Category Archives: Confronting Bias

The emotional fatigue of being an immigrant

I’m an expert on being an immigrant. Overall, I’ve moved house more than 30 times over three continents and half a century.

I started my life as an immigrant when I was less than I year old. My first birthday was in Madrid, where my parents had moved from Galicia, the Spanish region where I was born. And then it was to different distrusters in Barcelona, then back to Galicia, then to Venezuela – where I lived in La Victoria, Maracay, and Caracas. Then, to Quebec (Canada), Patras (Greece), Lyon (France), and finally the UK, first in Cambridge and now in Manchester.

Recently, a dear fellow coach invited me to her podcast focused on immigrant women. She asked me to share with her three topics I’d like to discuss in the episode.

The first that came to my mind is the emotional toll of being an immigrant.

What do I mean by “emotional toll”?

Let me share my checklist of what others expect from me as an immigrant:

  • I’m a scapegoat for the failures of the country I live in: from lack of well-paid jobs to crumbling healthcare.
  • I’m perceived as an indistinguishable member of the “mass” of about 300 million people in the world that we call immigrants. For example, I forgot how many times I was told I was Mexican in Canada even if I repeatedly said I came from Venezuela. I’ve also been told that being Spanish and Italian is the same (scoop! We aren’t!).
  • We believe that women and non-binary people should have the same rights as men, people of colour the same rights as white people, and disabled people the same rigths as able people… but nobody thinks that as an immigrant I should have the same rights as nationals.
  • I should not have control over my own rights – that’s why I’m expressly excluded from national elections.
  • I should endeavour every day to demonstrate that I’m worth it. How? By consistently providing evidence that I’m more useful than the locals since I’m liable for “stealing their jobs”.
  • I must live with the uncertainty that a government can make me transition from being a legal immigrant to an illegal allien on a whim. I’ve already have that t-shirt.
  • I should be willing to justify why I’m in a country as many times as required by locals that ask. From the plummer doing a repair in my house to a work colleague that’s curious.
  • I must carefully decide on what I’m allowed to share my opinion, otherwise, I risk being at the receiving end of the “if you don’t like it, go home’ threat.
  • I’m expected to frequently convey how thankful I’m to be allowed to live in a country, as I was a visitor rather than the active contributor I am.
  • I’m also expected to respectfully go back “home” – wherever that is – once I’m not “productive” anymore.
  • I should answer the same curious questions about me – my accent, my country of origin, where my family is… – over and over and look unflappable.
  • I should embrace being patronised because of my country of origin. Often, when people know that I was brought up in Venezuela, they ask me if we have cars or computers. Imagine their surprise when I tell them that in the 80s I already had a car and a computer!
  • I should conform to and confirm the stereotypes. Spanish? Ah, sunny weather,  paella, bullfighting, and flamenco. I come from Galicia, where it rains all the time, our typical dish is octopus, we don’t do bullfighting, and our music has Celtic origins – we even have bagpipes.
  • I must remain calm when my expertise and my academic background are minimised. I still remember when working in France a coworker that had a technical degree, which takes 2 years to complete, told me that he felt that his studies were comparable to my foreign academic background at that moment – Chemical engineering bachelor (5 years), M.Sc. (2 years), Ph.D Computational chemistry (5 years), postdoctoral fellowship (18 months).
  • I’m always under the suspicion of stealing, hiding, or taking advantage of something. As such, I should expect to abide by all regulations and checkings that locals don’t undergo.
  • I graciously should accommodate locals’ preferences about me. For example, how they pronounce my name, substitute it with their nickname of preference, or choose to transcribe it in their alphabet.
  • I must look relaxed and cooperative no matter how vexing is the situation, even when that involves microaggressions and macroaggressions. I’ll always remember how people in the university I studied at in Venezuela used to tell me as a compliment: “Patricia, you’re very intelligent for a Galician”. All that because of the jokes they make in Venezuela about Galician people being stupid.
  • I need to understand that getting a passport from the country I live in doesn’t make me a “true” national. First, that citizenship can be stripped out of me at any time. Then, locals won’t allow me to feel one of them.
  • And finally, I need to come to terms with the fact that I’ll be treated as an immigrant in my own country of birth. I’ve already been refused twice medical attention in a hospital in Spain because somehow I don’t qualify. What’s more, as part of the Spanish immigrant group that votes in the elections remotely, I’ve been blamed by my compatriots that do live in the country to swing the elections without having a clue. I’ve also been told that I don’t have the right to express my opinion about Spanish politics because “I don’t leave there”.

BACK TO YOU: What do you think it will take to give immigrants the same respect and rights that we give to locals? 

Motherhood and the patriarchy: How society profits from judging women without children

I don’t have children. That has always appeared to be a problem for many people around me. They have

  • Tried to justify it: For example, indirectly trying to get a reason out of me or make one up by throwing at me versions of “Not everybody can have children”, “There are so many IVF treatments that fail”, “Adoption is not for everyone”.
  • Judged me: I still remember the father of a colleague at work that after a brief intro directly asked me if I had children. When I said no, he announced that I was the “kind of woman” that prioritised her career.
  • Kept track of my fertility timeline: As I was getting older, countless times I received reminders from those around me that “I was running out of time” to have children.
  • Reminded me that it’s my duty: For years, I was told/suggested/demanded that I should provide continuity to our bloodline.
  • Called me selfish: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that women that don’t have children “only think about themselves”.
  • Diminished my pain: As I wrote in the article Levels of pain, often doctors have disregarded my pain because they judged that either it was not comparable to birth pain or I should endure it because it was somehow related to not having children.
  • Assumed that I don’t have other responsibilities: Others have thrown at me pearls of wisdom such as “it should be great to be so carefree” or “you must have plenty of free time”.

But that’s not only people, it’s also how I was socialised:

  • The Bible — I was raised Catholic — is a constant reminder that pious women’s obligation is to breed more souls.
  • Typically, wicked female characters in children’s stories — like witches and stepmothers- don’t have children.
  • We are indoctrinated in the belief that motherhood is selfless and birthing is the experience that makes you “a real woman”.
  • When we assume women should have children, we imply there is something wrong with women without children and we should fix them through advice and coercion.
  • We believe that women need a reason to not have children. We play with terms such as childless and childfree that are centred on the word “child” to categorise those women.
  • Abortion bans are easy to justify.
  • We believe that “no children” means no caring duties. For society, family caregivers don’t exist and therefore often they are not supported financially or otherwise by governments. 
  • We sugarcoat motherhood, so we don’t create the space to discuss issues like post-partum depression, miscarriage, lack of childcare support, or the professional penalty to have children.

What if instead, we thought that women that don’t have children

  • Have reflected on the fact that we’re already 8 billion on the planet and that not having children is a good remedy for overpopulation.
  • Have exerted their rights over their bodies.
  • Know what they want.
  • Don’t need your or anybody’s permission, blessing, or pity.
  • Have caregiving and financial duties that — although may not involve children – involve parents, siblings, and other family members that have physical or mental disabilities, cannot live on their own, or don’t have the financial means to support themselves.
  • They may still like children, just they don’t want to have their own.

Bottom line

My challenge to you is that the next time you learn a woman doesn’t have children instead of feeling pity, disdain, or empathy, you shift to respect.


PS. Are you stuck on your career?

You know that career conversations with your manager are key to professional growth but you struggle to get to the task. You procrastinate and wait for your manager to do the work.

If you want to interrupt the cycle, join us on May 22nd for a week where I’ll coach you to write a powerful career assessment and how to have a career conversation that gets you to the next level.

How to integrate quitting your job into your career success strategy

Text that reads both as "Don't quit it" and "Do it".
Photo by Leeloo Thefirst.

Work is currently designed for an idealised version of a White young single man with no care responsibilities.

And it goes beyond the scheduling constraints of a “full-time job” – 40 hours/week, 9 to 5 straight hours, and the Monday to Friday working week. From what we consider “looking professional” all the way to the expectations of having to be always on just in case the business needs us or even setting the office temperature, which was developed back in the 1960s through an analysis of the resting weight of a 154lb (69kg) 40-year-old man.

It’s not a surprise that women and people from underrepresented groups feel they don’t “fit in”.

And it goes beyond dress codes and schedules. We’re expected to put up with microaggressions, weaponised incompetence, office work, and harassment, to mention a few.

However, rather than questioning the current state of affairs, patriarchy has trained us to think that we’re the problem and it’s upon us to either fix it – for example, through championing DEI initiatives – or simply toughen up.

In addition to the mental load to either fit in or fix the system, the problem with that kind of indoctrination is that assumes that quitting a job is not a valid option. It’s seen as a failure rather than a choice. And that hurts our career and diminishes our leverage.

How do I know? Because I’ve done so.

My quitting story

After finishing my master in chemical engineering in Venezuela, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. abroad. At the time, I wanted to become a professor at the university and I felt that was the best next step.

The problem? I didn’t have the money to pay for 5 years of living abroad and expensive tuition fees. One of my master’s advisors came up with a solution: There was a professor in Canada that was looking for a Ph.D. student and he could pay me a minimum wage – enough to live.

Our email interactions hinted some worrying signals about him not being an easy person to work for but I was so keen on the opportunity – I kept telling myself that was “the only” chance available to me – that I decided to take it and go to Canada.

I should have listened to my gut feeling. He was a bully. I was the only woman in the lab but we all suffered harassment and discrimination at different levels. One of the people even died from suicide.

How was he able to pull it off? We were all on a student visa. Pushing back, denouncing him, or leaving the lab meant to have to go home empty-handed. In one word, fail.

I kept telling myself that if I was able to cope, it’d be worth it. I got really good at diminishing in my mind all the things that were wrong with my boss’s behaviour and minimising myself such as not bringing out the worst of his character.

Moreover, most people around me that knew about his behaviour empathised with me but also reminded me that quitting would mean “losing” the time I’d already spent on my Ph.D.

To cut a long story short, after 1 year and 4 months, I quit. When I announced it to him, he told me that he’d publish my work without my name, which he did it. He tried to make me change my mind with threats and nice words.

It didn’t work. I left and I moved to another lab where I thrived. The difference was that now I had a great advisor that supported me rather than put me down. I wrote 5 papers and completed my Ph.D. in 4.5 years.

What about the others in my first lab? They stayed. And they all told me that they regretted it.

From my side, I didn’t regret going to another lab and start again my Ph.D. That previous experience was not a waste of time. It helped me to know that I have non-negotiables at work like respect, mental wellbeing, and appreciation.

I learned from that experience that it was paramount that I integrated quitting into my career strategy.

But how to do it?

Coaching tool: decisions ahead of time

One of the reasons that makes it so hard to quit is that we only consider it when we have the feeling that we’ve run out of “other” options. That means we’re not in a very generative state. We feel exhausted, defeated, or angry, to mention a few typical emotions.

What’s more, we feel disappointed with ourselves for allowing the situation to reach such a low point. Typically the reason it’s that we’ve experienced the boiling frog syndrome.

The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.

Wikipedia

How to avoid finishing like the frog? Or wait until you’re burnt out to jump out of the boiling water?

I recommend a coaching technique called “decision ahead of time”. In brief, plan how you’ll think, feel, and act in advance of certain triggers appearing.

