On this episode of the Humans of DevOps, Jason Baum is joined by AB Walker (@MxABWalker), resident community builder and advocate at DevOps Institute. They discuss:
- The role DevOps plays in creating a culture that has diversity, equality, and inclusion
- The importance of diversity, equality, inclusion and psychological safety to creating a successful DevOps culture
- Gender identity
Thank you to our episode sponsor Range! Range is the place for remote and hybrid teams to check in with each other, both async and real-time. Feel like a team, wherever you are.
Having spent the breadth of their professional career – and if they’re being honest most of their teenage years as well – on the internet, they intimately understand the value of both “IRL” in real life, in person, and online. Accessibility, equity, and intersectionality are deeply ingrained into how they view the world and the types of safe and inclusive communities they foster.
The Humans of DevOps Podcast was Voted one of the Best 25 DevOps Podcasts by Feedspot.
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Lightly edited transcript below
You’re listening to the Humans of DevOps Podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of DevOps through skills, knowledge, ideas and learning, or the SKIL framework.
AB Walker 00:17
I feel like DevOps has diversity, equity inclusion, theoretically at its core, but not necessarily actively at its core. It wasn’t the first thing that you thought of when, when Gene Kim wrote, you know, Phoenix Project, that they were talking about automation, they’re talking about all sorts of things. But talking about being an inclusive, accepting, radically open environment so that people can feel safe and feel productive in their own workspace and in their own homes. That’s it. That’s the center.
Jason Baum 00:54
Hey, everyone, it’s Jason Baum, Director of Member experience at DevOps Institute. And this is the Humans of DevOps Podcast. Welcome back. I hope you’ve had a wonderful few weeks, we got to enjoy July 4 here in the United States. And it’s just been a celebration of the summer. What I would like to talk about today actually doesn’t pertain to July at all. We’re kind of going back in time, a little bit to June. Last month, June was pride month in the United States. It’s a chance for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex LGBTQI+ community to be proud and visible. In a world where it’s been difficult to be, let’s face it. It’s also a chance for everyone who doesn’t identify as LGBTQI+ to support, celebrate and fight along with their fellow citizens for Equity and Inclusion, at home, in society and in their workplaces.
If you’ve been paying attention at all, there have been some major wins for the LGBTQ plus community. Hard because there’s been so many losses too. But there was one major win on June 15, when President Biden, the President of the United States of America, I mean, this is a big deal signed a historic executive order to advance LGBTQI+ equality. In this executive order, they address discriminatory legislative attacks against the community, against their children, against their families, directing at key agencies to protect their families and children. The executive order prevents so-called Conversion therapy with this historic initiative to protect children from harmful practice. It safeguards health care and programs designed to prevent youth suicide, and it supports LGBTQI plus children and families by launching a new initiative to protect foster youth prevent homelessness, and improve access to federal programs. Now, all that being said, we have a long way to go, especially pertaining to the workforce, which is what we’re going to talk about today. Goodness, we could talk about so much more, but today we’re going to talk about the workforce.
According to a recent survey, 65% of nonbinary individuals experienced discrimination at work. Only 46% said they felt safe and a mere 38% felt like they belonged. The dissatisfaction among LGBTQI plus respondents with the current state of LGBTQI inclusion is clear. 40% of LGBTQI plus employees are not out at work. 26% of these individuals wish that they could be out 36% of our employees have lied or covered parts of their identities at work in the past year. 54% of employees who are out at work remain closeted to their clients and customers. And worst of all 75% reported experiencing at least one negative interaction related to their LGBTQI plus identity at work in the past year, with 41% experiencing more than 10 types of such interactions. According to a recent StackOverflow developer demographic study, only one and a half percent of all respondents identify as transgender, which means those learning to code are slightly more likely to prefer to not say if they identify as transgender.
Look, these numbers are troubling. They’re horrible, honestly. Especially if you’ve been paying attention to this podcast, where we’ve addressed the general shift that’s happening. Gen Z is coming in, they’re loud. They won’t accept this. Thankfully, they shouldn’t. They’re gonna make it clear. Now it’s up to the rest of us to actually listen to do something. It’s not just Gen Z, by the way. They’re just loud.
