Over the last weeks & months, I’ve had an increasing number of conversations with folks on the topics of diversity, inclusion, equality, and justice. These discussions we have with coworkers, members of the data community, family and friends are all valuable, and help us look at life in a different, more inclusive way.
I’m asking the entire data community to be an ally. I’m asking you to write to PASS to push them to be a better ally, especially for LGBTQ folks and Black folks who PASS has failed to support in the past.
Diverse communities are vibrant communities
Diversity is important in a community, whether you’re talking about the town you live, the place you work, or a virtual community. There have been academic studies on the topic, articles from business magazines and even The World Bank. Diverse backgrounds and experiences mean that the individuals that make up an organization bring with them different and unique perspectives when solving problems. Without diversity, everyone shares a common background; this can result in an echo chamber where popular ideas win, rather than good ideas.
We build diverse communities by including others, by making them feel welcome. Inclusion is the ability to bring your whole self to a community–and without a sense that we are welcome, we will not feel included. Inclusion happens by actively creating a welcoming environment for others, by ensuring that a person’s otherness does not make them feel like an outsider, but rather that they belong.
One of the areas where folks often struggle most is in identifying concrete actions they can take to make their lives & community a better place. I started to look into ways that the SQL Server community could be a better, more inclusive place. Just like with database things, we don’t need to re-invent the wheel–we can learn from others who have figured this out before us. My plan: to look for some corporate guidance for improving LGBTQ equity in the workplace, then draw parallels to apply those strategies to both other LGBTQ folks in all of my communities, as well as using them to be an ally for Black Americans.
The HRC Corporate Equality Index
The Human Rights Campaign(HRC) produces a yearly Corporate Equality Index(CEI). This is a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer employees. Just like technical benchmarks, the HRC CEI isn’t the end-all-be-all, but it is a good tool to compare companies, and is one measure that can be used to gauge a company’s progress in their path to creating an equitable workplace.
Let’s look at the HRC CEI scoring rubric (which they apply to 500+ person companies). The scoring works on a 100-point system:
- Workforce Protections:
- 15 points: Policy includes sexual orientation for all operations
- 15 points: Policy includes gender identity or expression for all operations
- Inclusive Benefits:
- 10 points: Equivalency in same- and different-sex spousal medical and other benefits
- 10 points: Equivalency in same- and different-sex domestic partner medical and other benefits
- 10 points: Equal health coverage for transgender individuals without exclusion for medically necessary care
- Supporting an Inclusive Culture & Corporate Social Responsibility:
- 10 points: LGBTQ Internal Training and Education Best Practices (at least 3 from a discrete list)
- 10 points: Employee Group or Diversity Council
- 15 points: Efforts of Outreach or Engagement to Broader LGBTQ Community (at least 3 from a discrete list)
- 5 points: Contractor/supplier non-discrimination standards AND Philanthropic Giving Guidelines
- Responsible Citizenship:
- 25 point penalty: for a large-scale official or public anti-LGBTQ blemish on their recent records–essentially actions that are directly anti-LGBTQ or constrain attempts to improve diversity & equality incur this penalty.
Translating the CEI for a tech community
Technical/professional communities are related to our work–but they aren’t quite the same thing as an employer or corporation. In particular, there are no “medical benefits” or “health coverage” when it comes to the members that make up a tech community. The benefits we get are conference swag, user group meals, speaker thank-yous, etc. We should be asking questions about whether the conference t-shirts are all men’s sizes (when the tag says “unisex” they are men’s shirts), or if they have separate men’s and women’s shirts. Other tech community considerations are that conferences and events need to ensure all-gender / single-occupancy bathrooms, and to ensure that their standard templates for conference biography slides & name tags include pronouns.
The other items from the Corporate Equality Index actually translate remarkably well to a tech community. What if we were to change out the “inclusive benefits” section for a “gender inclusivity” section? Then we could create our own “Community Equality Index” that we use to grade conferences & organizations.
Community Equality Index
Here’s my lightly modified version of the HRC CEI. I’ve also included some of the sub-points in the third section. These also come from the HRC CEI–I just omitted them above for brevity. This isn’t a perfect list, but it’s a start–and if a large community organization or large conference is actively supporting the LGBTQ community, they would do well on this benchmark.