How does that work in practice?

List your non-negotiables at work. That can be about the culture, the perks, your promotion aspirations, your schedule, your participation in projects, your salary expectations, and so on.

Then, decide in advance what changes in those areas will give you hints that you may want to leave, how leaving would look like, and how that would integrate into your career strategy.

In those terms, quitting doesn’t look like a failure but as part of a plan. It’s framed as a healthy way to avoid burnout and practice setting boundaries.

If not quitting, what are you doing about your career?

The boiling frog syndrome is so seductive that can make us forget our career by focusing on our current job.

How do we know if we’re trapped in our own version of the boiling frog syndrome?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you know where you’re and what you want out of your career?
  • Have you delegated to your manager, CEO, or organisation your professional ambitions?
  • Are you hoping to finally get promoted but you don’t have a clear commitment from your manager about what you need to get it or when it’ll happen?
  • Do you keep talking yourself out of your promotion aspirations, telling yourself that it could be worse?

If after reading the questions above you feel you’re ready to jump out of the boiling water, join me for the Joyful Career Promotion Week later this month.

Let me tell you more about it.

WHAT YOU GETHOW THAT WILL HELP YOU TO GET A PROMOTION
20+ page workbook1.- Step-by-step guide to writing your 2023 mid-year career review.
2.- Examples of framing the promotion conversation with your manager.
3.- Insights into how to tackle the common pushback from your manager about discussing your next promotion
Three one-hour group virtual coaching calls via Zoom1.- Get coached on your mid-year self-assessment review and specific career progression goals.
2.- Learn from others getting coached about their promotion challenges.
 Live pop-up private online community groupGet asynchronous feedback about your written mid-year assessment, the promotion conversation with your manager, and career progression.

When? Mon-Wed-Fri May 22-26, 2023 – 12.00 BST | 13.00 CEST

If you’ve been thinking about working with me, this is the perfect opportunity to get introduced to the power of career coaching with a very small investment.

I look forward to working with you on making your career aspirations a reality!

Are You Falling for Weaponised Incompetence at Work? Here’s How to Stop

Senior Caucasian man holding a blank empty banner covering his mouth with a hand, looking shocked and afraid because of a mistake.
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash.

I’ve written in the past about how women – especially non-White women – are expected to do the office housework: Those administrative tasks that are important for the business to keep moving but that are undervalued and not likely to result in a promotion.

And last week I learned that office housework has an ally: Weaponised incompetence.

Definition:

Weaponised incompetence or “strategic incompetence” as it’s sometimes called ― is the act of faking incompetence at any one task (though usually an unpleasant one) to get out of doing it.”

Examples:

  • Your partner claims they are “not good” at household chores so you do them.
  • Your family says that they are rubbish at planning, so you get stuck with organising family gatherings.
  • Your roommate consistently does a poor job at cleaning the toilet so you step in and do it yourself.

But it’s also alive and well in the workplace.

How do you identify weaponised incompetence at the workplace?

By the task

They are typically mundane tasks or activities perceived as low-value – taking the minutes, planning office events, handling conflict among colleagues, or soothing unhappy customers.

By what they tell you

  • You’re praised by how well you do the task, e.g. “You’re naturally good at taking notes during the meetings”.
  • They make you responsible for their faked incompetence and delegate the task to you, e.g. ” Remember last time how bad it was when I did it? You’re so much better than me at this”.
  • They say they don’t know how to do it, e.g. “It’s so difficult to update the Excel spreadsheet with the new leads”.

By what they do

Some strategies to deal with weaponised incompetence

  • Recognise you’ve been manipulated.
  • Communicate the patterns you’ve noticed.
  • Set boundaries AND STICK TO THEM.
  • Leave them on their own to figure things out
  • Coach them through doing the task themselves.
  • Take the opportunity to start a discussion about how valuable is the task, who should be doing it, and how it should be rewarded.

Are you a “perpetrator” of weaponised incompetence?

It’s also important that women – and people belonging to other protected categories – check if we are using weaponised incompetence against other people. For example, as I mentioned above, non-White women are expected to do more office housework than White women.

We, White women, need to step up and help break the cycle rather than reinforce it.

The first step is awareness.

  1. Look at the low-value tasks you convince yourself “you’re not to be good at” or that you don’t want to learn.
  2. Reflect on the reasons why you don’t want to learn to do them or why you think you’re not good at them.

Next, think about to whom you deflect that task.

  1. Is it always the same person?
  2. Is there a reason why the task shouldn’t be rotated among other people?

If it’s always the same person and the task is not core to the person’s role, step up and break the cycle of weaponised incompetence.

Final reflections

During an insightful discussion, Rose Cartolari challenged the use of weaponised incompetence as an expression that may further the divide between the giver and the receiver of the action. Instead, she offered the less violent and loaded term learned helplessness for reflection.

The American Psychological Association defines learned helplessness as “a phenomenon in which repeated exposure to uncontrollable stressors results in individuals failing to use any control options that may later become available. Essentially, individuals are said to learn that they lack behavioral control over environmental events, which, in turn, undermines the motivation to make changes or attempt to alter situations”.

I wonder if a term like strategic helplessness could be used instead of weaponised incompetence. I love to get your feedback on the comments on this expression.

BACK TO YOU: What do you do when co-workers use weaponised incompetence to get you to do low-value/unpromotable tasks?

A gift from me to you

Are you interested in discussing how setting boundaries can help you achieve your professional and personal goals?

Then book a free strategy session with me.

“Am I Making Sense?” – Language and Power Dynamics in Meetings

A photo of a woman surrounded by overlayed question marks looking doubtful.
Image by Sophie Janotta from Pixabay.

As I non-native English speaker, I was puzzled by women finishing their sentences with “Am I making sense?”. I finally understood the reason.

Although I’d been fluent in English for many years before, it was not until I moved to the UK that I lived in a place where English was the native language by default. (Yes, I’d lived in Canada for 5 years but it was in Quebec City, where most people have French as their mother tongue).

Back to my life in the UK, I remember being intrigued by how women – and only women – would finish their interventions in meetings with “Am I making sense?”.

Why? Because, it didn’t make sense to me that very confident women – at least they looked that way to me – would ask that question after sharing their opinion in a concise and assertive manner.

And I began to find explanations for it.

1.- For women confident in their ideasConfident women are a hard pill to swallow in leadership. We expect women to be “collaborative” – e.g. take the notes, be the admin for the team, do the glue work – not be assertive or confident.

How do women tackle the bias against confident women?

“Playing” dumb. By downplaying what they are saying, they’re hoping to not look threatening and get others’ buy-in (or mansplaining).

2.- For women concerned that their ideas may be too much – These women have picked up that their organisations and peers like to congratulate themselves on doing exactly the same things over and over and they won’t support rocking the status quo. In the past, those women have proposed a visionary project, an innovative idea, or a transformational initiative and it has been rejected for being too much.

How do women tackle the bias against their ideas?

They downplay their ideas by presenting them as a “thought” with the hope they’ll stick this time around.

3.- For women concerned that their ideas may be too little – Society has indoctrinated women that perfection is expected from them, with no margin for error. Those women don’t believe they have permission to express their opinions because they judge their ideas as not strategic” enough, “visionary” enough, or “fully formed”.

How do women tackle their bias against their own ideas not being “good enough”?

They share their opinions with the caveat “Am I making sense?” in the hope that the feedback they receive it’s not too harsh.

My take

In the past, hearing a woman saying “Am I making sense?” used to upset me.

Now, I salute all those women that use “Am I making sense?” as a way to overcome the patriarchal constraints imposed on us.

I’d still prefer those women experiment with other ways to connect with their audience and instead use alternatives such as

  • “comments?”
  • “any questions?”
  • “I’m curious about what’s your feedback.”

BACK TO YOU: What’s your take?

P.S.

Are you tired of patriarchy, stereotypes, and cultural norms creating obstacles to achieving our goals?

Then book a free strategy session with me.

Beyond Cosmetic Changes: The Truth About DEI Efforts

Hiker walking on a flimsy line bridge between two boulders. There is a cartoon thought callout coming from the hiker with the text "Every little helps..." .
Photo by filllvlad adapted by Patricia Gestoso.

I’m so tired of messages downplaying the effort that takes to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) workplace!

If all that it takes is minuscule steps, why aren’t we there yet?

Some examples

  • A couple of months ago, I received an email from an organisation specialised in recruiting for tech and sales jobs entitled “10 small (but mighty) tactics to reach your DEI goals”.
  • Last week, on LinkedIn a Global Head of DEI posted “It is often in the seemingly small moments and tiny gestures that inclusive leadership shows up.”
  • Even Entrepreneur let us off the hook for being DEI slackers and tells us that “starting with a bite-sized approach is the key to authentically weaving diversity, equity and inclusion into the culture of your business”.

Personally, it feels like they’ve borrowed Tesco’s motto “Every little helps”.

Can you imagine companies using the same approach for revenue, marketing, or customer support?

  • To investors: “10 small (but mighty) tactics to reach your revenue goals“.
  • To the board: “It is often the seemingly small marketing events and tiny social media campaigns that bring big business.”
  • To dissatisfied customers: “Starting with a bite-sized approach is the key to delivering outstanding customer support”.

Is really so easy?

No, it’s not. But I understand why that language is used.

Those messages suggesting that tiny DEI steps can have a massive impact on the quality of the workplace culture or that “simple” steps can increase the diversity of your workforce are targeted to an audience of

  • DEI sceptics.
  • Those that benefit from the current status quo.
  • Those that feel DEI is a zero-sum game.
  • Leaders that want to believe that some cosmetic actions will make their Great Place to Work ratings soar.
  • Organisations that feel the pressure to “show” DEI commitment without seeing the business case.

That is, the goal is to appease those that resist change telling them that they won’t need to do a lot, it won’t cost too much money, and business processes won’t have to be modified in the hope that those naysayers don’t block DEI initiatives.

What’s wrong with “tiny” DEI steps?

“When you make success look easy, you attract people who want easy success.”

Kris Plachy

When we say that small changes are enough to create valuable DEI change

  • We diminish the value of the work DEI professionals deliver.
  • We demoralise DEI champions and employee resource groups that see their efforts minimised.
  • We belittle the experience of those excluded.
  • We justify the lack of investment.
  • We assume no radical changes are needed in the organisation.
  • We outsource the responsibility for the organisation DEI to individuals.  

Finally, by downplaying the effort required to deliver change, we implicitly remove the systemic angle that is at the core of DEI practices.

What to do instead

DEI initiatives are not different than any other strategic programmes: What you get is proportional to the effort you put in.

Treat DEI as the serious matter that it is.

Rather than softening the effort required

  • Lead with the benefits to have a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace.
  • Caution against the risks of working in a homogenous, exclusionary, and unfair organisation.
  • Highlight that DEI issues are systemic and there is no room for bystanders. If you abstain to work towards bringing the system to health, you are reinforcing the current status. 

Patriarchy & Your goals

Are you tired of patriarchy, stereotypes, and cultural norms creating obstacles to achieving our goals?

Then book a free strategy session with me.