Jason Baum 05:40
In Episode 80 with Jennifer Servedio, we discussed Gen Z, and you might recall that 69% of them stated that they would absolutely be more likely to apply to a job at a company that emphasized a racially and ethnically diverse workplaces in the recruitment materials. 88% of them felt that a recruiter or potential employer should solicit their gender pronouns 88% Is anyone listening? That’s that’s almost all of them. 65% reported feeling strongly that such questions about gender pronouns should be part of the recruitment process. And despite all these expectations, only 18% said, they were asked about their gender pronouns by the recruiter. Now that’s an easy one to fix. I could go on, I could keep editorializing, clearly, I feel strongly. hope you do too. Hope you’re disturbed by these facts, facts, folks.
Here to discuss this today with me is AB Walker, a truly wonderful person, by the way, who I happen to know very well. And I’m excited to talk to AB is the resident community builder and advocate here at DevOps Institute, having spent the breadth of the professional career. And if they’re being honest, most of their teenage years as well, on the internet, they intimately understand the value of both in real life in person and online. Accessibility, equity at intersection intersectionality that’s a tough word, by the way, are deeply ingrained into how they view the world, and the types of safe and inclusive communities they foster. After 10 years of building community in the higher education space, AB made the leap to DevOps Institute, where they are building the DevOps in the wild community, to help technologists of all skill levels network, learn from one another, and grow as a community of practitioners and human beings. And AB I’m So excited to be talking to you today. And thank you.
AB Walker 07:51
Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Jason Baum 07:54
Thank you for coming on. Thank you for opening yourself up. being vulnerable. We read statistics. This is tough. This must be hard. And I really appreciate it.
AB Walker 08:06
Yeah, I’m not going to pretend to represent everyone in the alphabet mafia. Because that’s way easier than saying LGBTQIA, it’s it’s a long, long Initialism.
AB Walker 08:22
But yeah, I’m not going to pretend that I represent anyone other than myself. But I do have experience in this and you know, being a proud and out queer person, nonbinary person, a person whose pronouns have been problematic in the workplace. I think I can talk about my experience a little bit, and I didn’t believe it’ll help somebody else.
Jason Baum 08:44
And those pronouns. Oh, I said it in in your intro, but But what are your pronouns? How do you identify? And would you mind kind of talking a little bit about that identification? Because I think it’s important for for our listeners, all of us to understand it, too.
AB Walker 09:02
Yeah, sure. So my pronouns are they/them identify as gender queer or non binary, which, if we’re going by classifications is within the trans community. There’s not much to say other than I’m me, like that’s, that’s really all it boils down to. I had a really wonderful colleague, at one point asked me really, really gently like, I don’t, I’m not really sure how to how to do this. How do I do the pronouns thing? And I’m just like, Listen, if it’s a problem, if you don’t understand, to say my name, just you don’t even have to use a pronoun, just say AB. It’s as easy as that. And when people approach it with like kindness, it just makes a huge difference. So
Jason Baum 09:51
good pronouns, especially they/them by the way, I think we’ve talked about this, I think where some people still LEP is not necessarily. And look, I can’t speak to like, you can’t speak to everyone. I can’t speak to everyone. I can speak to myself. I was a communication major. I was an AP English student, and I feel the Phantom slap on the wrist. Because back then they used to do that. And that’s not really great. I’m not condoning that by any means. But that’s how that’s happened. And, you know, for grammatical purposes, it was difficult. At first, now, it’s effortless, I believe. But yeah, it’s I think that’s maybe for myself. And we’ve talked about this where I slip on the occasion. And I think that using your name is a great way to kind of combat that.
AB Walker 10:50
It’s interesting how many people say, you, you are not one of them, obviously, but how many people are like, Oh, I was raised? Yeah, you know, really, really focused on grammar. And I can’t use they as a singular, it’s just not right. First of all, it’s in the dictionary, singular they, it’s been around for literally centuries. But you also do it all the time without realizing you’re doing it. person walked by you in a? Well, in pre-COVID times when we were out together. A person walks by you in the coffee shop and drops a wallet, and you don’t and you say oh look, they dropped their wallet. It’s not actually that hard. It’s just it’s more about practice than anything else.
