Inclusion vs. Anti-Harassment

Last month I got a chance to “shape culture” in my new position as the Director of Programs at Heavybit. I was honestly pretty proud to work with my coworkers on our Inclusion Policy.

We chose to make our policy about “inclusion” instead of a “anti-harassment” because we think we can do better than the baseline of making our workplace a non-threatening and harassment-free space. It quite honestly disgusts me that anti-harassment policies are necessary, but my last post was about the consent in silence and I’d be pretty damn hypocritical if we didn’t put something in writing proactively.


I think the root cause of harassment isn’t just a series of shitty actions. It’s about broken thinking — that “others” are less or incomplete. An inclusion policy tells people that we don’t believe that. We want to surround ourselves with as many smart people as possible and we believe that traditionally marginalized groups can and are contributing to a greater body of knowledge and work. If you’re optimizing for awesome, then narrowing to a homogenous pool is illogical. It’s not about welcoming people despite their differences, it’s about honoring those differences/experiences as valid and useful to the company experience we want to design.

This isn’t just a social justice or identity politics issue — an inclusion policy cuts out the broken thinking and actions that lead to harassment while at the same time establishing the best possible cabal of bad ass allies and friends.

I’ll be real — I’m a woman of color with absolutely no Ivy League pedigree and a slight chip on my shoulder. The more “others” I get in the building, the more comfortable I feel. And the more comfortable I feel, the more productive I become.

The Consent in Silence: What Tech Companies Can do to Prevent Violence and Bullying

At the moment there’s some really serious talk about tech leaders and their connections to domestic violence and bullying. I have no interest in discussing these cases nor do I have any insider knowledge, but I do want to talk about early intervention.

It shouldn’t take this level of disaster to remember that the world isn’t a perfect bubble of safety and supportiveness. Responsible companies should get proactive.

If we believe that technology should be accessible and built for real users, then perhaps our companies should be designed for a diverse group of employees. This means two things:

  1. That employees feel empowered to be the eyes on the street; and,
  2. That we prioritize safe spaces (and put grownups in charge of consistent enforcement).

Berkman Fellow and Microsoft’s Principal Researcher danah boyd just wrote, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. In it she discusses urban theorist Jane Jacobs’ theory of the “Eyes on the Street”. The theory is that the safest streets are those where a thriving community deters crime, vandalism and neglect. It’s not far off from Linus’ Law where “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”

For the last decade, boyd has applied Jacobs’ theory to the role of social media communities in identifying warning signs amongst at-risk and suicidal youth. In other words, she believes that the average online Good Samaritan can prevent crisis simply by identifying and reaching out to those in need.

So what are the early warning signs to prevent workplace misconduct or domestic abuse? And how many employees know what to do in the wake of witnessing either of these things? (My guess is not many.)

In Lord of the Flies, a group of school boys are shipwrecked on an island and govern themselves with disastrous results. This is what it’s like in some startups. For whatever reason, a number of tech companies forgo formal HR leadership and policies. Although unintentional, this lack of clarity can come with serious consequences.

Without explicit policies, employees might be confused about what to do in instances of bullying, harassment etc. This confusion, coupled with a potential risk to their own careers, creates a chilling effect. As a result, witnesses are tempted to ignore bad behavior. And unfortunately, this collective silence is interpreted as consent.

What might begin as a single person’s bad behavior or poor judgement, can escalate into a corporate culture that excludes or hurts valuable team members.

Here are a number of generic tips for friends and family members to help those they suspect are being abused. Instead of pretending violence is isolated between a victim and an assailant, companies can use tips like these as a starting point to design their own action plans and discuss them with staff members.

In light of recent events, I’m hoping that more startups work to make employees feel safe, supported, and empowered to do the right thing. And let’s be crystal clear: As neighbors and colleagues, the right thing to do for each other when bad things are happening, is to intervene. Period.

Instead of being the silent bystander or the judgmental peanut gallery, let’s build inclusive companies and be the eyes on the street.
SF Local: Tech and the Politics of the Free Lunch

The tech industry is being demonized for what many describe as its “Ivory Tower syndrome” and in some cases, rightly so. There are a number of companies who haven’t made good on their Community Benefit Agreements despite looking for their Central Market and Tenderloin tax exclusions. Apart from Zendesk, the vast majority of those applying, are missing the mark. And it’s all about procurement.

One of the indicators of community contribution is sourcing vendors and caterers from within the neighborhood. But to get around this, some companies are using a 1 mile radius of their business as their cut off. Because San Francisco is tiny, 1 mile from a Tenderloin business includes caterers in SOMA, Hayes Valley, Japan Town, Union Square, Pacific Heights and the Financial District. So apparently the free lunch is rife with politics.

While it certainly doesn’t solve a housing crisis, Ellis Act evictions, and wage disparity, it is good to spend money with neighborhood businesses. If you’re working in what realtors are calling “New Market”, please try to source your caterers and vendors from the area.
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