How to advance equity in the workplace? Embrace legacy

Photo of the Giza pyramid complex with the word "legacy" overlayed.
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay adapted by Patricia Gestoso.

At the end of March, I attended the women in tech conference #ReframeWIT2023 in Manchester. During one of the sessions, they asked us to reflect on purpose-driven work. More specifically, what was our purpose.

The woman next to me shared that she’d always found it difficult to think in terms of purpose: Too fluffy, too aspirational, too “marketing-ish”.

So I let her into my secret. Ditch purpose and instead focus on legacy.

The face of my conversation partner illuminated. She just had the same revelation that I had when, years ago, this amazing gem of wisdom was shared with me by one of my mentors.

As my interlocutor at the conference, at the time I was disenchanted by the overuse of the word purpose. During the last decade, Simon Sinek’s TED talk How great leaders inspire action triggered an epidemic of organisations rewriting their websites to state their purpose, their “why”.

And the trend is still going strong. By now, everyone has got the memo that organisations’ why – aka purpose – should sound groundbreaking, grandiose, awe-inspiring…

Let’s check some

“Our purpose is to move the world forward through the power of sport.

Nike

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

Starbucks

“We reimagine the way the world moves for the better.”

Uber

Because there is a tacit understanding that purpose is aspirational – a far away North Star – there was no metric or timeline attached to it. Moreover, often the greater the purpose, the more disappointing the actual results in terms of contribution to planet and people.

It was discussing this gap with my mentor that she shared her focus on her legacy as a North Star.

And that was my AHA moment. Why?

Whereas purpose relies on wishful thinking, legacy prompts you to action.

Your mind transports you into the future, where you can look backwards and ask yourself

“How can you prove that you’ve been a good ancestor?”

Legacy helps us close the gap between intent and impact.

Unfortunately, because we focus on asking organisations what’s their purpose rather than their legacy, they get away with bland commitments to sustainability, employees’ rights, and – of course – diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Shell’s purpose is to power progress together by providing more and cleaner energy solutions. 

Shell

Legacy and I

I’ve often talked about my awaking to digital accessibility. In the article Unlocking change with ethical and inclusive design, I described how I learned the hard way the gap between my purpose to be a diversity and inclusion advocate and my legacy.

 […] in December 2018, six months after launching my website on diversity and inclusion in tech, an expert in disability asked me if it was accessible and pointed me to the post 10 ways to make your blog accessible for people with a visual impairment on the site Life of A Blind Girl . Reading the article was transformative. It made clear to me that, irrespective of my intention — promoting diversity and inclusion — my impact was the opposite: I’d been potentially frustrating and excluding from my website the millions of people with visual impairments that use screen-readers. All by not using simple and low effort practices such as adding alternative text to the imagines.

So what’s the legacy I’m working towards? What am I aiming for?

First, I want to be an example of what’s possible for an immigrant non-native English speaker woman in tech.

Second, I want to help embed diversity, inclusion, and equity in organisations so that those values cascade to workplaces and products. To make this more actionable, I’ve split it in two.

At the individual level, help release women and underrepresented groups’ capacity so they get into positions of leadership and unleash inclusive workplaces and products.

At the organisational level, help leaders leverage diversity into their business strategy so they can boost innovation, attract and retain talent, be prepared to manage a diverse workforce, and be an example of inclusive leadership.

BACK TO YOU: What are you and your organisation doing right now that will make you mighty ancestors for future generations?

Personal invitation

I’m running again the free online session How to move from self-criticism into inner wisdom on Wednesday April 26, 2023 at 10.30 PDT | 13.30 EDT | 18.30 BST | 19.30 CEST.

Last time, we had an insightful conversation about how workplaces reinforce self-criticism and what we can do when they block our career aspirations.

This is what you’ll learn:

  • How I moved from being stuck in my career in tech to thriving as a technologist, award-winning inclusion strategist, life and career coach, writer, and international public speaker.
  • Three real examples of how tapping into inner wisdom has helped women and non-binary people in tech to reframe confidence to achieve their goals.
  • Understanding how the patriarchy, stereotypes, and cultural norms put obstacles to achieving our goals and promote self-criticism, self-doubt, and analysis paralysis.
  • ​​A framework to move from self-criticism to inner wisdom.

Sign up today to make sure you don’t miss it.

Childbirth pain: Ignored, revered, and deserved

In her article article “At long last, some recognition of the pain after childbirth. Why is women’s suffering so ignored?” published in The Guardian on March 17th, Agnes Arnold-Forster brings the much-needed awareness about how pregnancy and childbirth pain is diminished and ignored by society under the premise that is natural.

She also mentions how that’s been the case for centuries: “The routine diminishing of pain in pregnancy and childbirth has a long history. For centuries, reproduction was seen as women’s divine and natural purpose. As the theologian Martin Luther said in the 16th century: ‘If women become tired, even die, it does not matter. Let them die in childbirth. That’s what they are there for.'”

I posit that there are also other two complementary angles that make the pain during pregnancy and childbirth such an explosive issue to address: Reverence and deservingness.

Last year, I wrote the article Levels of Pain about the world’s contempt for women’s pain. In it, I highlighted how – unlike other kinds of female pain – childbirth pain is often revered. Society sees it as yet another painful rite of passage for women, who are expected to embrace it and feel proud of it.

As an example, I shared the case of a relative of mine who, after enduring an exhausting and painful 23 hours of labour with her first baby, she decided to be sedated during the childbirth of the second. The carers at the hospital didn’t miss the opportunity to reprimand her whilst breastfeeding her newborn for “being selfish and only thinking about herself” for choosing anaesthesia over “natural” birth even if she delivered a healthy 4.35 kg baby boy.

In the article, I also draw attention to the fact not all groups of women have the same experiences. Notably, pregnant Black women and women with disabilities. Their pain and needs are often diminished with negative repercussions for their physical and mental wellbeing.

As Stephanie H. Murray points out in her article describing her epidural ordeal, nobody questions a woman getting anesthesia to get a tooth extracted but everybody has an opinion if that same woman decides to get pain relief during labour: ” these conversations made me wonder why society treats labor pains with such reverence. The questions of whether and how to relieve them are subject to deliberation and scrutiny that would seem absurd under any other circumstances. I certainly didn’t consider forgoing anesthesia when I had my wisdom teeth taken out. And no one asked me about it either.”

And then, there is deservingness.

For more than 2 millennia, the book of Genesis has taught billions of Christians and Jews that women deserve childbirth pain because of Eve’s disobedience (Genesis 3:16): ‘To the woman he said: “I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.”’

Moreover, for some religions like Catholicism, this punishment through labour pain is so central to women’s experience that they have explicitly asserted that the Virgin Mary was spared of it as a consequence of her immaculate conception.

No wonder medicine prefers to stay away and let pregnant women suffer.

Personal invitation

We often read that there are no more women in leadership because women are less confident.

But what’s confidence? Why does it matter? And what can we do something about it?

I’m running the webinar From inner criticism to inner wisdom on Wednesday, April 26th at 18.30 BST. I’ll share

  • My journey with my feeling of confidence.
  • Common myths about how to “cure” our insecurities.
  • How we can leverage our inner wisdom to achieve our professional and personal goals feeling lighter, supported, and proud of ourselves.

Join me on Wednesday April 26th at 10.30 am PDT 1.30pm EDT 18.30 BST 19.30 CEST to learn how to develop a healthy relationship with your feeling of confidence.

What women leaders want: A fresh perspective on retention strategies

Bar chart with the title "if you considered leaving the workforce in 2022, which of the following would make you more likely to stay?". Feeling more valued is at the top with 74%, increased pay second with 60%, and promotion to a higher level of responsibility is the third with 41%.
Results from Chief’s Make Work Work survey.

I’m so tired of bland business advice about how to retain women in leadership positions

  • Talk about the purpose.
  • Given them flexibility.
  • Build an inclusive workplace.

Why bland? Because it’s not a strategy, it’s the minimum.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read Chief‘s article “What women leaders really want at work

Chief’s “Make Work Work” survey of 847 Chief Members, all of whom are women at the VP level or above and who collectively manage $220 billion of the U.S. economy found that – surprise, surprise – there’s a massive disconnect between what companies think women want at work versus what they actually want. To be honest, that’s not a big surprise for me. Already in 2019, I wrote about the disconnect between HR and millennial women on the top reasons why those women leave companies.

So, what’s at the top of the wishlist for those 847 female leaders? In other words, if they considered leaving the workforce in 2022, which would make them more likely to stay?

Feeling more valued – Recently, I read in a community of women in tech a post from a female VP that is routinely expected to play the “secretary” for the exec team: Writing minutes, sending reminders… How valued do you think she feels?

Increased pay – Who would have guessed that women want to be paid as much as White men?

Promotion to a higher level of responsibility – Another shocker! I was sure women don’t care about promotions…

What retain women executives? In order of priority

1.     Power

2.     Money

Is that so different that what male leaders want?

Quiet quitting and rusting-out

So what happens to those that remain in their jobs and don’t get what they want?

In the last six months, there’s been a lot of chatter about quiet quitting. As per Forbes, “burned-out or unsatisfied employees put forth the least amount of effort possible to keep their paychecks”. Whilst for some this is a euphemism for lazy workers, others have made the case that quiet quitting can also be understood as refusing to be a workaholic and instead strictly delivering the work that matches your role and remuneration. But it’s not the only option.

Last week, I learned a new word rust-out: the condition of being chronically under-stimulated, uninspired, and unsatisfied at work

In an article in Stylist, Sharon Peake mentions that “rust-out is also more likely to affect women than men due to the unique workplace barriers that women experience, such as the double burden of paid and unpaid (domestic) work. This often leads highly capable and experienced women to return to work part-time, working at a lower level of responsibility after maternity leave, or even opting out of the workforce.” Moreover, “it can cause employees to ‘doom loop’. that is, repeat unhelpful stories about ourselves.”

In my post Join the conversation: How has mansplaining impacted your life? I mentioned the importance of having words to explain and validate our experiences.

I can finally name the experience of all those fantastic women that started with me in tech years ago and that were given unappealing part-time jobs when they came back from maternity leave, without access to the plumb assignments that lead to career progression.

Their organisations had condemned them to rust out in their jobs.

Calling Out Racial Prejudice: Adultification of Black Children and Infantilisation of White Tech Bros in the Media

Portray of a White millennial man in a hoodie hidding the lower part of his face with a plain white blank full face mask that he holsd on his left hand.
Image by Sam Williams from Pixabay.

In her newsletter from Feb 4, Molly White highlights how we adultify Black children – a form of racial prejudice where children of minority groups, typically Black children, are treated by adults as being more mature than they actually are – whereas we infantilise adult tech bros.

In my talks and articles, I’ve discussed at large how we have one measure for physical goods and another for tech applications. For example, we demand that Pharmas go through a thorough FDA approval before bringing to the market new drugs but we don’t require any control over apps that claim to identify dermatological conditions based on 3 images of your skin.

This applies to people too.

The adultification of Black children comes in many forms. From calling them “young women” or “young men” even if they are younger than 10, all the way to enduring body searches such as in the case of Child Q – a 15-year-old that was strip-searched at school – higher rates of punishment in schools, and harsher sentences from judges.