Jason Baum 11:37
That’s true. Yeah, no, that’s absolutely true.
AB Walker 11:40
If it can slip out of your mouth, just naturally, accidentally, when you’re referring to somebody you don’t know, it can slip out of your mouth intentionally with someone who do. And on the flip side, sort of when you don’t do that, it is a very it’s a very clear sign of disrespect, even if you don’t mean it.
Jason Baum 12:03
Why do you think it is so hard for some people to do it? Even when they know.
AB Walker 12:10
I think it’s so hard for people because it’s just not what they’re used to. We are creatures of habit who would do things the same way all the time. I will talk to my partner and say things I grew up saying in my family, and they’ll look at me like what, like we all have these phrases and ideas and things that we’ve just grown up saying, and that we may need to modify. We’ve seen it with other even more problematic language where we we don’t use different pejoratives and different slurs because that is what they are. But this doesn’t have for many people, it doesn’t have the same weight. Because you’re not intentionally insulting me. Right. So I think I think some of it is that it doesn’t feel as important to some folks to put that effort in because it’s just easier to just fall in line. I thought it was really interesting. In coming to DevOps Institute as an organization we are completely virtual, have always been completely virtual. I didn’t meet my colleagues in person for like six or eight months after I’d started. So I thought for me that it was going to be really easy to transition into an all-virtual community, and just have my pronouns out there and have those be used. But even here, it was a little bit difficult. not super difficult. Everybody has been very accommodating and very trying their hardest and very apologetic when they make mistakes. But it was interesting to watch people slip immediately into she/her pronouns, because that’s how my voice sounds, or my hair is longer right now. So it was interesting to having never met anyone face to face having never had anyone interact with my physical body still have that stigma attached to me. Regardless, so it really is, I think, in part, a learning process. I think it’s about understanding and respecting other people’s bodily autonomy and their right to their personhood. But it’s also a little bit uncomfortable for the folks who are used to a really easy binary system that at, especially tech folks, we’re all into ones and zeros of course we want to a male-female, he or she that’s what we want. That’s what this what coders do, we work in ones and zeros all the time. But the real world is a little more gray than that. It has a little bit more play in it.
Jason Baum 14:54
Yeah, on the podcast, we don’t talk to computers, we talk to humans. I think that’s the easiest way to sum that up, I want to talk to you about some of those numbers that I read because it’s hard not to. Okay, so we read them, it’s hard not to address them, Because they are so troubling many of them I did not know, until, you know, putting together the intro. And, and they stick with you a little bit, I think. And if they don’t, they should, they should. One of them in particular was about safety. And it was 46% of the alphabet mafia Feel safe At work, and on, first of all, I think that should read 64% don’t feel safe. I think that that blends that one more justice. Why do you think that is?
AB Walker 15:55
I think in part we have to address different types of safety too. In person, we’re talking about true bodily autonomy, body safety. There are definitely people who when you are visibly queer in public, in areas that are less friendly to those of us who are visibly queer in public, that you feel that danger just innately. And if you’re working in an environment where you are around folks, around humans all the time, It’s really easy to feel unsafe. And I don’t I don’t want to bring politics in this. But it’s easy to feel unsafe in a red state, as a visibly queer person, or unsafe in the South. Not everywhere. Obviously, there are many places that are very open. But there have been times when I’ve been traveling and I will, I’ll mask I will make myself look even more effeminate. So that I can even by virtue of the statistics of women, and violence against women are pretty darn high. We don’t have to get into all of those right now. But I am statistically more likely to be okay, if I look like a cis-gendered woman than if I look like a queer person, if I visibly show as trans because the violence against trans folks is so just so High. So that alone contributes to the physical safety is a huge issue.
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Jason Baum 18:04
But what about in the virtual environment? As we talked about, you know, we are remote-based and remote only. And does it exist there too?
