I'm sorry (and know I'm being totally politically incorrect), but when is White Male Data Analyst Month? Or when is Muslim Data Analyst Month? Or when is Hearing-impaired Data Analyst Month? When is Recent Refugees that were rejected by Trump immigration policy Data Analyst Month? When is Autistic Data Analyst Month? When is Under 18-year-old Data Analyst Month? When is people with PTSD re-engaging in society through Data Analysis Month?
When are those data analysts affected by Gun Violence Month?
Do we actually have enough months in the year to dedicate each and every aggrieved demographic group a particular month? Don't get me wrong (you will of course), but I am not saying Women in Data shouldn't be celebrated. I'm just wondering (as I always do) why are we finding these separations so satisfying, and seemingly helpful? I suspect the actual answer to my question is that I've never walked a mile in a women's shoes -- data analyst or not.
But once you personally as a woman (and group of women) finally reach parity within this small sector of our economy, you will of course reach out and lift up all those other groups who are not proportionally represented in the data analysis industry, right? I wonder how Hispanics representation is in our industry. I wonder how Transgender representation is within our industry. I wonder if quadriplegics are adequately represented, and functionally accommodated in our industry? I especially wonder if the seeing-impaired population are proportionally represented in our industry.
I understand completely that women being shut out of our industry is a tragedy, and mostly attributable to mass social misogynie. I understand this does need to be addressed and corrected. What I don't understand is what then? At what point do we reach complete and total parity for all aggrieved groups? And does non-parity necessarily denote a systematic prejudice against any one group?
Pretty much hung myself on this one; I know.
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To my mind: There will never be a shortage of problems to fix. They rise to the public consciousness as advocates gain traction on bringing awareness to them. Our attention can't sustain all of them simultaneously, so some break into the limelight and get the attention they deserve, then fall back out again, only to be replaced by another. I would never argue that the worst societal problems are always addressed in order of severity or importance, or even that they're sufficiently addressed at all before they fall from the public consciousness. But progress is progress, so I'll embrace issues that do make "mass movement" level if they seem like a real problem that is truly worth solving. After many discussions with my wife, and hearing stories of other women, and seeing data on the problem, I'm convinced this one is.
Which of the issues you bring up as possibly being more important do you feel most passionately about solving, Shawn? Whichever it is, start advocating for it! Create a coalition, build a movement, do the good that you can.
Couldn't have put it better.
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I responded privately to Shawn's response several days ago and we had a conversation over email. Shawn graciously suggested that I make my initial email public, and after some thought I agreed. Here's what I wrote:
My wife has a background in diversity training so I’ve been learning from her (and sometimes the lessons have been really hard)…
I believe that the answer to your question “…but when is White Male Data Analyst Month?” is that *most every* month has effectively been “White Male Data Analyst Month”. The semi-invisible ocean of culture and society that we live, work, and play in is one where white males (usually rich white males) have called the shots, run the show, “made" history, etc. while the contributions of women and people of color have been actively discriminated against, ignored, or even worse claimed by white males. One recent example is that it was just the 64th anniversary of the discovery of DNA, only Watson and Crick’s work depended on the work of Rosalind Franklin who never got recognition for it in her lifetime.
Here’s a lesson I had to learn with regards to conversations: When I first met my wife I’d hang out with her and friends and we’d be talking and eventually she’d start giving me looks & nudging me because I was dominating the conversation. I’d get pissed off at her, then afterwards we’d have an argument because I thought I was just talking and she was trying to shut me down. What I eventually learned is that from an outsider’s view (or my wife’s) from a time perspective most of those “conversations” was me talking. I wasn’t doing my part to be listening or asking questions in the conversation. And I didn’t have the self-awareness to even notice that... This is an example of the “semi-invisible ocean” I described, where my “natural” assumption is/was that I get to talk and other people get to listen, and if they want to talk then they’ll “just” push back and talk themselves. I’ve had to learn that my assumptions are not shared by everyone, and they aren’t natural, they are a product of the culture I was brought up in.
Here’s another example of how we make the “white male” part invisible: Crime that primarily white men do doesn’t get “white male” attached. We talk about “mass shootings” generically when the vast majority of mass shootings are committed by white men, or “domestic violence” when it’s mostly white men who are committing the violence, or the “white collar crime” that is more like “white male crime”. Or to get gender-specific we talk about “murder” when really it’s men committing the vast majority of murders and other violent crimes. Whereas when we are talking about the bad stuff that women or other less-privileged groups do the bad stuff often gets labeled with that group, a couple of examples are “welfare queen”, “black on black violence”, etc. And those conversations don’t acknowledge the very real things that white men have done that have contributed to less privileged groups being in the socioeconomic situations they are in, some examples include redlining neighborhoods for mortgages, unequal funding of schools, and very real discrimination in jobs, housing, criminal sentencing, US congressional redistricting, etc.