- Community Protections:
- 15 points: Policy includes sexual orientation for all events & online platforms
- 15 points: Policy includes gender identity or expression for all events & online platforms
- Gender Inclusivity:
- 10 points: Shirts & clothing swag options at conferences and events are offered for all body types
- 10 points: All-gender and/or single-occupancy restrooms at conferences & events
- 10 points: Conference name tag & biography slide templates provide a space to optionally include pronouns
- Supporting an Inclusive Culture & Community Social Responsibility:
- 10 points: LGBTQ Internal Training and Education Best Practices (meets multiple)
- New speaker/organizer training clearly states that the nondiscrimination policy includes gender identity and sexual orientation and provides definitions or scenarios illustrating the policy for each
- Mentors & leaders undergo training that includes gender identity and sexual orientation as discrete topics (may be part of a broader training), and provides definitions or scenarios illustrating the policy for each
- Integration of gender identity and sexual orientation in professional development, skills-based or other leadership training that includes elements of diversity and/or cultural competency
- Data collection forms that include employee race, ethnicity, gender, military and disability status — typically recorded as part of member records — include transgender-inclusive gender information & optional questions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- 10 points: Resource Group or Diversity Council
- 15 points: Efforts of Outreach or Engagement to Broader LGBTQ Community (meets multiple)
- LGBTQ community recruitment efforts with demonstrated reach of LGBTQ folks
- Supplier diversity program with demonstrated effort to include LGBTQ suppliers
- Marketing or advertising to LGBTQ consumers (e.g.: advertising with LGBTQ content, advertising in LGBTQ media, or sponsoring LGBTQ organizations and events)
- Philanthropic support of at least one LGBTQ organization or event (e.g.: financial, in kind or pro bono support)
- Demonstrated public support for LGBTQ equality
- 5 points: Contractor/supplier non-discrimination standards AND Philanthropic Giving Guidelines
- Responsible Citizenship:
- 25 point “penalty”: for a large-scale official or public anti-LGBTQ blemish on their recent records–essentially actions that are anti-LGBTQ or constrain attempts to improve diversity & equality incur this penalty.
Let’s evaluate PASS
PASS‘s About PASS page describes the organization as “a not-for-profit organization run by and for a diverse community. PASS supports data professionals throughout the world who use the Microsoft data platform.”
PASS boasts about being a diverse community–so let’s evaluate this claim (specifically as it pertains to LGBTQ equity & diversity) using this adapted version of the Equality Index. The HRC CEI is intended for companies of 500+ employees–PASS’s total membership is 300,000, and active membership in the tens of thousands. It certainly fits the category of “large organization” for which the CEI is meant for.
|Criteria||Points possible||Points awarded||Comments|
|Policy includes sexual orientation for all events & online platforms||15||7.5||Summit Anti-Harassment Policy covers this only for the event itself, but the SQLSaturday AHP is optional for organizers to adopt or not; other events & online platforms not covered by the AHP.|
|Policy includes gender identity or expression for all events & online platforms||15||0||The Summit Anti-Harassment Policy does not cover gender identity or expression.|
|Shirts & clothing swag options at conferences and events are offered for all body types||10||10||PASS provides both men’s-cut and women’s-cut speaker shirts at PASS Summit.|
|All-gender and/or single-occupancy restrooms at conferences & events||10||7.5||When held in Seattle, the Washington State Convention Center has all-gender restrooms in accordance with a city ordinance. No guidance is given to SQLSaturday organizers to encourage all-gender restrooms; these events often do not provide all-gender restrooms.|
|Conference name tag & biography slide templates provide a space to optionally include pronouns||10||0||Neither the PASS Summit title and biography slides nor the SQLSaturday slides have a space for pronouns.|
|LGBTQ Internal Training and Education Best Practices||10||0||PASS does not provide diversity training for speakers, nor organizers; PASS does not collect/measure any diversity metrics of its membership.|
|Resource Group or Diversity Council||10||0||PASS does not have an resource group or diversity council inclusive of LGBTQ diversity. The only resource group is the Women in Tech virtual group.|
|Efforts of Outreach or Engagement to Broader LGBTQ Community||15||0||PASS has not done outreach to the LGBTQ community, such as partnering with Out in Tech, celebrating Pride Month, or generating Pride-specific or LGBTQ-specific content. LGBTQ meetups in 2016 & 2018 were independently organized without financial or in-kind support from PASS.|
|Contractor/supplier non-discrimination standards AND Philanthropic Giving Guidelines||5||0||PASS does not have a policy governing non-discrimination standards for contractors & suppliers, nor Philanthropic Giving Guidelines. Christianson & Company (the management firm that PASS contracts to run “PASS HQ”) does not make public their internal policy.|
That’s not a great score. It’s a downright poor score. The official HRC CEI 2020 report shows most corporations score extremely well–a perfect 100 is very common. As a community organization, I certainly don’t expect PASS to be perfect–but they can do better.