White highlights in her article how we see the opposite effect with White white-collar tech criminals. The press infantilizes them, making them appear as naughty boys rather than adult offenders.

As an example, she looks at Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF), FTX CEO, who happens to be 30. SBF was charged in December with eight criminal counts, including wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, and he’s been released on a $250 million bail arrangement. He’s been referred to by the press as

“a child playing a game with other people’s cash”

“the boy king”

“boyish tech tycoon”

And he’s not the only one.

Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Adam Neumann… all were about thirty or older when they had notorious encounters with justice. Still, the media helped to portray them as “genius children” and they got a benevolent “tech boys will be boys”.

Let’s stand up against the maturity bias that infantilises White tech bros and adultifies Black children.

Let’s call out the media that decides who’s an adult and who’s a child irrespective of the legislation.

#AdultificationBlackChildren #MaturityBias #InfantilisationWhiteTechBros

Join the conversation: How has mansplaining impacted your life?

Cartoon of a woman absorbed looking at a man that is telling her "Let me explain..."
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay  adapted by Patricia Gestoso.

By now, the term mansplaining – to explain something to a woman in a condescending manner that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic – has become mainstream. It was even incorporated into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018.

It’s also a kind of “inside joke” among women. Our bosses, peers, and even direct reports “mansplain us”. Our family and friends too…

Sometimes we just sigh.

Sometimes we try to “kindly” point out to the mansplainer that we know better than them.

Sometimes we fight back, like the time that during an evaluation of scholarships for funding,  I had a disagreement with another juror regarding a research proposal to develop new tools for materials molecular simulation.

I found the proposal weak, partly because not enough details were given about the methodology that was to be implemented. One of the other evaluators countered that he had found the proposal outstanding. When I pointed to him the list of “holes” in the proposal, he retorted that although he was no expert in modelling he insisted the proposal was excellent. I replied that – unlike him – I was an expert on that kind of materials modelling so that my feedback should prevail.

And even last week, I was mansplained when I shared among colleagues that I was writing a book about how women succeed in tech. I mentioned that I was collecting answers to my short survey asking those women what has made them stay and what they need to thrive in the next 5 years. One of them – whom I’d never met before – volunteered that this was not the right focus for the book. He shared that instead I should write about how STEM is taught in the schools…

Even The Economist has found use for the word in their article The battle for internet search: “ChatGPT often gets things wrong. It has been likened to a mansplainer: supremely confident in its answers, regardless of their accuracy”.

But mansplaining can be life-threatening too, as Rebecca Solnit – who inspired the word with her essay Men explain things to me – wrote in The Guardian last week.

Mansplaining occurs too when

  • The police explain to us that the partner violence we experience is not rape.
  • When doctors explain to us that our pain is imaginary rather than uncovering that it’s caused by endometriosis.
  • When we denounce sexist, ageist, racist, or ableist practices in the workplace and we’re told that it’s only banter.

Mansplaining and epistemic injustice

At the root of mansplaining there is a bigger issue: Who we believe is credible.

In the end, what we believe is conditioned by who’s the messenger. Is it a White male in a coat or a Black trans woman? A Venezuelan immigrant single mother or a wealthy Indian man that studied at Oxford?

Dr. Miranda Fricker – a Professor of Philosophy at New York University – coined the term epistemic injustice, the concept of an injustice done against someone “specifically in their capacity as a knower”.

There are two kinds of epistemic injustice.

Testimonial injustice is when somebody is not believed because of their identity. Like when women are mansplained about their pain being imaginary because they are women.

Hermeneutical injustice is when somebody’s experiences are not understood so they are minimised or diminished. For example, before the term was introduced, the experience of being mansplained had already existed for centuries. However, as there wasn’t a word for it, it was difficult to recognise it as a particular form of patronising women and even for women to discuss the experience among themselves.

How to counter epistemic justice?

We need to get bolder at sharing our experiences of injustice, even we don’t have a name.

As I mentioned in my post What words do we need to invent to embed systemic change?, we must give ourselves permission to create and discard words to be able to build new futures.

And that also includes creating words to describe our experiences. For example,

  • The constant state of alert that we immigrants experience because the laws of the countries we live in can unexpectedly change affecting our right to work and live in the country.
  • The sense of dread people from older generations experience when they go to a job interview and they feel they need to reassure the prospective hiring manager that they won’t steal their job.
  • When your boss boasts about being a female ally because he has a daughter but doesn’t do anything to advance gender equity in the workplace.

BACK TO YOU: How has mansplaining impacted your life? Let me know in the comments.

Do you want to achieve diversity, inclusion, and equity in 2023? Embrace impossible goals

Message pinned with three pushpins to a whiteboard that reads "Nothing is impossible only improbable".
Image by Davie Bicker from Pixabay

(5 min read)

Happy New Year 2023! I wish this year brings you professional and personal success.

This post is inspired by a great conversation I had with my lovely mother-in-law this morning. She’s a fantastic woman that — as myself — is ambitious. Unlike myself, she didn’t have the support of her parents to attend university or to do any other kind of studies after secondary school. But her brother did have that opportunity. The reason? He’s a man, she’s a woman.

The same happened to my grandmother, an extremely brilliant woman. Her only brother was sent to pursue further studies after he finished school. Neither my grandmother nor any of her 3 sisters were given that opportunity.

Until this point, hopefully, none of this surprises you no matter where you live in the world.

So what made that conversation relevant? My mother-in-law told me that believes that things will continue to improve steadily for women in the next years and that they cannot be speeded up.

When I reiterated that I don’t want things to improve “steadily” for women and people of underrepresented groups but that I want them to improve “dramatically”, she reminded me of all the progress achieved for women’s rights since she was young. As proof, she compared what happened to her professional ambitions with her great expectations for the professional future of her 10-year-old granddaughter — who happens to be my goddaughter.

She also conveyed to me that she believed that I was being unreasonable. After all, it has taken centuries to get where we are now regarding women rights.

I used two arguments to support that (a) we need to upend the status quo now, (b) that it’s possible to deliver that change in an extremely short time.

Why we need to upend the status quo now

My mother-in-law told that whilst none of the two of us would see equality in our lifetime, my goddaughter would because

  • She’s intelligent.
  • She’s ambitious.

My reply? As Dame Stephanie Shirley, my head is flat from so many people stopping me from my ambitions and creating artificial ceilings for my career.

I told her that her granddaughter may be very talented and determined and still have bosses that won’t promote her because

If that wasn’t enough, I told her that the UN estimates that it will take more than 150 years to reach gender equality.

To be more precise, only four months ago — on September 7th, 2022- the UN Women and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs released the report Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): The Gender Snapshot 2022 that forecast that at the current rate of progress, it will take up to

  • 286 years to close gender gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws.
  • 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace.
  • At least 40 years to achieve equal representation in national parliaments.

That is, we’ll have to wait three centuries to achieve full gender equality!

After that, my mother-in-law was more willing to see the urgency for change but she was adamant that systems cannot be toppled on a whim.

Why systems of oppression can be knocked down swiftly

If there is a useful learning we can get from the covid-19 pandemic is that extremely fast change is possible.

Within a year

  • Three vaccines were developed.
  • In many countries, people were house-bounded and were required to use masks when stepping outside their homes.
  • Many employees worked from their homes even when previously they had been told it was impossible.
  • Millions of people without previous medical training learned about pandemics, how to perform covid-19 tests, or what a coronavirus looks like.

All that with the support of many democratic countries and billions of dollars.

What does that tell us about change? That dramatic change at a worldwide level is possible when that change becomes our priority.

Moving from SMART goals to impossible goals

I’m currently finalising my certification as a life coach. One of the topics covered is how to set goals and develop a plan to achieve them.

After 20+ years working for corporations, I’m very well acquainted with SMART goals. This is how you set annual objectives, 5-year plans, and roll out new initiatives.

This is how it works: You pick the objective/deliverable/goal and you ensure that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound; hence the acronym SMART.

And that’s how you get things done in organisations.

So I was very surprised that in the coaching certification they taught us how to set and achieve impossible goals.

That is, a goal that is so extremely bold that you don’t know how to achieve it. Yet.

What’s the value of impossible goals:

  • They remove limiting beliefs you didn’t know you had about what you can achieve.
  • It enables you to embrace uncertainty.
  • You allow yourself to entertain the idea that you can learn on-the-fly what will take you to achieve that impossible goal.

Case studies: Impossible goals to advance DEI

Imagine that Mahatma Gandhi, Emmeline Pankhurst, Nelson Mandela, or Florence Nightingale had used SMART goals instead of impossible goals to achieve the kind of changes they led.

And I’m sure a lot of people tried to “knock some sense” into their heads — told them that the transformations they were pursuing were foolish, unreasonable, unattainable.

What if they had complied?

What if they had said “Yes, you’re right. This is not a SMART goal”? Or “Indeed. I don’t know exactly how to achieve independence, get the vote for women, end apartheid, or found modern nursing, so I better stop until I figure it all out.

Maybe we’d still be grappling with those issues…

My 2023 impossible goal

In 2022, I coached five women and nonbinary people that got promoted.
 
In 2023, my impossible goal is to coach another 50 women and underrepresented people to get the promotion they deserve!

Is it a SMART goal? No.

Do I know exactly how to achieve it? No.

Will not knowing how to achieve it stop me from trying? No.

Is it worth it? Absolutely yes!

What am I doing towards achieving my impossible goal? I’m running again the Joyful Annual Career Assessment Week in February, after the sucess of the first edition in January. This is a one-week event from February 13th to February 17th where I help women and people from underrepresented groups get a clear picture of their professional accomplishments in 2022, tell their career story in a compelling manner, and be ready to discuss their career aspirations for 2023 and beyond.

“Patricia talks about how to frame our accomplishments without seeming arrogant, declare our desires in the professional sphere, and get managerial support for them, and learn about how to advance, despite upbring that may teach us to downplay our skills and contributions. It is amazing!

I wish I had learned this in my 20s- my career path would have been different, and I would have known the invisible rules, so that I could advance in the way I wanted to!”

VHA, Director, Business Development

BACK TO YOU: What’s your impossible goal in 2023?

Let me know in the comments!


Inclusion is a practice, not a certificate.

#ChatGPT or how artificial intelligence lures us into being a cog in the machine

An illustration of six interlocking cogs, each one including a portrait of a man or a woman of a different ethnicity.
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay.

Recently, my mentor, friend, and role model Suzanne Noble tagged me on a LinkedIn post about ChatGPT, the last tech miracle that promises to impersonate humans and steal their job.

OpenAI, the developers of ChatGPT, claim that the artificial intelligence tool “interacts in a conversational way. The dialogue format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer followup questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests.”

Here is Suzanne’s LinkedIn post

John Spencer Williams asked #chatgpt to write a LinkedIn post in the style of an influencer, and I thought it was so fun, so I decided to do the same. I fed it my background, and it immediately assumed I was a man… so it is far from perfect and possibly, sexist.

What are your thoughts Patricia Gestoso-Souto ◆ Inclusive Innovation?

