With Microsoft Ignite in full swing and me on the other side of the world, I found myself reflecting on discussions that I have had over the past few weeks with various people. When the opportunity to make submissions for speaking sessions or the role of community reporter came up, I decided to submit.
Specifically, I submitted for a position as community reporter for Podcasting and Video, based on my experience over the past two years of publishing two Podcast episodes per week with an interview-style format. An exact fit for what the community reporter role specified.
To this day I have not received my decline email but since I am not there, and I did not say no-thank you, as you can tell I was not chosen. Oh well, no harm no foul.
A few weeks ago, I was at a dinner with about twenty people, and the topic of submissions for Microsoft Ignite came up. It turned out that many of the people around the table had also submitted ideas for sessions or applied for one of the community reporter roles. The discussion came up as one of the people had been in a meeting earlier that day where someone in the community claimed that they are the Face of Power Apps and asked why none of their sessions were accepted for Microsoft Ignite.
The question was put to a CVP at Microsoft. I have no idea how that question was answered, as I was not there, but it triggered this discussion over dinner. As the conversation continued it became apparent that none of our sessions had been accepted.
The common denominator was that we are all middle-aged white guys, and that did not fit the unwritten (that we know of) diversity requirements that it looks like Microsoft are pushing for.
Another reason for this discussion is that an employee of Microsoft that very morning had gone to great lengths to inform us that we are middle-aged men, asking where were the women in the activities we were carrying out?
The final thing that added fuel to the fire was that two young women from our community had been accepted for roles at Microsoft Ignite, and I felt my experience should have entitled me access to those opportunities.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of indignation, entitlement, ego, and chest-beating as we all thought we had been wronged after all our years of service. What a bunch of arrogant tossers we are, well if not we definitely me.
Am I Thinking About This All Wrong?
For years men have dominated the IT industry, and there has been a massive amount of bias, both intentional bias and unconscious bias in my opinion. This study looked at how symphony orchestras tried to counter gender bias in hiring musicians by adopting blind auditions. Concealing the performer using a screen gave female musicians up to a 30% better chance of getting selected compared to non-blind auditions.
Women represent more than half of the population and yet continue to be under represented in the workplace, especially in tech. The latest Women in the Workplace report highlights that while women in C-Level roles has increased from 17% to 21%, there is still a long way to go. And the progress at that level is limited by a ‘broken rung’ since for every 100 men who are promoted or hired to a manager position, only 72 women become managers.
Besides the many business cases that prove that more diverse teams perform better, I believe that it’s just the right thing to create environments where everyone can succeed, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, sexuality or any other trait.
While I know and believe that, I was frustrated when I felt personally disadvantaged by (assumed) tactics that sought to give opportunities to people who might otherwise be overlooked. I must admit that I jumped up on my high horse, thinking that Microsoft and organizers of Microsoft Ignite owed me something instead of congratulating them on taking action to create an environment of equality.
I may have the experience, but that doesn’t mean I was the best person for the job – and if I was chosen then someone else would have been denied the opportunity to learn and gain experience themselves. The community would have missed out on the unique perspective and style of the person who was chosen. And who knows how many people might be inspired to apply next year, who counted themselves out of the process and didn’t even apply this year.
I find it is so easy to get caught up thinking about myself and what makes me feel meaningful or happy, forgetting that others can also add massive value and a perspective that is different to mine.
No woman I know wants to be chosen for a role just because they are not a man. And feeling like you got a role as a ‘diversity hire’ certainly takes the shine away from the win. But I think this is where we need to be cognizant of the fact that socially we are conditioned to judge male and female capabilities differently.
If you weren’t in the selection room, you don’t know why a decision was made. So who am I to say someone doesn’t deserve the job? As a community we all stand to gain by encouraging women to put their hands up for leadership opportunities and corroborating that they are deserving when opportunities come their way.
Microsoft is committed to building diverse communities. The Women in the Workplace report highlights the power senior leader buy-in has in driving change: “Senior leaders set the priorities in organizations, so when they’re engaged, it has a positive trickle-down effect: Managers are more likely to support diversity efforts, and employees are more likely to think the workplace is fair.”
Change can only come with commitment from all of us too, as individuals. For me, I’m committing to be a sponsor and an advocate for women, people of color, and people of different educational backgrounds to be successful in the Microsoft Business Applications community. What’s your commitment?
I want to sign off with a nugget of internet wisdom – remember that your first thought is what you are conditioned to think, it’s your second thought that determines who you choose to be.