How can PASS do better?
At the start of this post, I talked about identifying concrete actions to take to improve diversity & inclusion. Let’s look at some concrete steps that PASS can take in order to be better allies to their LGBTQ members, and provide an equitable environment to not just learn, but to belong.
- Add gender identity & expression to the Anti-Harassment Policy–This will ensure that non-binary & gender-queer members feel welcome & protected as members of the community.
- Make adherence to the Anti-Harassment Policy mandatory for online PASS communities, SQLSaturday events, and local user groups–SQLSaturdays & local user groups run under franchise-like agreements with local organizers. PASS should ensure that their brand is only associated with events & communities that value welcoming, inclusive environments.
- Include optional pronouns in biography & slide templates—Normalizing the use of pronouns makes for a more welcoming environment for non-binary & gender-queer folks. It’s OK for folks to leave pronouns off if they choose, but having them as part of the template allows for inclusion without having to “hack” them in. If you need or want them, they will belong there.
- Provide resources/training for speakers & organizers that teaches how to build inclusive communities, and makes sexual orientation and gender identity & expression a primary aspect of the training. Currently organizers & speakers get little to no training. PASS provides the AHP, but gives zero guidance or training on how to implement it or deal with complaints or violations of the code.
- Expand the WIT group to be inclusive of LGBTQ, race, and other aspects of diversity. Microsoft’s Humans of IT program is a great example of how a single inclusive program can promote diversity & inclusion, without suffering from “sprawl” of multiple disparate resource groups.
- Begin LGBTQ-specific outreach–by promoting LGBTQ voices during Pride Month, and forming lasting, ongoing partnerships with organizations like Out in Tech, PASS can both help the LGBTQ community and increase membership who identify as LGBTQ, thus building a more diverse community over time.
This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list of things PASS can do, nor do I intend it to be a prescriptive list of things PASS must do. This also isn’t the first time PASS is hearing this feedback. Over the years, I have provided many pieces of this feedback to PASS HQ and to members of the PASS Board–this adapted guidance from the HRC helps to reaffirm and consolidate LGBTQ guidance. The response to my prior inquiries has ranged from downright discouraging to acknowledgement without action.
PASS has failed to promote LGBTQ voices within its membership, and failed to promote diversity in a way that is inclusive of LGBTQ facets of diversity. Through its refusal to act PASS has actually alienated LGBTQ membership, myself included. They have similarly failed the Black and POC communities, through their failure to develop programs that actively promote racial diversity.
What can you do?
Be a nuisance where it counts; Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption, and bad politics–but never give up.
Today, I’m asking all my data community friends (and all of your friends, and all of their friends) to help me be a nuisance and join my call to action.
Write to PASS
📧Write to PASS to demand that they evolve their WIT program to be inclusive of LGBTQ, race, neurodiversity–to be a truly inclusive organization. Demand that PASS be good allies by making the AHP trans-inclusive and mandatory for all community events, including SQLSaturdays and User Groups, both virtual and local–effective immediately.
PASS is not going to evolve their policies without a grassroots message from the community. They need to hear from you.
PASS is going through difficult financial times most acutely caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. While I may be accused of “piling on,” I do think this is a “make it or break it” moment for PASS. I’ve privately advocated for change in this area for the past three years. PASS’s failure to build a diverse community—their failure to support their existing community—has also contributed to their current position. If PASS is going to survive long term, they cannot continue to neglect their community.
Please also reach out to other conference & group organizers within the data community to open dialog to ensure they are being inclusive of queer & Black community members through strong codes of conduct & allyship. PASS is a massive organization with a massive membership, and they should be leading the way with efforts for diversity & inclusion. Smaller communities with more limited resources do not get a free pass on being inclusive–they must use their own platform to be good allies in their own ways.
In addition to helping your data community be a better place, you can also help in your workplace and local communities:
- If your employer is 500+ employees, look up if they participate in the HRC CEI. Are they a good ally to the queer community? If they haven’t participated in the HRC CEI, ask HR to participate.
- Look into employee resource groups at your place of employment. Join groups that help promote minority voices–even if you aren’t a member of the group. (That’s what being an ally is all about!)
- Look into resource groups for minorities and disempowered groups in your local community. This year, the Coronavirus pandemic means we are spending more time than ever at home, and staying local in our communities. Everything from a donation to a local queer youth organization, or posting a Black Lives Matter sign on your front lawn is a concrete action that helps others.
Most importantly–speak up. Use your voice to demand change, to call on folks to do better.