Suzanne Noble

Below is the text Suzanne write in the AI application

“I have been self-employed for over 35 years. I have made over £1.4m and had a company go into liquidation. Despite growing up in a middle-class home, with two parents who were both working for corporations I decided to take the entrepreneurial path. I have been featured in national newspapers like The Time, The Telegraph, the Guardian, and in Forbes and in books about entrepreneurship. Now I help people to set up their own business. Write a post about me in the style of a Linkedin Influencer.”

Then, ChatGPT produced four paragraphs. The first one started as

“Meet John Doe, a successful entrepreneur who has been self-employed…”

Once the prompt stopped moving, Suzanne wrote

“My name is Suzanne and I’m a woman. Write again.”

Again, the tool complied and produced a similar text, this time starting by

“Meet Suzanne, a successful entrepreneur and business woman…”

She tagged me because the text generated by ChatGPT assumed that the bio was for a man – Joe Doe. Who else could be the “default” entrepreneur? Suzanne knowns that I’m deeply interested in exposing how emerging technologies reinforce and automate bias and prejudice. Moreover, this comes only some months after the release of free artificial intelligence tools that generate new images from text prompts and that inspired me to write my second fiction short story.

Back to ChatGPT, whilst assuming gender was the most obvious bias, unfortunately, it was not the only one. Upon perusing both “Influencer bios” (available in the original post), I spotted other differences. For example:

  • Ability to generate money: In Joe Doe’s bio, the second sentence is “With a record of making over £1.4m and growing a company from the ground up…”. That information – which appears to prominently in his bio – never appears in Suzanne’s.
  • Though-leadership: Whilst you can “learn the ins and outs of starting a company” from Joe, Suzanne only offers “valuable advice and support”.
  • Bias beyond gender: The name chosen for the man – Joe Doe – reflects a stereotypical American view of the world, after all, it’s a placeholder name used in legal action and cases when the true identity of a man is unknown or must be withheld for legal reasons in the United States and Canada. Why not using Monsieur X or Juan Pérez, French and Latin-American alternatives to John Doe?

After reading both bios, who will you hire/interview/invite as a thought-leader in the topic of entrepreneurship?

Beyond bias: Why does our infatuation with AI matter?

Still, bias is not the only problem with those miracle tech tools. Here are a handful more for reflection:

  • The impunity of technology to infringe intellectual copyright – Those AI tools are built from images and text issued from public databases and/or data scrapped from internet, without acknowledgement – and more importantly monetary compensation – to their authors. We’re told that it’s too complicated to retrace attribution so we should suck it up. So I wonder, what about the people without writing or painting talent or skills that are now getting the benefit of thousands of hours of other people’s craft for free?
  • The reinforcement of a mindless quest for productivity – Those applications are marketed as tech helping us to “be more productive”. But, who benefits from that productivity? It would appear than more than a century later, scientific management is still well and thriving. In the name of efficiency, this management theory asserted that every manufacturing process could be deconstructed in smallest task which accomplishment could be perfected, including “calculations of exactly how much time it takes a man to do a particular task, or his rate of work”. AI hype profits from this obsession with products and services divorced from values and from how they are produced.
  • The hindrance of innovation – If anyone can be paid and rewarded by producing average writing or painting build on profiteering from the work of creators that have invested in mastering their craft, what is the incentive for future innovators?

By focusing on the productivity mirage AI offer us, we are condemning ourselves to stifle our individuality and creativity.

DEI in the press

For reflection

Women are getting angrier. An annual poll by Gallup suggests that women, on average worldwide, have been getting angrier over the past 10 years. Maybe winter is finally coming for the patriarchy?

A boost of energy

From the wheelchair-using Black Panther to the ‘cripple suffragette’ – this article showcases 10 heroes of the disabled rights movement.

News from me

 In 2022, I coached 5 women and nonbinary people that got promoted.
 
 In 2023, my goal is to coach another 50 to get the promotion they deserve!
 
What am I doing towards achieving my goal? I’m running again the Joyful Annual Career Assessment Week in February, after the sucess of the first edition in January. This is a one-week event from February 13th to February 17th where I help women and people from underrepresented groups get a clear picture of their professional accomplishments in 2022, tell their career story in a compelling manner, and be ready to discuss their career aspirations for 2023 and beyond.

You’ll get:

  1. 20+ page workbook to walk you through the steps to write your 2022 career review.
  2. live pop-up private online community group from Monday 13th to Friday 17th February where you can get feedback on your assessment and support.
  3. Access to three one-hour group virtual coaching calls via Zoom during the week.

Testimonial:

“Patricia talks about how to frame our accomplishments without seeming arrogant, declare our desires in the professional sphere, and get managerial support for them, and learn about how to advance, despite upbring that may teach us to downplay our skills and contributions. It is amazing!

I wish I had learned this in my 20s- my career path would have been different, and I would have known the invisible rules, so that I could advance in the way I wanted to!”

VHA, Director, Business Development

 Benefits others have gotten from working with me:
 
 –  Get a clear picture of your professional accomplishments in 2022 as well as the skills and experiences gained.
 –  Ability to tell your career story in a compelling manner that it’s also true to yourself.
 –  Feel ready to have meaningful conversations about your career aspirations in 2023 and beyond.
 
Come and join us!


As I mentioned on a previous post, I’m writing a book about how women succeed in tech and the first step has been to gather feedback from women in tech about your/their experiences at work via this short survey.

The response has been great – we already have over 200 richly-detailed responses, from women in tech from startups to multinationals, of all ages and career levels, in 33 countries.

Women in tech clearly share a lot of common success-boosting experiences (“active sponsorship at work and women’s tech communities outside work have made all the difference”) and some enduring challenges (“if I draw on my strengths of collaboration and adaptation, I get dismissed as ‘unstrategic’, but if I’m authoritative and decisive, I’m labelled ‘disruptive’ or ‘antagonistic’ – my male peers get very different reactions”). They are also creating new words to describe their experiences (“often times your suggestions/ideas are ‘he-peated’ in order to get the job done”)

Now one ask: Could you get 2 more women in your tech network to complete the survey before year end?

What do I mean by “Women in Tech”? Women working in any function (R&D, HR, services, finance, CXO) in the tech sector (software, hardware…) or in tech-related functions in other sectors (e.g. IT, cybersecurity…).


Inclusion is a practice, not a certificate


How to move diversity, inclusion and equity forwards three articles at the time

I feel I’ve been neglicting the readers of my blog, that is, YOU, this year.

On the bright side, I have continued to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion in organisations, technology, and workplaces through opinion articles and fiction.

I’m delighted to share with you that my writing has been featured in three magazines in the last three months.

Artificial Intelligence and the Global South

Scattered white plastic figures resembling humans sitting at tables in front of laptops. The white background makes their environment look bleak.
Max Gruber / Better Images of AI / Clickworker Abyss / Licenced by CC-BY 4.0

In September, the economics e-magazine The Mint published my article How artificial intelligence is recolonising the Global South.

In the 5-min piece, I discuss how the Global North exploits poverty and weak laws in the South to accelerate its digital transformation.

Have you ever asked yourself:

  • Who moderates our social media?
  • Who annotates the images for our self-driving cars?
  • Who extracts the metals needed for our smartphones?
  • In which populations AI algorithms are tested?

Being accountable for the books we read

A computer-generated photographic style image showing piles of distorted books with some surreal landscape features in the immediate foreground, such as a kind of beach and games board. The books merge into each other in an impressionistic, digitally blurred way, and rising out of them and taking up the main part of the image is a huge undefined concrete structure topped with more books and folders that get bigger as they go up.
jbustterr / Better Images of AI / A monument surrounded by piles of books / Licenced by CC-BY 4.0

In October, Certain Age Magazine published The DEI Booklist: Five books to think and act differently, where I reflect on the fact that whom we read matters as much as what we read.

In the article, I review 5 books:

  • Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly
  • Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
  • Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein
  • Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano
  • Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence by Kate Crawford

I also share how I overcame the inertia of only reading books written by White, able, American, heterosexual cis-men.

Scoop: It took two years!

Using short fiction to get people talking about emerging technology

Black and white photographs  of the faces of White people scattered across a white background and grouped by similarity.
Philipp Schmitt & AT&T Laboratories Cambridge / Better Images of AI / Data flock (faces) / Licenced by CC-BY 4.0

Last week, the Medium magazine The Lark published my second short fictional story, The Life of Data Podcast. As in the previous one – The GraduationI’ve used future fiction to question the interplay between humans and technology, specifically AI.

Have you ever thought what happens to your photos circulating on social media? That’s what I did in this 10-min short fictional story.

In a nutshell, I imagined what the data from the digital portrait of a Black schoolgirl woud share about how it moves inside our phones, computers, and networks if it was invited to speak on a podcast.

How does the story resonate with you?

And the cherry on the cake

In August 2022, I was featured in the Computer Weekly 2022 longlist of the most influential women in UK tech.

Each year, Computer Weekly publishes the longlist of all of the women put forward to be considered for its list of the top 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech.

And I was nominated!

Looking at the names of the other 600 women in the UK that were nominated as well was such a boost of energy! Among them, I’ve found great role models, IT leaders, community builders, and amazing raising stars.

One thing that I love in the list is that not only women in software development were nominated, dispelling the myth that tech is only about coding. Tech is so much more! Women investors, CEOs, COOs, non-tech founders…

If you’re unsure if there is a place for you in tech, please have a look at the list and get inspired. We’re waiting for you!


As I mentioned on a previous post, I’m writing a book and I need your help!

I’d be immensely grateful if you could complete and/or share with your network of women in tech this short survey about your/their experiences at work.

What do I mean by “Women in Tech”? Women working in any function (R&D, HR, services, finance, CXO) in the tech sector (software, hardware…) or in tech-related functions in other sectors (e.g. IT, cybersecurity…).

Whilst the survey is anonymous, you’ll have the option to get involved in the project before submitting the form. Thanks for your support!


Inclusion is a practice, not a certificate!

Library of missing datasets: Are you being digitally excluded?

A file cabinet with four drawers, one of them is opened and empty. At the right of the file cabinet, there is the sentence “whose data are we missing?” with an arrow pointing to the empty drawer.
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay  adapted by Patricia Gestoso.

(7 min read)

Data protection and privacy regulations like GDPR, the pervasiveness of social media, and the boom of artificial intelligence have prompted debates among academic, governmental, commercial, and non-profit organisations about our rights to own our data and how that data is used to sell us stuff and surveil us. These discussions often forget whose and which data are we missing.

My research on the effect of covid-19 on the unpaid work of professional women made me painfully aware of the gap between intent and impact when we talk about collecting data. The dataset that constitutes the basis of the report came from 1,300+ responses from mostly White women to a survey. We had relied on snowballing – our network – to get more women to answer the survey. Unsurprisingly, our network looked like us!

This mishap prompted my interest in the harms of missing or incomplete datasets – both in general and in the case of children.

Recently, a found somebody that has made a great job at using art to bring awareness to the topic of missing datasets.

The Library of Missing Datasets

Mimi Ọnụọha is a Nigerian-American artist and researcher whose work highlights the social relationships and power dynamics behind data collection.