AB Walker 18:16
Yeah, in the virtual environment. psychological safety is a big deal. So I feel really lucky in my work environment, that I get to feel psychologically safe with folks, that if I had a problem, I could say to you, Hey, Jason, I’m having this issue. Can we talk about it, and I know you will receive it from me, and we’ll be able to sort it out. But that’s not standard practice. That’s not it’s really hard for folks who are not LGBTQIA, too. It’s hard for them to sometimes step into the position of letting go of their own discomfort with whatever the conversation is happening, and to advocate for somebody else in that position. Because a lot of it comes down to you know, maybe you don’t want to step on toes, maybe you don’t, that person is not trying to insult you or trying to hurt your feelings, but they are making you feel devalued. So how do you walk those lines? And I think feeling safe is easier when you’re at a physical distance. It’s easier to be safe behind a keyboard. But then, then we can look at some of those cyber bullying statistics and that sort of thing and say, well, that’s still going to seep into your everyday life and disrupt your safety. So I think the reason that so many queer and trans folks feel not safe at work is because we haven’t committed as a society, Though we are seeing progress, We haven’t committed as a society to providing a space that is safe for everyone and even without the agreement to like I will, I’ll tolerate you I won’t, I won’t aggressively, even without an agreement for tolerance, there’s just always this risk of being visibly queer being openly gay being out just being out period in public, whether that’s virtual or IRL, you know, so?
Jason Baum 20:29
So, yeah, this is hard to talk about. You know, because it’s so personal. It’s so personal. You know, when I would say that the answer then, right, because I guess that the next question would be, how do we make it safe? And I would say, that the workplace answer has seemed to be a DEI policy. Are we doing enough with those? And then let’s bring it back. Because this is the Humans of DevOps podcast. So let’s talk about DevOps. Let’s, let’s try to simplify that question. Because this is so hard. There’s so much to it, that we’re trying to wrap into a short podcast, we’re not going to do it justice, knowing that but there are, so let’s, let’s bring it back to DevOps. What role does DevOps play in creating a culture that is also you know, that has a DEI, at its core,
AB Walker 21:30
DevOps comes down to community, it comes down to making sure that you are bringing folks together, that you are seeing each other for people not for the processes that you own, or the technology that’s involved in what you’re doing. It is people, processes, technology. So I feel like DevOps has diversity, equity inclusion, theoretically, at its core, but not necessarily actively at its core. Yet, it’s not. It wasn’t the first thing that you thought of when Gene Kim wrote, you know, Phoenix Project that they were talking about automation, they’re talking about all sorts of things. But talking about being an inclusive, accepting, radically open environment so that people can feel safe and feel productive in their own workspace and in their own homes. That’s it, that’s the center like the in order for us to make sure that DevOps is the best version of itself that DevOps can be the culture builder and can really help to push the processes and technology forward. It is the people first you have to focus on their safety, their emotional well-being and all of that. So, yeah, I really think that DevOps has the potential to have diversity, equity and inclusion, specifically at its core, but it’s not, it’s not written out right now. It’s not, we’re not necessarily doing those in tandem. It’s at the core of how I believe DevOps works. But it’s sort of how I want everyone to see DevOps as well.
Jason Baum 23:14
It’s not like part of the mission statement. But certainly, there are elements of it, too, that would support it. So and you talked about psychological safety. You know, we had Duena Blomstrom. On the podcast, she talks about psychological safety, human debt, certainly, we could go into those. But most importantly, you know, how important is a diversity, equity, inclusion, policy, and psychological safety to create a successful DevOps culture?
AB Walker 23:49
Oh, I think you can’t really do one without the other. And I won’t say that a Diversity Equity and Inclusion statement will solve anything because truly behind anything, there has to be action in order for a DEI statement or a commitment to DEI to mean anything. It needs to be backed up by the actual the act of doing the actual doing of the inclusion.
