E64 Anthony White: Bi-Directional Culture

November 16, 2020 Mike Roberts Season 1 Episode 64
E64 Anthony White: Bi-Directional Culture
Show Notes Transcript

Finding your groove on Monday can be difficult. Fortunately we have a multi-talented and very interesting guest on today’s episode to get your mind flowing. 

When Anthony hears tech leaders say there is not enough diverse talent in the market, his mind begins to scope this as a supply chain problem. If there is truly a shortage of diverse talent, then companies should be willing to pay higher salaries to attract the limited supply. Another  possible solution is that the talent exists, but the implemented recruiting strategies are not making an effort to attract and find a diverse pool of candidates. He loves the idea of dropping the CS degree requirement for tech roles. If a position requires CS fundamentals, then it's fine to keep this requirement, however its time that companies reevaluate the role of traditional education compared to what skills they are looking for in a candidate. Anthony believes that the apprenticeship model provides the right methodology to reduce inequality among the population if applied correctly. In order to retain diverse talent, he thinks that companies need to establish a bi-directional culture where the culture should act on the people as much as the people act on the culture. Being professional at work shouldn't mean that employees need to change who they are to be accepted. 

Anthony White is a writer, a business and operations strategist with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, and an artist. Utilizing his operations experience within investment banking and technology industries along with his aptitudes as a writer, artist, and community organizer, he creates inclusive corporate cultures, provides solutions to manifold managerial challenges and brings bold visions into reality. 

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Mike (00:01):
Welcome back to the Snackwalls podcast. I'm Mike Roberts, your host, and we're here to talk about increasing and maintaining diversity in tech, beyond the perks. While companies think they can lure people in with unlimited PTO and dogs in the office. We're here to talk about how you keep them.

Mike (00:24):
Alright I am going to toss it over to our special guest today. Can you tell us in a few sentences who you are and what is it that you do?

Anthony White (00:29):
I am Anthony White. I'm a writer, I'm a business and operations strategists with the diversity inclusion, belonging, all of that good stuff. Um, focus and an artist, actually, myself.

Mike (00:42):
Nice! What kind of artists are you?

Anthony White (00:44):
I am a musician. I'm a musician, but I, I really do at one of my, sort of my concentrations language. Right? So poetry, writing, songwriting. I really have a passion for, for language.

Mike (00:58):
Nice. So we are going to jump right into it. Um, I'm hearing from some leaders in tech that finding diverse talent is a challenge. What are your thoughts?

Anthony White (01:08):
So not to be controversial, but I personally think that it's a, it's a root. Like every time I hear that I hear code for complicity with, or complicity in systematic oppression or systematic exclusion.

Anthony White (01:23):
And I hear, you know, uh, lack of appetite for going against the status quo. Right? So, um, when I think when I hear that initially, I would think, well, this is a supply problem, right? So if it's a supplier problem kinda to like, you know, bring back e-comm 101 I would expect people to, I would expect one or two things to happen. If it's a supply problem, one would be that the price would, the price of the talent would go up. Now, I don't see that happening. And what I mean by that is I don't see companies paying a premium for diverse talent, right? So if there's actually a shortage and you actually wanted to get diverse talent, then you would allocate more funds to, to the compensation. I'm not seeing that. So then it's like, okay, the other solution would be to focus on actually like solving, you know, creating more talent or finding more talent or whatever, which in my, from my point of view would mean really interrogating the pipeline if its a pipeline issue.

Anthony White (02:24):
We're trying to figure out the nature of sort of, of the talent shortage, if there's a certain. So I'm putting shortage in quotes for folks that are enjoying this from the audio only. And that would mean really figuring out what about the inveterate sort of previously defined pipeline is, is yielding this homogenous result. So, I mean, you know, if we're at, if we are recruiting more, like mainly from predominantly white institutions, for example, what about this institution is only giving me predominantly whites, right? Which is kind of obvious. I've kind of included that or made it obvious in my framing. But if I'm looking at top 20 schools, for example, classism, sexism, racism, ableism, all the isms that make that group predominantly of one background would also seep into my recruiting from that background, from that, uh, from that arena. So if I'm trying to diversify my work, whereas I would need to be innovative about either counteracting those, the biases that exist using the sort of inveterate frameworks or pipelines that I'm choosing to use, or be innovative about the pipelines themselves, maybe investing in creating some of my own, and I'm not really seeing much of that either.