She has created a Library of Missing Datasets. In her words

“Missing data sets” are my term for the blank spots that exist in spaces that are otherwise data-saturated. My interest in them stems from the observation that within many spaces where large amounts of data are collected, there are often empty spaces where no data live. Unsurprisingly, this lack of data typically correlates with issues affecting those who are most vulnerable in that context.

Mimi Onuoha

Why should we care? Onuoha believes that “what we ignore reveals more than what we give our attention to. It’s in these things that we find cultural and colloquial hints of what is deemed important. Spots that we’ve left blank to reveal our hidden social biases and indifferences.”

She compiles a list of missing or incomplete datasets. Some examples are:

  • People excluded from public housing because of criminal records.
  • Trans people killed or injured in instances of hate crime (note: existing records are notably unreliable or incomplete).
  • Poverty and employment statistics that include people who are behind bars.
  • Muslim mosques/communities surveilled by the FBI/CIA.
  • Mobility for older adults with physical disabilities or cognitive impairments.
  • Undocumented immigrants currently incarcerated and/or underpaid.
  • Firm statistics on how often police arrest women for making false rape reports.

Onuoha has created a version 2.0, where she focused on blackness. She says “Black folks are both over-collected and under-represented in American datasets, featuring strongly as objects of collection but rarely as subjects with agency over collection, ownership, and power.

I found very thought-provoking the images of the file cabinets with the drawers open showing the tagged empty folders. You can check them yourself the initial project and the 2.0 version.

Some of the datasets I’m missing or existing records are incomplete

  • Women that have not been promoted in spite of having all the requirements because of bias.
  • Disabled people that have been discriminated against by hiring algorithms.
  • People that have unfairly been denied work permits and residence visas.
  • Children with long covid.
  • LBTQ+ people that fear coming out because of backlash.
  • People in Venezuela that have endured “express” kidnapping.

Back to you

  • Which datasets are you missing?
  • Which datasets are missing you?

Before I go

For reflection

Diversity is not the magic bullet to fix inequity. For those still doubting it, in this edition of The Flock with Jennifer Crichton newsletter, Gemma Doswell reflects on the relative broad gender and ethnic diversity of the candidates for the Tory leadership in the UK and how we assume that it automatically should translate into advocacy for their visible identities.

A boost of energy

Mastercard now links all employee bonuses to ESG goals!

In 2021, the company introduced a compensation model for executives tied to three main Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance priorities: carbon neutrality, financial inclusion, and gender pay parity. This year they have rolled the scheme out to all employees globally.

News from me

Early this year, I went to Edinburgh to deliver a workshop at the Scottish AI Summit called Goodbye shiny robots & glowing brains: Why Better Images of AI matter. This is in the context of my work as Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at We and AI and my participation in the Better Images of AI project.

The workshop was delivered both in-person and online with Tania Duarte, Co-Founder and CEO of We and AI, and Tristan Ferne, executive producer at BBC Research & Development. You can watch it on the summit’s website.

Do you prefer a podcast? You can listen to Tania and me discussing with Steph Wright why better images of AI matter and the reasons we need trustworthy, ethical, and inclusive AI on this episode of Scotland’s AI Strategy podcast, Turing’s Triple Helix.


As I mentioned on a previous post, I’m writing a book and I need your help!

[ASK] I’d be immensely grateful if you could complete and/or share with your network of women in tech this short survey about your/their experiences at work.

What do I mean by “Women in Tech”? Women working in any function (R&D, HR, services, finance, CXO) in the tech sector (software, hardware…) or in tech-related functions in other sectors (e.g. IT, cybersecurity…).

Whilst the survey is anonymous, you’ll have the option to get involved in the project before submitting the form. Thanks for your support!


Inclusion is a practice, not a certificate!

The luxury of overconfidence when you have privilege

Chart showing the comparison between UK men's and women's confidence about beating several animals in a fight unarmed. The highest confidence is for beating a rat with 77% men vs 57% women, and the lowest is for a Gorilla, 2% men vs 1% women.
Chart from YouGov UK.  

(5 min read)

As a woman in tech, every day I’m reminded that my problem is a lack of confidence. I’m constantly showered with newsletters, offers of webinars and coaching, as well as articles telling me that confidence is a fix-all from the gender pay gap to solving the shortage of women in CXO roles.

All that in spite that there is no correlation between confidence and effective leadership! When I mention this fact, most people look puzzled. I don’t know why. It’s not like we have a “confid-ometer” that enables us to correlate our leaders’ confidence to the success of their initiatives.

What’s more, I’m adamant that our economic, political, and social problems are often rooted in overconfident leaders. If in doubt, only look at how the overconfidence of some political leaders has resulted in disastrous outcomes on the flight against the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish they could have been much less confident and more humble to follow the advice of others that actually know better.

Still, people are resistant. It’s so easy to attribute to self-doubt the lack of CEOs that are disabled, non-White, or self-identify as women…

Early this year, Caroline Perez Criado’s newsletter came to help me! She shared the results of a survey by YouGov on Which animals could Britons beat in a fight?

Guess what? The results show that 28% men vs 9% women think they could beat “unarmed” an eagle in a fight. Gets better, 12% of men vs 2% of women think they could beat a King Cobra, again, unarmed! By the way, in the same article there is also a reference to the US study and how compares with the UK. Priceless!

We can continue to assume that because some people think they can beat a cobra, they can actually beat it. Or, we can confront the myth that confidence is a predictor of effective leadership.

What should we care?

I’ve been coaching and mentoring for years university students, direct reports, peers, clients… And confidence is a topic that comes often. “If I were more confident… ” People talk about it as it was an unreachable superpower such as being invisible or capable to fly.

Confidence is simply about how we feel about a decision. If we feel good, we tell ourselves that we’re confident. When we feel bad or unsure, we lack confidence. So far, so good.

The problem is that we assume that this particular feeling is a good predictor of success. And it’s not. This delusion has even a name!

The Dunning-Kruger effect is “a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of a task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge. Some researchers also include in their definition the opposite effect for high performers: their tendency to underestimate their skills”.

A chart of confidence vs competence with the title “Dunning-Kruger effect”. The curve starts a zero confidence and competence. Then, it increases rapidly in confidence and very little in competence to drop very quickly in confidence as competence increases. Then, the curve continues to increase slowly in confidence and compentence until it reaches a plateau. The plateau is lower in confidence than the peak reached previously.
Confidence vs competence: The Dunning-Krugger effect (Patricia Gestoso).

Moreover, we reverence so much confidence that we have made it a key prerequisite to be considered for any meaningful progression in our careers. I cannot recall how many times I’ve heard hiring manager justify their choice of candidate because the person “looked” confident, even if the other candidate had a superior CV.

What if Instead of pushing people to do power poses to boost their confidence, we demanded our overconfident leaders to demonstrate with data and facts the bases of their confidence in their strategy?

What if hiring managers asked candidates to share the evidence supporting their level of confidence rather than assumed it correlates with their competence?

Let’s stop fixing women and underrepresented groups’ confidence. Our problem is not confidence but overconfidence.

Before I go

For reflection

In this 4-min article, Mary Fashik – a queer disabled woman of color – and Corie Walsh – a White disabled woman with wealth privilege – share the regular erasure, oppression, and disrespect they experience as disabled women. They also discuss how the pandemic was a missed opportunity for the world to learn some of the lessons the disabled community has long known like “collective care is the way forward”.

A boost of energy

On International Women’s Day, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, issued a posthumous apology for the “historical injustice” of witch hunts. From 1563 to 1736, an estimated 4,000 people in Scotland were accused of witchcraft, of which about 80% were women. “These women were targeted because they were vulnerable, some of them owned land that others – usually men – wanted access to, or they were unmarried or widowed, or they looked or spoke or acted differently.”[reference] Two-thirds of those accused were executed.

For comparison, during the worldwide famous trials of Salem, 200 people were accused and 14 women and 5 men were hanged.

News from me

I’m writing a book and I need your help!

As some of you know, my DEI work was prompted by my dismay at realizing in 2015 that fantastic women that had started with me had either quit tech tired of fighting over and over the same battles or given unappealing jobs when they came back from maternity leave – I don’t have children myself.

Unfortunately, little has changed. Seven years later, still, more than 40% of women that start in tech leave the sector.

So, this year I decided to write a book about how women succeed in tech worldwide. There are great books written about this topic focused on US corporations. I also believe we can learn a lot by casting a wider net. My first step? Asking those women what has made them stay and what they need to thrive in the next 5 years.

[ASK] I’d be immensely grateful if you could complete and/or share with your network of women in tech this short survey about your/their experiences at work.

What do I mean by “Women in Tech”? Women working in any function (R&D, HR, services, finance, CXO) in the tech sector (software, hardware…) or in tech-related functions in other sectors (e.g. IT, cybersecurity…).

Whilst the survey is anonymous, you’ll have the option to get involved in the project before submitting the form.

Thanks for your support!


Inclusion is a practice, not a certificate!

13 Books to think differently about technology, business, and inclusion

People in a bookstore reading books sat in either comfortable seats or a bean bag chair.
Image from Pixabay by LubosHouska.

In 2021 I read 38 books. Following from my CuriousMindsDiversePeople Challenge, I kept track of the diversity of authors and topics. For example, 25 of the authors self-identified as women, 14 were non-US authors, 4 discussed disability and 11 LBTQ+ topics.

Below are my personal highlights from 13 of them that made me think differently about data, artificial intelligence, design, sustainability, feminism, pleasure, and God. I’m listing them in the order I read them.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem. If you are a feminist and somehow feel guilty that all the books on the topic depress you, I thoroughly recommend this book as audio, since Steinem herself narrates most of it. It’s a collage of articles written at different points in her life about walking the talk on feminism and women’s rights and the importance of challenging both the small and the big oppressions. All that is delivered with wit. A huge bonus!

The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability and Success by Carol Sanford. In 2020, I learned about the concept of regenerative as an “upgrade” to sustainability. This book provides food for thought and examples about how to make businesses adopt practices that benefit their employees, users, communities, and the planet. However, I missed a more critical view of some of the study cases, especially for big tech companies, which is the area I’m more familiar with. For example, Facebook and Google are portrayed as the paradigm of regenerative businesses, without any mention of their questionable practices as employers and business models. Still, the book provided valuable insights for my talk Regenerative Business: Embedding ethics and inclusion in workplaces, products, and services at the Cambridge Agile Exchange last February (recording here).

Continue reading

When tokenistic diversity damages reputation: The revenge of the lehenga

Paws of different colours - blue, green, red, yellow – on a wood background. Among them, there is a black pawn.
Image from Pixabay by MetsikGarden.

(4 min read)

When business leaders learn that I’m an inclusion strategist, most of them tell me about their diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives in the workplace: gender pay gap report, employee resource groups, diversity audits…

Then, I ask them what are they doing about the diversity of their customers. Yes, you can come up with 4-6 versions of the “ideal” customer and hope for the best but the reality is that humans are much more complex and their situation and environment are dynamic, not static. How are they authentically including that diversity of experiences in their products, services, marketing, and sales?

The HBO TV series “And Just Like That…,” a reboot of “Sex and the City,” is a good reminder of what happens when you play the “diversity” card in your products whilst patronizing your customers.