Jason Baum 24:17
Well, well, to your point. I mean, just now, like, go back to the beginning of the podcast, right? And those numbers, right, I mean, it proves it, right with Gen Z. And they’re asking for recognizing pronouns on your application. Sounds simple, right? Yeah. Like all those companies have DEI policies
AB Walker 24:37
They absolutely do. But most of them won’t ask that question yet. And it’s so as let’s just talk about entering a new job. So when I start a new job, my name my birth name, the name on my birth certificate is not AB Walker. It is my professional name for a number of reasons. But name changes are really expensive. So not going to do that right about now. And I don’t really hate the name I was born with, I just don’t need that to be my professional moniker. However, when I joined an organization, what’s the first thing that happens? You submit all this paperwork with your legal name, they immediately create your email address with your dead name, they immediately put pronouns on there that may or may not suit you. And it happens, it happens at work, it happens at the doctor’s office, it happens everywhere. And that, it sounds weird to say that that’s an aggression toward me. But in some ways, that makes me feel less like a person, it makes me feel like oh, these things that are part of who I am, don’t matter to you as the organization. So just including, including pronouns, even if you don’t ask someone to give you their pronouns, give them the opportunity to be like, if you want to share your pronouns, here’s the time to do it. Because there are definitely still folks. And I think they’re my mom said, I could tell the stories, I’m going to say, my mom grew as a technologist, she’s kind of a heavy hitter, she has always preferred to not use pronouns and to not share them in a public forum, because she doesn’t want to be known as a woman in technology, she wants to be known as a technologist first, I just want to be me, I don’t want to have to like I don’t want to have to give you my pronouns, I wish we could purely, I think it’d be kind of nice. If we just all went by a neutral, whatever. Let’s pick a neutral set of pronouns, and everyone gets the same one. Because you can get who you’re talking about, by context clues, it’s not that hard. So there are definitely reasons why folks don’t want to have to put their pronouns out there. But there are more folks that will feel safe if you do. And there are more folks who will be able to feel comfortable in their own skin, which promotes their own emotional and psychological safety, which enables them to be better employees. And I don’t want to boil it down to like some, like corporate, equation on how do you get more productivity out of people, but happy are people do well, people who feel safe, do better, and are more likely to have long happy careers doing things that they love. And that benefits the organization as well as the individual.
Jason Baum 27:37
Yeah, I mean, the excuse that it’s hard to turn things around, you know, you know, I’ve heard the cruise ship example, turning these things around is like turning a cruise ship or, but then we go back to pronouns, and simply just putting pronouns on the job application, for example, something easy, or like you said, when you’re filling out the HR, homework, and you need to put everything down simply asking for pronouns. It’s not hard. That’s like, that’s such an easy thing to do. I think the problem is, and look, I could, I’m really trying not to editorialize too much as the host of the podcast. But I will just say that, what my observation is, is that it does seem like that when you do that, for example, I’m wondering if they’re getting backlash, too. And I think it comes from both sides. And unfortunately, like so many things in the United States, for example, becomes a political issue, and not necessarily an issue of humanity. And unfortunately, unmarrying those two is difficult. And I would, that’s my observation, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. That’s just what I think.
AB Walker 28:54
Yeah, that’s definitely one of the things that I’ve experienced. A lot of my previous work I spent time, with friends in HR, and they answer those questions all the time. My response to that, though, is providing people an option to share their pronouns to share their, and not an like on a form, not calling it a nickname, calling it like preferred name, like I know how these databases work, I know that you can do that. It’s not that hard to set up my preferred name as the name you send things to. That’s not that difficult. I’m pretty sure if a monkey can type Shakespeare monkey can also do that, you know, but giving people the option is never the worst choice. It is significantly more inclusive and significantly easier than forcing someone to try and get their own pronouns on the forum, or having someone be constantly dead named and feel shame at work and not be able to bring that up to HR because it’s not safe for them to do so. So while it might make someone who is very confident in their gender let’s say this nicely.
Jason Baum 30:19
Well done. Don’t say it nicely. This is no good podcast be honest.
AB Walker 30:22
Well, I mean, while it might make someone who is, let’s say cisgendered, confident in the gender that they were born into someone who is confident in their pronouns, somebody who is not part of the LGBTQIA community, it might ruffle feathers, the inclusion effort is significantly more worth it than worrying about ruffled feathers. Because there’s an option on a checkbox like that, it’s not going to harm you that I can share my pronouns. In fact, what’s going to harm me more, and what’s going to harm you more in the long run, let’s say you’re my employer, is if I can’t share myself with you, and then I either, like, take my own life, because suicide rates among queer and trans folks are so high, or can’t be like a productive happy member of society, because my safety is consistently being taken away. And it may seem like pronouns are not a big deal in that regard. But that’s, it’s you’re identifying who I am as a person. And if you are constantly calling me out by something that does not reflect how I feel about myself, and does not reflect who I am. It’s like somebody all day every day calling you, Jim, Jim Baum. Hi, Hi, Jim. How you doing? Right? It’s not It’s like somebody using it is somebody using a name that’s not yours? It’s somebody using terminology that doesn’t reflect you that isn’t you? And doing so in a way that whether intentionally or unintentionally harms your, your, your mental health every time that happens?