Mike (03:57):
So that was deep,

Anthony White (04:00):
But that's how I see it. That's how I see it. And, you know, I hear like when I talked to leaders, I try to push leaders on, you know, saying what they mean, because I think when you say what you mean, you get to the scope, like, you know, you, you choose the right scope of your, to solve the problem of your project. You know, the scoping is a real thing, but also, um, you also don't Gaslight people, right? You don't start saying, Oh, there's a lack of, you know, there's no, there are no black developers when the problem is not that. The problem is what you're looking for. Right. And how you're looking.

Mike (04:39):
I love the two lenses that you, you view it through the like supply and demand economic lens, which is just like, all right, I'm gonna call BS. Right. You laid it out in a succinct way that I've never heard someone articulate, which is very impressive. Um, and then the second side of, at the end of the day, what it boils down to is if they really wanted to solve this problem, they can solve it. Right. So it's a lot, there's a lot of talk. What needs to happen. So we can keep them moving. So what do you think about the push to require, uh, to remove the requirement for CS degrees in many of these software engineering roles?

Anthony White (05:19):
I love it. I love it. And it kind of speaks to what we were getting into earlier. Just like what, you know, the re evaluating the role of formal sort of traditional education and what we are looking for. When we say we're looking for a CS degree. Like, if you're saying you want somebody with strong CS fundamentals, I think that's fine. You know, that that's something that's okay. And that it's reasonable for the role. You should be willing to invest in that, but that's another conversation. But aside from the considerations of fundamentals, there's also the sort of unsaid, unspoken things that having a four year degree comes, like, you know, bring the, the sort of participation in academia, the class issue, it's a class issue, right. I mean, for a four year degree signals things beyond just what you start. I mean, I was a philosophy major, which does like steep into my person. I mean, you kinda can tell that, but I mean, I studied finance, which I was, sorry. I was an investment banker for seven years. So that kind of is used in my analysis as well, but I didn't, you know what I mean? Like, it doesn't, it didn't translate to my career directly. Sure. Most people know that. Um, I think that it applies across, I think CS is a little different because like I said, there's a fundamental, like you need fundamentals, but, uh, I'm also suspicious of that.

Mike (06:47):
Yeah. And I, and I think to your first point, it's clear that there are other ways that you can gain this knowledge. There's a fire hose of information on the internet at this point. So, um, you can, up-skill in those areas, if those are truly what they're screening for. I mean, my personal belief is that some folks not all are lazy. And so it's an easier barrier for them to put up so that they don't have to screen as many candidates and they don't have to do as much work. And so it's an easy way for them to reduce the number of folks that they actually have to make contact with and talk with and develop relationships, all that kind of stuff. So I get it from the perspective of like trying to be efficient. It's a way for them to be more efficient in their time, but I don't think it results in what they want, which is a more diverse workplace. So do you think an apprenticeship pattern would work for tech roles?

Anthony White (07:44):
I do. I do. I think that, I think this goes kind of back to defining scope. I think that, you know, apprenticeship, I'd read this white paper and I may be able to find it after we're done and maybe it's worth putting in the show notes, but I read a, a white paper about it. And it convinced me that it was the, that it was the right sort of methodology. It convinced me because it showed real benefits of reducing inequality among the pot, among the population that this would apply to. And I liked that. My fear about it is that if you, if you do it, if you don't do it well, you are just moving inequality or you're just shifting it. Right. So if I'm the kind of, and you know, this is broad strokes, but if I'm the person, if for some reason I can't afford a bootcamp because my parents aren't helping me pay for a bootcamp or whatever

Anthony White (08:41):
They are expensive. Right. But like, so whatever issues that has stopping me from paying for the, getting into the bootcamp, if the apprenticeship puts me in the door, but then they don't, they, because they've been invested in me being in an apprenticeship, they don't pay me as much, which I think from, from the company perspective makes a lot of sense. Right? So they've started me at a lower, at a lower salary. You've shifted that inequality there. So let's say there's a market event. COVID unfavorable with regulations or whatever that makes us be more, uh, restrictive and makes us need to lay people off, essentially. Does the, is the culture going to respect my apprenticeship well enough to allow me to go to another company and have this and have an equal income or salary opportunity as someone who went to a four year school and the answer is my intuition is saying no.

