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Craig Agranoff

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How Discrimination Happens in Tech Today

Posted: 03/01/12 00:00

When you read about discrimination in the information technology workforce, you'll be reading about one of two things: about how one group of people is underrepresented in the workforce or how another group of people is funding themselves through programs that only benefit their group. Both stories are talking about discrimination, but only one of them is called discriminatory. The other? It's usually applauded as 'doing some good' or as helping a group of people who are underprivileged.

Yet if you read about them the way I just described them, you can see that both are discriminating. When a group is underrepresented in a field of work, it could be because of discrimination. When a group is banding together to exclude other groups in order to promote itself, that is clearly discrimination. Yet when the stories are printed, it's usually just the first thing that's mentioned as discriminatory. The second is usually applauded as a good thing.

Let's take a recent headline from popular tech blog TechCrunch (http://techcrunch.com/2011/12/21/no-boys-allowed-women-innovate-mobile-accelerator-is-just-for-women/ ) and then switch some of the words around. You tell me why it is that one choice of words is seen as discriminatory while another is not:

No Blacks Allowed: Asians Innovate Mobile Accelerator Is Just for Asians

No Women Allowed: Men Innovate Mobile Accelerator Is Just for Men

No Hispanics Allowed: Whites Innovate Mobile Accelerator Is Just for Whites

No Christians Allowed: Jews Innovate Mobile Accelerator Is Just for Jews

Any of these four headlines can be seen as discriminatory because of the way they're worded. After all, you're clearly telling one group that they aren't able to participate and that you're promoting another group over them. The original headline, 'No Boys Allowed: Women Innovate Mobile Accelerator Is Just for Women' was a story about a startup incubator group started by three women who want to help other women get their businesses going. There's nothing wrong with this: if you want to promote your group and do so by excluding all other groups, it should be your right to do so. But what if they'd been "white people" promoting only other "white people?" Would that change things for some reason?

Basically, my question is this: What's the difference between promoting, say, Jews as a group versus promoting whites as a group? Why is one considered worse than the other? I personally happen to be of Russian heritage, yet if I were to begin an incubator, my headline would read like this instead:

No Idiots Allowed: Good Ideas Innovate Mobile Accelerator Is Just for Good Ideas

Why? Because black, white, yellow, or red, I think everyone should have the same chance. Why do people put so much effort into creating groups and then telling others that they aren't invited? It seems to me that this behavior only creates more discrimination, not less. Does it matter which race, or religion cures cancer?

I think that what the world in general, but technology specifically, really needs is more innovation, not more group-making. Instead of putting all of this energy into being "black" or "Muslim" or "white" why not just put it into being "human"? That should be our New Years resolution.

 
 
 

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