Jason Baum 32:00
Yeah, thank you for sharing that. And, you know, I think for me, when I hear you speak, and I read the statistics, and it just brings me back to who I am as a person, I’m, I identified myself right now, as a parent. I do identify who I am. But you know, what, I’m also a parent, and I think about the world that I want my child to be brought up in. And all I could think about, as you’re talking is, I think we have ingrained rights as individuals. And that is the right to be safe, the right to be seen, and we should be validated. And that, to me, is what brings someone that that that closure, that psychological safety that we’re seeking, right. It’s just seeming, you don’t have to agree, right? Hear me validate that I exist. And then and hopefully, that brings safety. And for that no matter what your belief system is, I think that I would hope that we can all meet on that common ground, I hope, I hope that there’s that for us as humanity otherwise, I don’t know what we’re going to do. AB I really appreciate your time and coming on. And I wish we could talk about this more because this is a topic and perhaps we could in whether we do it on this podcast or another vehicle. But I appreciate you coming on and sharing and opening yourself up. I do have one last question. What’s one question you wish I’d asked you? And then how would you answer that question?
AB Walker 33:45
I’ve heard you ask dozens of folks that question and crossed my fingers that you would not ask it if me. Um, one thing that I think is important to this not maybe not that I wish you would have asked me but one thing that I think is important to consider, as I like last thought here is everyone that we’re talking about, whether it is the folks that we agree with or the folks that we don’t, Everyone that we’re talking about is human first. They are people they are if you have a spiritual bent as I occasionally do, they’re manifestations of the Divine, they are an interaction with God. So if we treat each other with even a fraction of the respect that we treat, institutions and religions we’ll all be in a better place. And I think I think everything that I’ve said or that I would want to say boils down to I’m human first. I am human more than anything else? That’s really all you need to know about me just treat me like another person. Treat me like I have feelings. Treat me with kindness. And that’s all I ask of you. Although, while I’m saying that I did have another, I did have another answer for this, I realized one of the questions I get asked a lot is, and it’s not really a question, it’s when somebody messes up a pronoun, or when somebody makes a mistake, with my name or something like that. There’s always this big apology. And primarily, it’s because people feel uncomfortable, they feel like they’ve been assaulted. They, want to make sure with the best of intentions, that they haven’t hurt my feelings. And what I will always say to that, and this is, this is personal for me, it doesn’t work for everyone, but it is personal for me that, in general, if you make a mistake, correct it and move on. It’s sort of one of the cores of DevOps to like, fail fast. Do the same thing with pronouns do the same thing with people’s dead names, fail fast, make their make that mistake, when you called me She say, oops, they can continue on. Like, you don’t have to apologize. You don’t have to cry about it. I’m not going to correct you every time because not my job. But just do it quickly. It’s okay. It’s not an offense, it’s not a problem. Just keep going because we all make those mistakes. I as a person who has difficult pronouns for people have messed up other people’s pronouns, we all do it. It’s just about acknowledging it apologizing and moving on. So that’s, I think that’s a good takeaway from this.
Jason Baum 36:49
Well said. AB I really appreciate you coming on the podcast. And, and thank you for opening up and being vulnerable to share your experiences.
AB Walker 36:59
Thanks for having me.
Jason Baum 37:02
And thank you for listening to this episode of the Humans of DevOps Podcast. I’m going to end this episode The way I always do encouraging you to join the DevOps Institute community today to get access to even more great resources just like this one. Let’s keep this conversation going, shall we? Join me in the wild the DevOps in the wild community forum at Community.DevOpsinstitute.com. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and most of all, stay human, live long and prosper.
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