Anthony White (09:39):
And as we see when the market and any industry is, you know, experiencing challenges, we end up the people that went to the elite schools or the people at the elite beginning are able to lean on that privilege in order to stay afloat while people that don't, don't have, that are often sent back to classes that, you know, are beneath the elite, the elite rung. So I just, as I'm suspicious of it, I want us as a culture to value it correctly. If we're going to commit to an apprenticeship, then we need to say that we need to care and really say that it's equal to its commitment to the other, or the other ways of getting to, you know, a job opportunity.

Mike (10:25):
And I think that is you're at this point, you are skating towards where the puck is going to be. And I'm just still trying to convince a lot of, I really believe in the apprenticeship pattern itself, but I believe in it in the way that it's implemented, like in Europe, it is a first class way for you to get into a career. And you sort of at that, you know, high school level make a decision. Are you gonna go down this path, which to your point, they do respect everyone in the industry respects that that apprenticeship is a path that is just as worthy as a going to university path. Right? So the fear that I have is a little bit different and it's all share my fear about the apprenticeship pattern. I see a lot of companies doing it wrong. And what I mean by that is they set the bar to get into their apprenticeship program at, you must have graduated from a bootcamp, or you must have, you know, and it's just like, but that's the point of the apprenticeship is that people an opportunity that otherwise wouldn't have it.

Mike (11:29):
And so when I see really large, you know, companies doing it wrong, my fear is that more of them will do it the wrong way. And instead of them seeing and paying attention and applying the pattern in a way where it creates equity, and it creates an environment for them to have more diverse talent pipelines. And really if you're going to do it, just do it right, right. Instead of this like dog and pony show where they're like, we're doing an apprenticeship and then you look and you're like, and you only accepted eight people. And they all graduated from the elite coding bootcamp. Like, what are you doing over there?

Anthony White (12:02):
And I think you're a hundred percent, right. I think that's probably, that's a near as more approximate fear than mine, but, you know, to your point, it, it requires people to, I think the hardest part about this kind of change. I know we have more questions, but, um, is that it requires you to essentially like, de-value your own privilege, right? Because if you're an alum of a bootcamp or an alum of an institution, you have to say, I'm going to commit to this new way of thinking. That makes my experience, less valuable, which a lot of people, or makes my like commitment to like that kind of thing, less valuable and people aren't really trying to do that.

Mike (12:41):
Yeah. They're not. They're like I had to go through that, so you have to go through it. So yeah, that, that is an interesting, and then interesting set of challenges that we may face. But, you know, if people are doing things for the right reason, we'll be able to mitigate that. So what advice would you share with companies that are looking to retain diverse staff? So let's say they've done a great job in attracting them. How do you keep folks working for you?

Anthony White (13:07):
I, you know, I wrote a paper. I wrote like a piece on it that I published on medium that I, I think I like what I've said, but I feel like I'm every time I think about it, I have the new thing. Um, but what I've said there, I'll probably go with here. I think, um, making foot of debunking, the inherit, the homogenous nature of professionalism. Right. So, and what I mean by that is, you know, a lot of professionalism is often steeped in, you know, white standards or, you know, male patriarchal, uh, heterosexist, like vaguely Christian things. You know, and, and we want to, we want to have, we want professionalism to mean that no matter your background, you belong, right. We want professionalism to mean that we don't want, it should be that it is unprofessional to have an homogenous workplace. You know, the, the, the standard, because I think a lot of times we use like moral, a sense of morality, particularly this year, right.

