Tech Support Issue #9: opportunity cost

Good morning, it’s both my 35th birthday and the LION’S GATE PORTAL, the one-two punch of which I’m sure explains why I woke up absolutely furious and now find myself limply waving an incense stick around to “shift the energy.” Please help offset my existential/astrological unrest by donating to Beirut disaster relief or your local mutual aid fund (mine is bed-stuy strong)!

ALSO, I'm speaking to a group called Compound Writing on Monday, August 10, about this project and the tech labor movement and “using your voice” etc. The event is also open to Tech Support subscribers so if you are interested in joining, you can learn more and register here.

w/o further ado…

Dear Tech Support, 

I’m a black employee and my company is talking a lot about how to promote and develop black talent, but because there are so few black people in management roles, I’m being asked my opinion on these programs and it feels really awkward! I want to help create structures for the other black people in my org but generally it’s hard to have honest conversations with my predominantly white leadership about their privilege. But it also feels like the person benefiting most from these conversations is….me. I’m an extremely high performer (SRY to admit it but it’s true) and going up for another promotion on a team where there are people who haven’t gotten promoted at all. How do I signal to the people that I’m personally taking advancement opportunities from that I feel weird about it? 

Signed, 

Leadership’s Reluctant Darling

LRD!!!

Just going to discreetly pause the Taylor Swift sweater song (which I don’t even like that much ok!! *darts eyes around*) because it’s not really “the vibe”….

Couple of interesting things going on HEREIN. One is the funny phenomenon of leadership either ambiently or directly shifting the work of “solving diversity” onto the young and diverse. Can we blame them? Leadership should listen more, and people from underrepresented groups are going to have infinitely more insight into and ideas about leveling the proverbial playing field than, say, “the board” (though the MAIN idea is just paying and leveling everyone fairly, which remains the white whale [literally white] for every corporation on the planet, cf: the stunning breakdown of the Bon Appetit contract negotiations this week. Make it make sense, Condé Nast!). But it’s a delicate dance and we can’t really blame YOU for not feeling comfortable being honest and challenging to the powers that be. The pressure to “not be a bummer” is generally immense, congeniality is how we survive, we can’t all be Jonathan Swan, and so on. I obviously talk an enormous game about speaking truth to power but I’m tormented by missing the football in some of the face-to-face opportunities I’ve had to actually do so (most memorably in a meeting about women’s issues with Susan Wojcicki in which I opened with an obsequious word salad about admiring her “female leadership,” while later the two black women in the room gave a master class in holding leadership accountable, using both data and their personal stories about underleveling and YouTube’s egregious record on DEI to push through Susan’s obfuscations, deflections, and spin…. deeply satisfying, deeply uncomfortable, I’m tittering my hands together excitedly as I re-live it).

But the burden you’re being saddled with by being invited into these kinds of forum (is this my shining opportunity to use the word fora? surprisingly anticlimactic…) is not just the pressure to “speak for everyone” but the nature of being singled out altogether. Make no mistake that leadership beckoning you up (to their wood-paneled chambers or whatever) is strategic. Specialness is compromising (at least in the corporate sense. Personally, “off-duty”, I’m sure you are–as I tell my small sons every day–a gorgeous genius). Specialness erodes the will to fight for systemic change and to challenge the power, because sooner rather or later, you’re going to become the power. And power causes brain damage (I don’t make the rules!). Someday soon you might very well find yourself in the board room giving the OK on racist facial recognition technology or an eight-figure payout to a sex pest or a drone strike in the Middle East because young people don’t understand the tradeoffs of global business in shareholder capitalism and bad things are just what important people have to do.

So my advice to you is not to resist the upward flume to corporate success. Lean in, “get the bag, hunny!” and all that. But a la Steve Jobs’ “stay hungry, stay foolish” mantra, I say: stay guilty, stay conflicted! Keep a tight grip on that feeling of weirdness of rising the ranks while you can still clearly see that the ranks were created to keep most people down. Talk about it! Especially to those getting ossified in corporate disenfranchisement hell. There’s radical upheaval in the air (“It’s a Movement, Not a Moment!” as the title of a Bravo TV special on race in America hosted by reality TV stars I saw advertised while watching “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” at 7am with my infant son yesterday informed me) and we’re going to need you on the side of the people, not the management. No pressure.