Continue reading

What words do we need to invent to embed systemic change?

A sheet of paper emerging from a typewriter with the letters “words have power” copied over and over.
Image from Pixabay by Geralt.

(4 min)

I have the privilege to speak 3 languages: English, French, and my native Spanish. Even if the three of them share a lot of history (all are Indo-European languages with close ties and use the same alphabet) it still surprises me how some words apparently close in meaning can resonate differently. Let me share my experience with the word “engineer”.

I’m a Chemical Engineer and in the country where I pursued my studies (Venezuela), it was assumed that engineers are smart people that get to top management positions. Later on, I lived in France. There, to be an engineer has even more prestige! If you happen to graduate from one of the Grandes Écoles d’Ingénieurs (Great Engineering Schools) the sky is the limit for your professional career.

So, it was a surprise when I moved to the UK and realized that the word “engineer” was sometimes used interchangeably with “technician”. Also, I noticed that images would often portray engineers as people in overalls working on power plants rather than solving equations in a computer or in a meeting room making decisions.

One day I learned that the interpretation of their origin may actually different!

Continue reading
Article Levels of Pain by Patricia Gestoso as displayed on the Certain Age e-magazine website. It features two old pictures of a woman's head and torso with the shape of some internal organs painted on her skin in black marker.

Happy New Year! I wish 2022 brings all of you tons of professional and personal success.

For me, 2022 started with a bang! I got an article published on Certain Age, an e-magazine that showcases a wide array of ideas from modern women. Topics range from big ideas to small wonders with a sense of voice and an uncompromising commitment to factual accuracy.

This piece (8-min read) is my answer to a question that I’ve been pondering for 40+ years: Does contempt for women’s pain justify substandard healthcare for half of humanity? Asking for a friend…

I’d love to read in the comments how the article resonates with you!


“No black woman writer in this culture can write ‘too much’. Indeed, no woman writer can write ‘too much’…No woman has ever written enough.”

bell hooks

Ensure your ideas and experiences get exposure in 2022!

Instructions to submit your contributions to Certain Age can be found here. The editor, Jean Shields Fleming, provides thoughtful advice and she’s very respectful of the author’s voice. She’s been an absolute joy to work with.

Four ways we ignore children when discussing digital inclusion

Two teenage girls portrayed against a wall with multiple surveillance cameras pointing at them. The girls look at the cameras back. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

(5 min read)

Children are an afterthought in our digital inclusion plans.

We talk about the importance of embedding diversity, inclusion, and ethics in technology as a prerequisite for a digital future that works for everybody. The conversation is framed in the context of identities – gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, culture. However, we have forgotten children. I’m talking about children’s data privacy and their vulnerability to tech tools, especially those powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

In this article, I share four areas where we’re letting children down and how the power of framing data as money can help us to proactively include them.

Continue reading

Women’s battle for fair access to leadership positions in tech

Brown woman in casual attire with a laptop in her lap typing software code.
Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels.

I’m delighted to be featured in the last issue of The Mint Magazine on the digital economy. The piece, entitled Motherboard Matters, is my first contribution to an economics journal!

In this article (5-min read), I highlight how the pervasiveness of patriarchy, exceptionalism, and meritocracy in the technology sector is at the core of women’s battle for fair access to leadership positions in tech.

I also share how we need to overhaul tech so it moves from extracting to contributing to society and the planet.

Motherboard Matters

I’ve now been working for over 15 years as a head of services in the tech industry. Throughout my career, I’ve strived to support other professional women with the determination to see workplaces reach gender equity during my lifetime.

The pandemic has wrecked that hope in the tech sector even though it is thriving financially. The reason? Tech hasn’t seen the opportunities to challenge practices such as unpaid care work and the revered 40-hour workweek that keep women away from leadership positions. Instead, it has brushed off the problem with platitudes: flexible working… work from home… hybrid working…

This lack of questioning is the product of the pervasiveness of patriarchy, exceptionalism, and meritocracy in technology, which hinder the deep transformation required to upend the status quo. These characteristics are part of its DNA and have long stayed under the radar of most people, including myself.

When I started in software, I wasn’t particularly uncomfortable in a sector where you must work much harder to progress in your career if you are not simultaneously white, heterosexual, able, and male. I’ve been an immigrant all my life, so I was used to being “the other” and to have to prove myself over and over.

Then, in the early 2010s, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote Why Women Still Can’t Have It All and Sheryl Sandberg published Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. In different ways, those powerful women sent the message that women didn’t have the same opportunities as men to get to the top and that imbalance had to be fixed.

Around that time, I was promoted. I quickly noticed that often I was the only female senior manager in projects and meetings. The smart and promising women that I had met years earlier had come back from maternity leave to unappealing part-time jobs, without access to the plumb assignments that lead to career progression.

The motherhood penalty revealed to me systemic patterns where before I’d seen only coincidences.

The tipping point was when I joined a group of professional women working in various industries and at all career levels. Our honest conversations about men stealing ideas, the harmful effects of unconscious bias, or the motherhood penalty revealed to me systemic patterns where before I’d seen only coincidences. That prompted me to create the first employee-led group focused on fostering gender equity at my company, which positive impact was recognised with the 2020 Women in Tech Changemakers UK award. I also spreadhead other initiatives to grow diversity and inclusion in other organisations. I also discovered that power asymmetry was not a bug but a feature embedded since the birth of tech.

In the 1930s, women were hired to solve mathematical problems that were considered at the time as repetitive work. Some of those calculations were as complex as estimating the number of rockets needed to make a plane airborne or determining how to get a human into space and back. When computers took off in the 1960s women became the programmers while men focused on the hardware which was regarded as the most challenging work. As programming gained status during the 1980s, men pushed women out of those jobs. That prompted a sharp increase in the salaries of software developers, institutionalising patriarchy and the gender pay gap.

Historically, tech has approached these issues by “fixing women.” For example, women in the sector are coached to develop stereotypical male leadership traits. In the past decade, tech leaders have promoted the abdication of responsibility for solving gender inequalities and charged women with mitigating the damages. For instance, female executives are expected to act as role models on top of their full-time jobs. This can go all the way from agreeing to be the company’s speaker at STEM events to sponsoring the female employee network.

This transfer of responsibility is also alive and well in start-up tech businesses. A venture capitalist shared with me his view that the key to increasing the funding received by women’s businesses was that they were mentored by successful female founders. I replied that those top performers were often overburdened by the demands of paying back to society and that men could also mentor women. Later that day, he asked me to mentor a woman with a promising business idea that he was trying to help. He introduced us via email mentioning my interest in supporting her and inviting us to connect. His “helping” was done.


In recent years, the most popular software development approach, agile, has become a staple of the business jargon. The origin of this methodology can be traced back to 2001 and 17 software developers unhappy about what they considered excessive planning and documentation practices. They came up with their own set of rules: The Agile Manifesto.

The rationale is that tech is special and its regulation is counterproductive and stifles innovation.

But agile is more than a project management approach. It buttresses tech’s deep cultural belief in exceptionalism, the idea that our sector is inherently different from, and even better than, all the others. This helps to explain how we allow tech companies to go fast and break things while we impose strict regulations on the food and drug industries. The rationale is that tech is special and its regulation is counterproductive and stifles innovation.

The debates about the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI) are perfect examples of how this sector dodges the rules applied to other industries. For example, I recently met with other professionals to discuss future trends in support software. Everybody was very excited about the use of AI tools such as sentiment analysis to improve the user experience. Then, I brought up the proposal for regulating those applications released by the European Union a month earlier. The participants – who were unaware of the document – quickly asserted that the directive had nothing to do with support. In summary, norms are for others.

This framework conveniently disguises the dearth of opportunities for underrepresented groups as being the result of a lack of intelligence and skill.

And the most pernicious cultural tenet in tech is its self-proclaimed meritocracy. How do we heal a system that considers itself virtuous? The idea that tech is inherently fair is rooted in its connection to logic and mathematics which commonly translates as objectivity and reason. This framework conveniently disguises the dearth of opportunities for underrepresented groups as being the result of a lack of intelligence and skill.

Can we extricate patriarchy, exceptionalism, and meritocracy from tech? Yes, we can but it’ll need an overhaul of its vision, mission, and purpose. It’ll need humility.

What does that mean in practice?

First, it means moving away from methodologies that could foster power asymmetry between creators and users. Instead, we should adopt systems thinking and multi-stakeholder co-creation practices for the development of products, services, and workplaces.

Second, recognising that the financial success of our sector relies on innovations funded by governments and products purchased by customers. Hence, paying taxes that are commensurate with tech business profits is not philanthropy but a fair contribution to society.

Finally, abiding by the same rules and regulations imposed on any other sector with the potential of affecting billions of lives. Only then, will tech be able to deliver on its “Don’t be evil” promise.

Further reading

System map of the factors accounting for the low representation of women in leadership positions in tech companies.

Life under lockdown: Report on the impact of COVID-19 on professional women’s unpaid work


BACK TO YOU: What are your views on the topic? How does my story resonate with yours?

Picture of a computer motherboard that illustrates my article Motherboard Matters in The Mint Magazine.

Unlocking change with ethical and inclusive design

A white male hand holding an open rusty padlock. Photo by Patricia Gestoso©.

A white male hand holding an open rusty padlock. Photo by Patricia Gestoso©.

(9 min read)

I’m not Black on Monday, a woman on Tuesday, and left-handed on Wednesday.

Annie Jean-Baptiste, Head of Product Inclusion at Google

My journey into ethical and inclusive design was prompted by embarrassment, fear, and impatience.

Embarrassment: When in December 2018, six months after launching my website on diversity and inclusion in tech, an expert in disability asked me if it was accessible and pointed me to the post 10 ways to make your blog accessible for people with a visual impairment on the site Life of A Blind Girl . Reading the article was transformative. It made clear to me that, irrespective of my intention — promoting diversity and inclusion — my impact was the opposite: Continue reading

3 things we should unlearn from COVID-19

Finger clicking on a button that has the inscription “31 December 2019”.

Figure adapted by Patricia Gestoso from this image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay .

(7 min read)

Imagine you go into a one-week change management training with the expectation is that when you are back to work you’ll reassure everybody that there is no need to change. How does that sound?

Actually, this is what’s happening right now. We’ve been in a change management boot camp for 3 months now, at the cost of $2-4 trillion US$ (UNCTAD, Asian Development Bank), but most leaders keep using sentences such as “back to normal” and “resume”, or simply they have gone hiding. Do they really believe we can all go backwards in time to 31 December 2019? Are they lacking the creativity and energy to be the catalyst for a different future miles away from their vision four months ago? Or are they simply patronizing their citizens and employees by thinking that if they keep insisting on going forward to the past, we’ll all close our eyes to our individual and collective experiences during this crisis?

If it’s the latest, it’s not working.

Continue reading

The ROI of Inclusive And Ethical Design

A calculator and a pen resting on a paper with some handwritten notes. 

Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay.

(5 min)

Interacting with tech products that reject me as a user or provide a subpar experience elicits two very different responses in me.

