Y-Vonne Hutchinson is is a former international human rights lawyer, the Founder of Ready Set, a diversity solutions firm, and Co-Founder of Project Include. She recently spoke at Culture Amp and Paradigm’s Inclusion Survey Launch Party about her experience navigating bias.
She began her speech by saying, “I'm going to get vulnerable with you guys today and I just ask that you bear with me as I do so.” What follows is a condensed and edited version of her speech on navigating bias and how data can be our way out of "the madness". You can view her full speech in the video above.
As a child I didn't really want to believe that discrimination existed. When I got the talk that all black parents give their children, I chose not to believe my mother. I chose rather to think that she was crazy. The idea that she was crazy was so much more palpable to me than the truth.
The truth was that I would have to work harder for longer to get the things that my white friends had. That the world was a little bit more dangerous for me. That no matter how nice or how hard working I was, some people were just not going to want to acknowledge me. For many years I chose to believe that my mother was irrational and out of touch rather than acknowledging this truth.
I think that there's a myth about people from underrepresented groups and bias: that we want to call it out, that we enjoy shining a light on it. In my experience nothing could be further from the truth. Most of us desperately wish that it didn't exist. Most of us hate that it does and that it defines the ways in which we are treated totally outside of our control. I for one got to be pretty good at pretending that it didn't exist. I kept pretending the bias that I experienced didn't exist until pretending was no longer an option.
There's a story I tell people at conferences or the press about why I started my company. Then there's the real story. As part of my job I handled multiple discrimination suits. Even when things went south with that organization, I as a human and labor rights lawyer, as someone who had built a career off of calling out unfair treatment, thought the problem was me. I drove myself nuts trying to fix that one thing about myself.
Long story short, I never fixed it. It took me a long time to see that environment and that treatment for what it was, but after I did I started my company Ready Set. First, to take back some of the control I had to acknowledge I did not have, and second, to make sure that others would not have to deal with the same challenges that I faced.
When you're in an exclusionary environment you constantly question yourself. You never know if the treatment that you receive is because of discrimination or something else. You wonder if you're making it all up, if it's all in your head. I think that people who want to fix discrimination and bias within an organization or within individuals also deal with that feeling of navigating sanity.
It's hard to know where exactly bias begins and ends. I have had so many people who want to make changes in their companies say they don't know where to start. I have seen companies pull themselves in a million different directions in an effort to increase diversity and inclusion and not accomplish a whole lot.
That's why I am so excited about Culture Amp and Paradigm survey and the push towards better diversity and inclusion data in general. At Project Include, we recognize the importance of data and comprehensive metrics to increasing diversity and inclusion. That is why we are working with companies, through our Startup Include and VC Include programs, to collect robust metrics data using tools like this survey and to develop data-backed solutions that effectively target specific areas.
Data is our way out of madness. Data gives us the ability to handle the irrationality of bias and exclusion by rooting it into something more concrete. It moves us from the subjective to the objective. Most importantly it helps us understand our challenges better so that we can more effectively target our solutions.
The Inclusion Survey offered by Culture Amp and Paradigm helps companies understand the experiences of employees across their organizations. The goal of the Inclusion survey is to get a clear picture of inclusion in the tech industry and share these insights to create positive change. The survey is free for technology companies for a limited time.