Addressing micro-inequalities with micro-justice

A recent piece at Medium.com supports my argument that the “girls-in-STEM-issue” is more complex than just getting more girls to like science in school. “If you think women in tech is just a pipeline problem, you haven’t been paying attention

It’s a very smart piece about this complex topic. I think the only thing I faintly disagree with is saying that “..leaders have to get rid of employees who engage in sexist or racist behavior” – I think that’s too late. It will be perceived as unfair and harsh, with bounceback attitudes that actually strengthen biases (“…women are too touchy – and now Joe lost his job…”).
I read an article the other day where a woman said every time she walked into the computer science building at college, people (nice well-meaning people) asked her if she was lost. Put yourself in her shoes. If you complain about that, it just sounds petty – but every time it happens it’s just another straw on the camel’s back that adds up to a clear message – you (and your ideas) aren’t welcome or wanted here.
Every woman I know has stories of the “micro inequalities” (NCWIT’s term) that add up to the feeling of not belonging.
The only thing I’ve seen work in the various workplaces I’ve been in is to strive to address ALL instances of sexist or racist behavior and language immediately and with fair, appropriate consequences.
In short, it takes vigilant leadership to create a consistent culture. For example, when meetings are fair, it’s because the expectation is that they are fair! Not sometimes fair, not that people apologize later, nor are things laughed off as being “no big deal”. The expectation is set every minute of every meeting – and especially not in some once a year “training”. Interruptions are not tolerated, language that denigrates anyone is corrected, and it happens in the moment. It’s too late if you only fix the headline-grabbing, egregious acts of discrimination.
The only solution to these “micro-inequalities” is “micro-justice”. Everyone at every level has to walk the talk and when incidents happen, no matter how small they are, no matter if they happen in the boardroom, the hallway, or the cafeteria, they must be handled in the moment with consistent corrections or restatements.
As far as how to do this, I just did a session at ISTE about Girls and STEM – collected a bunch of resources and am still working on writing up the gist of what I said. Slides and resources here.
One resource that I liked but didn’t have time to show at ISTE  (but I saved a summary of it in the slide deck, slides 29 & 30) – Top 10 Ways To Be a Male Advocate for Technical Women
I think we need to more actively recruit MEN into this by explicitly telling them what needs to change and what they can do. If we treat this as a “women problem”, men just think they should lean back and wait for women to “do something”. Men and women, boys and girls ALL need to be informed and empowered to do anything, and especially to know how to react to and fix the small things.
Consistent, caring cultures are built on “micro-justice” – fairly applied, consistently handled, and constantly reinforced both in words and deeds.


Also published on Medium.

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