Anthony White (14:15):
When we've had all those things in the, all this like public violence, there's a sense that it is wrong to, uh, to be exclusive, to exclude people, which is true. But I think beyond that, there should just be like the professional or not beyond that. But before that, there should be that professional sense that it's just not, if I have a homogenous workplace and we, and the culture homogenizes, then I am not creating a professional space. Um, and then I, I like to say like bi, bi-directionality of culture and what I mean by that is I think the culture should act on the people as much as the people act on the culture. So if there's, I think, I mean, most of us have been in this environment where management comes out with an acronym that's like really cute, that has their values. And then our performance review has the acronym in it.

Anthony White (15:09):
And then all the marketing has the acronym. And it does what, the way, these values appear don't reflect my understanding, my personal understanding of these values I'm supposed to conform. And that expectation of conformity, I think, is what challenges everybody. But particularly, I think diverse, diverse, you know, people of diverse backgrounds. I think it's, it's an additional challenge because depending on, even like, take something like, I don't know, like ability, like neuro divergence or something like that. If you have some, if you're under the way you deal with things, cognitively doesn't match the way a value is articulated to you, a lot of people like I've, you know, I have, um, ADHD. I've had to contend with that as a child. And, you know, just the way I understand being productive is a bit different. Right. And if I don't, if I'm forced to be productive in one way, then I internalize that, that, that sort of that dissonance. And then it gives me the additional work. You know, I can't just show up. I have to now contend with the, the dissonance between what I understand, to be productive and what they understand that I have, and that additional work makes me less productive on any, like on any metric.

Mike (16:44):

Mike (16:44):
I mean, it's one of those folks that folks that have to code switch carry this extra burden with them all throughout the day. So there are these, these pieces that to your point, uh, I call it like the anti toxic environment, right? Folks think that they're creating a safe environment. They think that they create, but they may in fact be creating one that is not inclusive. And that does make it very difficult to retain employees that like, I don't have to deal with this. Right. I'm a black software engineer. I can pick my black and I can go somewhere else tomorrow and have a job and not be worried about this. Like, I think it's super important to think about that from, from that perspective. Um, so who is somebody like yourself that you would like to acknowledge as a leader and you think would be a good guest on a podcast like this?

Anthony White (17:34):
I was thinking about that. I don't, I don't know him personally. I've interacted with him, but I'm not, we're not friends, but I do like when, when he talks about these issues, I do like it. So there's this, uh, he's the global head of diversity and inclusion at Spotify name is Travis Robinson. He was at, he was at snap before, but then he, they, before that, he was at Spotify, I think he really liked Spotify. They probably treat him well over there, but, um, I like the way he talks about these issues. I like, you know, his track record. I would, I would definitely recommend or just uplift. Yeah.

Mike (18:10):
Yeah, absolutely. So we're going to see, we'll put him on the radar. We'll see if we can get them on the show. No guarantees, but you don't try it. All right. So where can we find out more information about your company?

Anthony White (18:21):
So I just point to LinkedIn. I do have my, my sort of, uh, I guess my artists stuff is online on, but for more of my sort of business or DNI work, I would use LinkedIn I'm writing on medium. So I'm a medium as well, but LinkedIn, medium, and my own websites.

Mike (18:46):
All right. So we're going to throw all those in the show notes, and I'm excited to go and read some of this material because it sounds like it's like very engaging. So, um, last and final, most important question. And that is what have you been snacking on lately? What's your favorite snack?

Anthony White (19:01):
My favorite snack is a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Honestly, I've not, I have not outgrown the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I don't think I ever will. I will say that I have stepped my, stepped my game up, you know? And so my jelly, so like, I'd love to use like a strawberry jam or strawberry preserve, but it's essentially a peanut butter and jelly.

Mike (19:26):
I like that. It's also a meal. So if you miss one, that's a healthy snack. I like it. All right. Well again, I appreciate you coming on the program. Thank you so much, Anthony.

Anthony White (19:40):
Thank you.

Mike (19:42):
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