Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

My journey in diversity and inclusion in tech

Some people who know me personally well and have been involved in my professional career for the past 4 years, know that I'm very passionate and increasingly vocal about diversity and inclusion in tech. Others, who have known me for longer, might see me as a hypocrite.

I haven't always been so passionate about it and I want to share my story. It's not an easy one to share and quite frankly, publishing this post is little bit nervewrecking. But it's so much less that than what other people have to endure sometimes in this industry.


Let me tell you little bit about me before 2014. I grew up little bit socially clueless, spending8 most of my time in online forums and IRC channels. Many aspects of my social behaviour were affected by culture where saying things like "There are no women in Internet" was a norm or the dominant way of thinking was that men were superior to women. I learned that culture.

That obviously leaked into my real life. I would like to say I made inappropriate jokes but there was nothing joke-like there. I was an asshole. I didn't realize it back then. For me, it's was just witty banter. I can't remember if people pointed it out. Maybe they did and I just shrugged it off. Maybe they didn't because it's hard to say about those things that to a friend.

I have always been very competitive in everything in life. In 2014, I moved to San Francisco to work in a small startup. In March, we hired our first developer who was a woman. I made stupid remarks in a group chat of some fellow startup people, something along the lines of "now I need to really start focusing on my work so I don't lose to her".

Then the best thing happened. I got called out for it. I didn't realize it then well enough. I tried to defend my position and explain my way out of it. I wasn't able to see how my thinking and actions could affect things outside me.

None of my bullshit behaviour back then is excusable by anything.

Living in San Francisco and being in the center of so much more discussion about diversity and inclusion problems in tech slowly started to make me understand things from another angle. And then, I started to do my best to make things better.

Why diversity and inclusion matter?

There are many reasons to promote diversity and inclusion in technology industry. There are business reasons and studies that say how diverse teams are better performing ones. For me, one of the reasons (other than being a decent human being) is this:

We are building products, tools and services for the humankind. There are so many different kinds of people in the world that if everyone in the team building these tools are too similar, we fail to build services that take into account different kind of people.

Maybe 20 years ago, technology was an opt-in - you could choose to use and interact with it. 2019, that's no longer the case. In many societies in the world, it's very difficult to even be a member of the society if you are not computer literate.

That's why I think it's crucially important that we bring in people from different backgrounds, different life situations (I think career-changers into tech is a wonderful thing) and different ways of seeing the world.

You might not agree with the above and that's perfectly fine. I don't claim to know that I'm right. But I want to be clear on why it matters to me.

I also keep fighting because I've been to the other side. I feel the pain in me when I see people treat others inappropriately. And I keep fighting because I hope that while I can never make my past actions acceptable, I can hopefully make the future a better place for many people.

As an industry, we have so much work to do. And it all starts by realizing and accepting that it's not about "us good people" and "them bad people". Even the good companies, good events and good communities have issues. We cannot turn a blind eye on them. We need to all strive to make our culture more accessible and more inclusive to different people.

I still have lot to learn and lot of work to do in my own networks. One of the developer communities I ran, Turku <3 Frontend, is quite homologous because I have been bringing in people from my limited networks. I want to expand those networks and make sure that we are a community that is a great platform for everyone to learn and grow, not just people who happen to be like me and hang out with me.

And most importantly, I need to also be better at treating people with the respect that they deserve and to make sure that whenever mistakes are made, that I own up to them. Because I know I will make mistakes.

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