Part of this cultural set-up is the notion that there’s a zero-sum game where a few people can be the “haves", and everyone else is a have-not. There’s another part that if you’re in the “haves” then you “deserve” to be a “have”, and if you’re a “have-not” then it must be some personal failure e.g. “You’re just not working hard enough,” or even defect of character e.g. “Those people are just lazy, those people don’t have the intelligence, etc.” In this zero-sum game structure people who aren’t white males who try to do what white males ordinarily do are looked at as taking away from white males, so white males get threatened and those people get labeled in many pejorative ways and treated badly to try to keep them in their place and not offend the social order. And part of the awful Stockholm syndrome-ish effect of this oppression is that every group gets set up into pecking orders of who gets to be on top and who is on the bottom.
In the town that I live in there’s been a history of that pecking order…first there were the English, then when the Irish came they were prejudiced against, and eventually they were “integrated”, then when the Italians immigrated they got to be prejudiced against, then after that came the French-Canadians where even in my parents’ youth for someone of non-French Canadian descent to date or marry a French-Canadian was frowned upon, and throughout that whole history African Americans have been prejudiced against and the existence of the native peoples’ who lived here before the English almost totally denied.
From a gender perspective here’s an example from my family: my mom is a smart woman from a well-off family and had good grades in school, yet when she was growing up she was told by her mom that the only reason to go to college was to find a good man to be her husband and take care of her while she took care of the house. She wasn’t encouraged to think of herself as a person on her own with her own agency, instead only to be the helpmate of some man. Yet that notion of my grandmother’s is biased because the timeframe in which women could “just” be homemakers comes out of the post-WWII environment where there was a large & growing segment of the US (in particular the white middle & upper class) where men could earn enough that their spouses didn’t have to work. Among the poorer class (including most minorities) women have pretty much always had to work.
Ok, one more story: The college I went to (WPI) is a science & engineering school, when I was there the male to female ratio was just about 5:1. Most of my female classmates had at least one story about some authority figure (parent, family member, teacher, guidance counselor, etc.) who told them that they shouldn’t pursue a career (or wouldn’t be successful) in science/engineering because they were female. How many women weren’t able to overcome that negativity and ended up not using their gifts and pursuing their passions? This happened in my lifetime, and given how slow culture changes I’d bet a lot of money that there are still people saying that to their daughters/students/etc. There’s been research in recent years on how boys and girls in classrooms get treated differently in subtle ways that leads to discrimination against girls, and there’s similar research on differential treatment based on race. Counteracting those more obvious and less obvious negative messages and actions takes effort.
Now one thing that some people say is something like “I don’t see color,” “I don’t see gender,” etc. To treat everyone equally is a wonderful thing, yet to say “I don’t see X” is typically also assuming that oneself will be treated equally, and that assumption is an assumption of privilege. The very real experience of many people is that they (and/or loved ones or community members) have not been treated equally. So even though person A might feel they can be blind to color or gender or whatever the person B they are relating with *can’t* be blind to that factor because they have to deal with the reality of discrimination they’ve experienced and/or do experience on an ongoing basis, and person A is in effect denying person B’s experience (which pisses off person B), and potentially not even acknowledging that there is something that A could do to help end the discrimination.
Here’s where I go with this:
- As white males we can acknowledge and recognize the real privileges that come from being a white male in a culture historically dominated by white males.
- *And* acknowledge the effects of other -isms and prejudices that have harmed us like classism, religious discrimination, etc. We can have both benefited from privilege and been a victim of other privilege at the same time.
- *And* acknowledge the prejudices we’ve accumulated over time and try to reduce them. For example I know I grew up middle-class and got taught some prejudice against poor people, I’ve had to work to get rid of that prejudice.
- *And* recognize the zero-sum game (or finite game) frame of reference and switch to an infinite gamehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finite_and_Infinite_Games frame of reference. At the end of your post you asked a set of questions about the “what then?”. I think that’s an example of the zero-sum game at work, as if the answer to the “what then” is going to be some sort of “parity" that detracts from what we (white males) have now. If we switch to an infinite frame of reference then the “what then?” is something that we can’t even imagine right now because it’s going to include the contributions of a whole bunch of less-privileged populations that we haven’t heard from and be more awesome than anything we could think of. From the infinite game perspective when we celebrate a historically less-privileged group we’re adding to our culture, not taking anything away.
- *And* ultimately be an ally to less-privileged groups by sharing our perspective with other white males. It’s for this reason that I decided to write this to you.