it has been fun, but there’s one last thing that I wrote in my original article that I just want to read now. I think I still stand by the words, and so I’ll just read it. And so, as mentioned at the start, there is no real purpose to the talk, because, to get down to brass tacks, I would prefer a more equal society, because, you know, I would say that wouldn’t I?

But I’d never really done anything to try and usher in such a thing before. And, just as a quick caveat, nobody I spoke to had particularly extreme viewpoints because I keep company I enjoy hanging out with, and so most of the people who raised these opinions raised them through the lens of people who had given this topic at least a level of thought.

Doing Your Part

And so I guess with diversity, inclusion and ultimately equality, at each step there’ll be those that try to affect a change in one way, and those that try to affect a change in another. And depending where you are on the scales, the responsibility you have can shift. However, at all levels you can choose to take responsibility, and you can do your part. It’s easy to pass on the buck to others, especially if you’re not affected by it. And yes, not every single battle needs to be fought by you, but conversely, you don’t have to fight these battles alone. And if a fight shows up, however big or small it may be, and you can fight, and you want to, what will you do? For me? Well that’s up to me. Just like whatever you choose to do is up to you. Thanks all.


Presenter: Thank you so much. That was a great talk. I actually really enjoy what you said about not being afraid of making mistakes because that’s what we grow from. And I feel like that’s something that we could do quite well professionally, but not so well personally, which is kind of funny. We’ll take three questions.

Audience member 1: Hi. Thanks for your talk. I had a very interesting experience because I organised a meet up for my previous company, Badu. And, it was like 90% men and 10% women. When we posted the photos after the meet up, we had several very negative comments about the diversity. But the thing is, there was no queue of girls who wanted to attend this meetup. So, for example, in JavaScript meetups, it is like maybe 50/50. How can a company respond to these kinds of comments, and how can a company change the proportions? Thanks.

Benjamin: Okay. I feel we had something similar, but I’m not a company, so I guess people are more lenient to meetups in this regard. We had a comment that mentioned that in one of our photos we didn’t have too many women engineers inside of it. And so I think that’s why we kind of moved on to the idea of trying to show our working a tiny bit, by having different things that we were doing. Well, one, we responded to the comments explaining that we were working towards doing stuff, but then we also did the stuff we were going to do, and we also posted publicly about the changes we were making in order to try and make our place more welcoming. I think at that point in time, I mean that’s when I wrote the hit piece on myself, I don’t think we were, but we thought we were.

And I actually went out and talked to a number of the people who had attended the event and, as well as other people in my life who’ve gone to tech events, about how they felt. I also actually know, even in the article itself, I asked someone an open question that was kind of like, if you haven’t been to our meetup before and you take a look at our pages and take a look at who we are, how do you feel about it? And I actually got some responses about ways we might be able to change it a tiny bit. And that’s also kind of why we changed our banner recently, because one of the feedbacks was that our original banner was, I guess it was kind of scary because, well, it was like 300 dudes in one room staring at the camera. And so I think some people were like: ‘Ah, that’s a bit scary’. And so, we kind of switched to having pictures that highlight our gophers, highlight our event, and also highlight how to contact us. We still have to see if that helps or so on and so forth. But that’s just, you know, taking steps. Thanks.

Presenter: Another question.

Audience member 2: So I want to highlight one of my own experiences trying to stand up. I’m not really sure how to summarise it exactly, but when the only people to raise concerns to are white men, they die so quickly. I worked for a company where there were a lot of concerns around sexism and racism and the hiring practices and the promoting practices, but because the upper level was almost entirely white men those concerns were dismissed, because we had a companywide policy of being diverse, equitable, and inclusive. So how could this possibly be, in this one particular instance, a case of sexism or racism? It would just be summarily dismissed, right? As a result, so many people left. It was really quite sad. But I think when we talk about standing up, we also have to recognise the power structures at the top of the company, and we need to be mindful I think about how we build those things. And I’m curious to see, as the organiser of a meetup, and as an employee at a company, how have your experiences been in having these communications with higher ups, or being the higher up for that matter.

Benjamin: Not great!

Audience member 2: Maybe I should ask; do you have actionable advice?

Benjamin: Oh, actionable advice.

Audience member 2: Can I say more to put you on the spot?

Benjamin: Let’s redo the question. What do you do if, say, for example, you want to stand up, but your C-suite doesn’t care? And that one’s kind of tough, because other than trying to reiterate the message, or trying to get through to those people, then they have the power in that situation. As I mentioned, they’re the company and they essentially have built an environment where people can’t flourish and people can’t grow. I have spoken to someone where this kind of happened, where they had a diversity inclusive workshop, but then when the big boys got in to try and learn some stuff, they shut it down because they got offended. And so it ended up that a lot of people, as you mentioned, headed out. Unfortunately that in a way is a version of standing up, as in if you can’t get further in that organisation and they’re treating you badly, leaving is an action kind of thing. I mean obviously it’s not a winning action, but it might tank the company, so in a way that’s kind of winning?

I kind of did a presentation about how I felt about the interview process to the entire tech org. And although there was some movement in terms of: ‘Oh, that was really good, congratulations for saying all this’ kind of stuff, when later conversations happened, I was kind of like: ‘It’s probably not going to move any further than what it is now’. And I did, eventually, I love leaving, so apologies.

Audience member 3: I’m a very big advocate for diversity in women in tech, and in multiple companies that I’ve been in, I have tried to lead and make changes and get people to do stuff. And you know, in terms of the actionable advice, there was one thing that I tried to get our engineering department at least to do, and I couldn’t get them to do it. I was like: ‘If everyone just, some of the sales engineers or field engineers or whatever, just finds a local diverse group. They exist. They’re all over the place. You can just literally Google them. Just offer to go out and speak about the technology. Chances are you’ll find talent that way, or you know, whatever, reach out to those groups’. I feel like it’s everybody’s responsibility, you know, and I’m just thinking about what you could actually do to get people to do something about it? Can you create an actual plan, and what would it be?

Benjamin: Well, I had one thing I said at one point that might not be relevant. There’s this phrase you can ‘bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’. But there’s also the idea of, you know, but you can bring a horse to water. What it chooses to do is kind of up to it, but you did the work of bringing people over to that point. And I guess in the idea of speaking to diverse groups, there’s also the idea of speaking in general. I think there’s lots of talks here about how people feel nervous about the idea of speaking. I think you mentioned the idea of lowering the bar to entry, and perhaps if there was a way to lower the bar so that people feel like they can enact change, that might help. But again, I don’t know how to do that, unfortunately.

Got it. Alright. So what she said is that you can maybe start by convincing people to post in a diverse group what they do. So that’s not as big as walking on stage and saying something in front of people. It just starts with a small step, and then I think they’ll talk about reinforcing small steps, and then maybe it’ll grow into something else later.

See more from DevRelCon Prague 2022 here

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