As a Head of Customer Service with 25+ years’ experience in scientific and engineering software, I’m well aware of the constraints imposed by a finite R&D team and an ever-growing list of customer enhancement requests and bugs to fix. It’s teams like mine that build those lists and provide feedback to the product team on their prioritization. Which features and fixes make it into code depends on a multitude of factors: the difficulty to implement them, their alignment with the vision for the product, and their potential impact on the user experience and expectations. This last criterion is assessed using fictional user personas created by the product team as a representation of the ideal customer. The closer the requester of the feature is to one of the user personas, the higher the chances of implementation into the product. However, if the issue is considered an edge case – not representative of a substantial customer base – then it will mostly get rejected or postponed indefinitely. Every new feature and fix must demonstrate its ROI.

As a woman that cumulates several out-group identities – e.g. non-native English speaker, poor vision – I’m used to the frustrating feedback that my mediocre user experience is deceptively cataloged as an edge case. Why deceptively? The average tech Continue reading

5 Strategies to make Unconscious Bias Training Effective

A man throws a bag with the sign "unconscious bias training" in a trashcan with the label "Nice to Have".

Unconscious bias training being thrown in the trashcan of the “nice to have”.
Figure adapted by Patricia Gestoso from this original image by OpenIcons from Pixabay.

“I’ve studied cognitive biases my whole life and I’m no better at avoiding them”

Daniel Kahneman, 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics Sciences

Four years ago, my interest in human behavior — crucial for my work as head of customer service — led me to Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, fast and slow”. The book details how biases and rules of thumb play a crucial role in our decisions in the back of our minds. Serendipitously, around the same time, I started some initiatives to further diversity and inclusion at my workplace and I stumbled on a wealth of studies naming unconscious biases as one of the major barriers women encounter to thrive at work.

The more I learned, the more I realized — in hindsight — how unconscious biases had plagued past decisions. I read books and articles, talked to experts, and watched Continue reading

UK Gender Pay Gap Awareness: How to broaden the conversation at the workplace

3DSGenderPayGap_Coventry

Chairing an employee awareness session about the UK Gender Pay Gap in Tech at the Dassault Systèmes office in Coventry.

Recently, I was invited to chair a “Breakfast & Learn” session at our Dassault Systèmes office in Coventry (UK). The topic: UK Gender Pay Gap. This article is a reflection on that great learning and interactive experience.

What is “Breakfast & Learn”? One-hour monthly awareness sessions organized by our Great Place to Work (GPTW) ambassadors around a specific theme. Ideally, the presenters should keep the topic light and open, avoid the profusion of slides, encourage the audience participation, and limit the use of jargon. A healthy breakfast is provided along.

Why me? I founded the EuroNorth Dassault Systèmes Lean In circles in 2016 to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives at a regional level, I’m a member of the EuroNorth Diversity and Inclusion Council, and I’ve had the pleasure to host virtual employee meetings with our UK HR team to discuss the findings of our gender pay gap reports for 2016/2017 and for 2017/2018.

Why this topic? I learned that the recent publication of the Dassault Systèmes Gender Pay Gap report had been a hot topic for discussion in this office. There were different views regarding the scope, key indicators, and impact of the UK gender pay gap as well as the usefulness of reporting the data. Continue reading

Two Alpinists in Mount Tech. Take #1: Meritocracy

A woman and a man climb a mountain with the inscription “Mount Tech”. They have reached the same altitude, which is marked by a dotted line pointing to a vertical ruler labeled as “meritometer”. The woman has attached four weights of four different colors. The man has climbed the mountain using four pitons colored in the exact four colors of the woman’s weights. A legend indicates the colors represent bias, society expectations, stereotypes, and salary. At the top, a man thinks “That’s what true meritocracy looks like”.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Piton  \ ˈpē-ˌtän \ a spike, wedge, or peg that is driven into a rock or ice surface as a support (as for a mountain climber).

Weight \ ˈwāt \ : a heavy object to hold or press something down or to counterbalance.

Meritocracy \ mer-ə-ˈtä-krə-sē \ : A system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.

Disability as an Innovation Driver

Yellow light bulb over physical disability symbols with the caption “disability as an innovation driver”

(5 min read)

The typewriter, internet, closed captioning, text-to-speech, eye gaze.

All those inventions have in common a widespread application and impact. They were also originally created to overcome a limitation imposed by a disability. And there are a lot more, as this article points out.

Surprised? I was. Stereotypes do narrow our thinking.

Myth #1: Disability happens to others.

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Women & Money | Shame & Guilt

5 min read

I love the Masters of Scale podcast, hosted by Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and investor at Greylock. What’s not to like about a podcast about innovative business models, that is fun and committed to a 50-50 gender balance for guests? Continue reading

Purl: For Pixar achieving gender equality at work is the low-status groups’ responsibility

Purl_202yearslater

Purl Final Scene: WARNING Wishful Thinking Ahead!!!

Last week, I received a link to Purl from a fellow diversity and inclusion advocate with the line “Wondered if you had seen this… it’s a brilliant explanation of the male-dominated workplace”.

Upon clicking on it, I was redirected to a Pixar 8-min short animation film called Purl Continue reading

When a Toilet Becomes a Symbol of Exclusion

Photo of a sign with an arrow pointing to the right followed by a transgender symbol at the center and disabled toilet sign.

A toilet sign at the TEDxWomenLondon2018

Toilet /ˈtɔɪlət/

A structure like a seat over a hole where you get rid of waste from your body.

A room in a house or public building that contains a toilet.

Early this month I attended LondonWomen. As per the director and curator of the event – Maryam Pasha – it was 8 years in the making. The stimulating array of speakers showed a labor of love, commitment, and resilience. 

I went to the event to keep up with the state-of-the-art in women’s issues and to network. I did a lot of the first (more at the end of this post), less of the second.

I also had a “toilet” epiphany: Continue reading

Salary transparency or how to eradicate the gender pay gap

Tech companies such as Buffer and Verve had implemented transparent salary. A realistic strategy to end with the Gender Pay Gap #genderpaygap #womenintech

Two weeks ago I attended the Ada’s List Conference 2018. The Ada’s List is an email-based community of more than 6,000 subscribers (me among them) “for women (and those who identify as) who are committed to changing the tech industry”.

The Conference was structured as a blend of presentations and concurrent workshops covering a vast array of topics related to women in tech. Inclusive design (‘Leaving No One Behind: Building Apps for The Next Billion Users’ by Aygul Zagidullina), new technologies (‘How can we use advanced imaging technology to build a better food system?’ by Abi Ramanan), self-care (‘Discover your self-care non-negotiables” by Babs Ofori-Acquah), and UX (‘Personalising the user experience and the playlist consumption on Spotify‘ by Mounia Lalmas-Roelleke) are some examples.

If there was a talk that both challenged my preconceptions and fuelled my optimism that a diverse and inclusive workplace is achievable was that of Åsa Nyström, Director of Continue reading

If Men Could Menstruate…

In 2015, the UK branch of WaterAid – an international non-profit organization with the mission of providing clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene to people that don’t have them yet  –  launched the campaign If Men Had Periods to denounce that more than 1 billion women around the world lack of water and toilets during their menstruation. Furthermore, WaterAid wanted to increase the number of signatories to their Make it Happen petition, which called on world leaders to make sure that the UN sustainable development goals included a target on safe water and sanitation.

Their tongue in cheek approach was successful. Their adds won several awards, their Continue reading

Are you biased? Flip it to test it!

Unconscious bias can be defined as

a bias that happens automatically, outside of our control and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences.

Whilst all human beings have unconscious biases, that’s not an excuse for inaction. Unconscious bias impacts Continue reading

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Dear Ijeawele

 

Recently, I listened to the book “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The audible recording is 1 hour and I absolutely recommend it.

The premise of the book is the following: Years ago, the author was asked by a friend for advice on raising her baby girl as a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie’s advice to her.

My five favorite suggestions:

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Gender equality lessons from a 12-year-old girl

Sexist Comment

Geauga County Maple Leaf, Thursday, July 19th, 2018 Vol. 25 No. 29, p. 7

Julianne Speyer is a 12-year-old American girl that can teach us a couple of things about equality,  fairness, and standing up for what we believe.

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Women & Silence

Women and Public Speaking

Recently, I read the through-provoking Women & Power A manifesto, written by Prof. Mary Beard. In the chapter The Public Voice of Women, she highlights that in the Western tradition for the last 3,000 years women’s public speech has been confined to two areas:  (a) the support of their group interests (e.g. women rights), and (b) their victimhood (e.g. Christian martyrs). Attempts to breach that rule are Continue reading

An unconventional ride through privilege

The Collins Dictionary defines privilege as “a special right or advantage that only one person or group has”. The paradox is that is not uncommon that those same persons or groups are oblivious to their privilege in the first place!

Discussing privilege takes us to uncomfortable places. As this article says, “nobody likes Continue reading

How to say “No” to Office Housework

Office Housework

Are you always stuck with taking the minutes at the team meetings? Do all the people in the room expect you to order the catering? You are not alone.

Research shows that co-workers assume that women, and especially non-white women, are expected to do office housework, i.e. pick up all those administrative tasks Continue reading

Stop fixing women

This 1-min video sends a strong message about what needs to be fixed to get more women in leadership.

Ask Google: Is my son gifted? Is my daughter overweight?

SonGifted_DaughterOverweightSeth Stephens-Davidowitz’s book “Everybody lies” assembles his work on what he calls “Google Digital Truth Serum”, people’s internet searches. Seth theorizes that people are more honest when they ask Google than to any other source, including Facebook, which he calls “Digital Brag to My Friends How Good is My Life Serum”.

In this article, the author argues that Google searches suggest that modern American Continue reading

Feedback has gender

Feedback_gender
As women advancement in the career ladder has stalled, there is an urgency to signal “the” culprit: women don’t ask for promotions, women don’t have an appetite for leadership, women don’t sit at the table… Unfortunately, rarely those assertions come with metrics.

A refreshing change is this HBR article summarizing a study based on 81,000 peer Continue reading

What’s normal?

In this 2-min video, Derek Sivers challenges our concept of “normal” and “weird”.

Should Alexa join #MeToo?

Recently, I came across an article in the Engineering and Technology magazine that made me realize up to what extent artificial intelligence (AI) is mirroring our gender biases, conscious or unconscious. Think about the ubiquitous female voice in our home-assistants: Google Home, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri perpetuate the stereotype of female obedience.

What was even more disturbing was to learn that this submissive attitude goes beyond the Continue reading

The Pink Tax

ThePinkTax

It’s been some years now since I realized that I was consistently paying more than my partner for items ranging from toiletries to fitness weights.

It’s not my imagination – it’s called the pink tax! The Fawcett Society in the UK estimated that “women are paying on average 31% more for an own brand basket of comparable toiletries and are paying 12% more for a basket of own brand clothing items”.

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Color blind vs color brave

In this TED talk, Mellody Hobson – president of Ariel Investments, a US management firm – challenges us to learn to be comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics such as race and gender as the only way to make meaningful change in our workplace and boardrooms.

Are you color blind or color brave?

Copyright © 2018 Patricia Gestoso – All Rights Reserved