It’s About Being Competent, Not About Being ___

I am ___.

It’s not by choice. That’s how I was born.

I am perfectly happy being ___. It’s no big deal. It’s just the way it is. But other people are making a fuss about it.

Some say there ought to be more people who are ___ in software development. They say we must invite people who are ___ to try a technical career. Because there aren’t enough of them in our industry.

I don’t see why.

Either people who are ___ like software development, or they don’t. (It’s unlikely they’ve never heard of it. Unless they are ***)

I don’t favor an annual celebration day for ___ people in software development.

And I don’t need awards or programming languages named after people who are ___.

And I certainly don’t like government subsidies for people who are ___.

And I definitely don’t like positive discrimination (affirmative action) in favor of people who are ___. Because it is an insult to people like me who are both ___ and competent enough to create a career on their own.

And besides, if we support people who are ___, then we should also support people who are @@@, ###, &&&, — or ===. And where does that end?

Of course, when some #*! people are negatively discriminating against ___ people, we should fight them. But that's all there is to it. Neutrality is our end goal. It's not a stop somewhere halfway.

I’m very happy that I am where I am today because I am competent. Not because some people pushed me here, just because I am ___.

(image by Dierk Schaefer, who is +++)


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  • http://profile.typepad.com/yveshanoulle YvesHanoulle

    I agree with most of this.
    I don’t understand the insult. Why is it an insult for you to have positive discrimination for ___ ?
    Positive discrimenation is not about bringing in people who are not competent.
    Have you read blink? The part about the IAT test is very interesting. It shows that people are biased against people they know less, even if they say they are positive against them.
    For me positive discrimination is about bringing back the balance of diversity. And yes these people should be as qualified as the others.
    Their skill set could be a little different.
    F ex: They might be less good at selling themselves, that does not make them less qualified for the job.
    And for a good team, this diversity helps. A company full of Jurgens would not work and neitherdoes one full of Yves’

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Fully agree with you there.
    However, I have a problem with the idea “if all are equally competent then we choose the person who is ___”
    While this is great in theory, in practice it turns out that it is often used to favor ___ over other people. I’ve seen this happen too often to consider this an incidental problem. It is simply stated that A and B are equally competent and then they choose A because that person is ___. It is often obviously untrue, but also a taboo to dispute it.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/yveshanoulle YvesHanoulle

    Agree and it is also true that if we don’t do this we choose B because that is what we are used to. (People tend to hire people like themselves)

  • http://www.gridpulse.com Bogdan

    I want to believe that ____ is “inquisitive”.
    That’s what I look for in team members.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/bootis Bootis

    I think that today in 2010 the situation can’t be different… Because when i said to my mom “I want to be a software developer!”, she first told me “But you can’t! You’re a ___!”
    Fortunately I met people who invited me to try and told me that it was not only for non-___.
    And now I know that with my ___ child, i will not say the same thing. And with time and experience, we’ll only speak about competence as you describe.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    And so we learn. Thank you!

  • http://blog.brodzinski.com Pawel Brodzinski

    Well, to some point yes. I don’t care if you’re black, white or red. I don’t care if you’re tall or short. I don’t give a damn about your religion, political sympathies or favorite car.
    But your skin color, height and party you vote for don’t change my team as much as your gender.
    Diversity is good. And when we discuss people it is hard to find more diversity then between man and woman.
    But yes, you’re right – the first thing I care is whether you suit the position or not. If, and only if, you are good we may discuss your gender and other stuff. Most of the time it won’t be necessary since if you suit the position, you’re likely to be the only one.

  • Andrew

    Hmm, if the office has half a dozen men and no women, I think gender should become a major priority.
    Simplified example in the above environment… woman with 72% qualifications > man with 77% qualifications.
    But at the same time… I feel bad for her 😐

  • http://twitter.com/sarah11918 Sarah

    “Of course, when some #*! people are negatively discriminating against ___ people, we should fight them.”
    The problem is that we all do negatively discriminate, and often not consciously. It is these biases that we’re attempting to overcome when we take overt actions often described as “affirmative action.”
    This recent study describes the issue among scientists, where both male and female scientists evaluated (what they were led to believe were) female applicants lower than male applicants, and suggested lower salaries for the female applicants: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/09/21/study-offers-new-evidence-scientists-are-biased-against-women
    From that link: “They write that the differences they found were statistically significant, and “suggest that subtle gender bias is important to address because it could translate into large real-world disadvantages in the judgment and treatment of female science students.””
    This is the crux of the problem, and why we can’t all just trust ourselves to be rational and evaluate based on competency. Sadly, humans just don’t appear work that way.

  • http://www.betterprojects.net Craig Brown

    This is about balancing today’s need with the futures. If there is systematic environmental bias against a certain demographic it is in all our interests to work against that bias, despite it costing us something in the short term.
    As Pawel said, diversity is important and we need to invest in the environmental factors to ensure it for the future.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Yes, but we don’t get rid of one bias by adding another one. It’s not as straightforward as annihilating matter with anti-matter.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Yes to investing in diversity.
    No to favoring one stakeholder while discriminating against others.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sarah11918 Sarah

    If I were suggesting “just add more women” then you would be correct in saying it’s substituting one bias for another. I did not, however, suggest that. I simply said that we can’t not be biased, so we can’t actually make the “objective” competency-based decisions that you suggest.
    The task is to remove obstacles that thwart these biases, which are manifesting as a lack of diversity. If we *know* that there are inherent biases that are causing us to not act objectively and rationally, then do we not have to do *something* to counteract that? If you know your estimations are systematically low, do you not start to make higher estimates, even if your gut is still giving you smaller numbers?
    I’m not saying I know what the right *something* to do is, but it’s clear that just “being rational” about it isn’t achieving the desired effect. You can also find studies about how blind auditions significantly increase the number of women accepted into orchestras (here’s just one link: https://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/97/0512/0512-orchestra.html ) We have a fair amount of data that suggests women are underrepresented and/or undervalued professionally (by both men and women alike) most likely due to biases that occur without conscious thought.
    So, respectfully, I don’t think you can expect anything to change if we don’t address these biases. (Which is not the same thing as “just favour women.”)
    Humans think in several flawed ways (overestimating our abilities, underestimating future pain…) that cause us to act in less than optimal ways (procrastinating, assuming we are “special”…). The difference is, it’s trendy right now to read Dan Ariely write about irrationality and apply that to our apparent inability to rationally manage finances or plan for the future. Why is it not OK to suggest that similar irrational thinking is systematically causing us to act in particular, subtle ways that do in fact discriminate against groups of people in practice? (Measurably and significantly, as the studies I’ve linked to have shown.)
    I know it’s a touchy subject for many because we attach emotion to it. (“I’m not biased!” “I want to feel included!” “I don’t want to be a token!” etc.) My comment was to point out that I think we’re ALL acting as rationally AS WE CAN… and it’s still not working. I think, given the data we do have, it’s irrational to ignore it and conclude that we are capable of strictly merit-based decisions. We have to let go of that notion, and we have to accept that we simply cannot be that objective.
    Once we do, we can start looking at techniques that have been proven to increase diversity, like blind auditions. Then, we can figure out what else we can do that attempts to remove the biases that we just can’t seem to shake. This is all in hopes of getting closer to making those truly objective, merit-based decisions that we all rationally want to make.
    Sorry to have written such a long response, but I hope I’ve made it clear that I am not suggesting substituting one bias for another. As you said, it’s not as straightforward as that.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I think we’re actually in agreement. I did not mean to imply that you want to add a new bias. I meant that adding new biases is the whole point of my post.
    I am all in favor of removing obstacles introduced by bias. (Blind auditions would fall in that category.)
    But I am _against_ adding bias, in terms of government subsidies for women, affirmative action (favoring female candidates), awards programs for women (and not for any other minorities), etc… That was the message of my post.

  • Linda

    Here’s an article about this that really peaked my interest:
    http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2012/11/solving-pipeline-problem.html
    Basically it says: reach out to minorities, but have a blind meritocratic selection process and be transparent about that.

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