A toolkit for creating an inclusive development space for emerging technologies
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README.md

A toolkit for creating an inclusive development space

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Image: James Dybvig
Authors: Miriam Avery, Ann-Caryn Cleveland


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

The pressure to constantly learn, grow new skills, and hustle to make an impact is high in emerging technologies. Emerging technologies like augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning are constantly evolving and combining, placing new demands on the people who make them.

Mozilla’s mission is to ensure an internet that’s open and accessible to all. As emerging technologies push the internet into new form factors, the importance of diversity and inclusion in emerging technologies cannot be overstated.

Our effort is defined by the pressure to hustle as we experience it in Silicon Valley and around the world. We also find ourselves in a profound moment with respect to women’s power and representation in workplaces. Our focus on women and gender non-binary folks in 2018 was shaped by events in the San Francisco Bay Area: the loss of safe maker spaces and the activist energy that led high-tech employees to walk off the job. This environment also framed our desired impact: open new opportunities for women from diverse age ranges and backgrounds to work and learn in emerging technology. In doing so we prepare them to pay it forward in the companies they join, the people they mentor and the innovation they create.

We offer this toolkit as a perspective on what’s needed for real human connection among people struggling to learn and make it, not only in California, but around the world. This model is powerful and replicable. With physical gathering space and community as our guides, we are using mixed reality to design the future communities we want to see: the same intimate connections will be possible at a distance. Looking out 10, 20, 30 years we hope virtual spaces will dismantle the privileges associated with geographical location.

Why host an inclusive development space for emerging technology?

  • Organizations, community groups, and individuals have an opportunity to ease the way to less biased, more human, more inclusive tech.
  • Gain insights about future signals by supporting independent creators and their unique perspectives
  • If you’re representing an organization, enrich your talent pool by supporting underrepresented groups in local technical communities

Drawing on the XR Studio pop-up supported by Mozilla in 2018, we offer four essential elements to replicating a space that connects and empowers underrepresented tech makers: Space, Autonomy, Co-Creation, and Mutual Support. Each element encapsulates the lessons we learned, and useful resources we drew on or discovered as we went.
This toolkit is v0.1. Stay tuned for more resources and lessons from us and our many wonderful collaborators!

Essential Element: Space

Be Together.

Physical human space (for now) is still the most effective way to build supportive networks. Humans are well, human. We get tired and hungry. Shared connection time increases the flow of information and builds trust. Sharing food in physical space was perhaps the single most important activity to fostering the deep connections that formed.

Share together.

Find a space where like minded individuals can share honest perspectives without fear of judgement, provide validation of their efforts and know that they aren’t alone in their experiences: quiet, intimate, with the ability to sit in a circle.

Create value at the margins.

In our case, an underutilized space provided us with limitations that sparked our creativity and enabled the next element: autonomy. Identifying value exchanges, such as dedicated equipment access in exchange for mentoring others on how to use that equipment, sustains collaboration.

Resources:

Make Space - The feeling of a creative space can be elusive to describe, but is not rocket science to create. Furniture that’s flexible enough to support different work styles, coworking, and workshop teaching was very helpful to our effort.

FabLab Charter - Maintaining cutting-edge equipment in a semi-public space is always challenging. Clear guidelines of how to treat space, equipment, and one another are essential, and simple rules like “safety: don’t harm people or machines” help keep spaces functioning.


Essential Element: Autonomy

Create Freedom.

Open a discussion of diverse preferences - and identify real options for collaborators to exercise choice. From working hours to food to communication styles, explore the constraints people experience and create freedom for those circumstances. Coming and going as needed, 24/7, was an exceptional example of creating freedom, albeit a logistically challenging one.

Work on what matters.

Trust collaborators to work on what matters to them and creates the impacts they need to see in the world. Where the impact isn’t clear, encourage collaborators to create and iterate on impact plans.

No Saviors.

“Helping” and in some cases even “mentoring” can steal opportunities to learn and grow. Challenge leaders and mentors not to “fix” complex technical and social problems, but provide cover and create opportunities for a solution to emerge.

Resources:

Impact Field Guide - Impact plans come in many shapes and sizes. Thinking creatively and holistically about projects, artworks, and products in the context of cultural creation supports collaborators in finding their own voice.

Open Leadership Framework - Empowering teams of collaborators to create greater impact is part of our theory of change at Mozilla. In the intimate and sometimes secretive world of emerging technology development, openness as a practice can help overcome inclusivity bugs.


Essential Element: Co-creation

Recruit for diversity.

By bringing together seemingly unconnected interests, we allowed those interests to drive a unique experience. Diverse age range, cultural backgrounds, career paths, and levels of experience are helpful, but be mindful to ensure no one is an “only.” We brought together authors, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, and engineers.

Ground communication.

Communication breakdowns happen often in emergent, co-creative programs because of uneven expectations and assumptions around knowledge. Create grounding glossaries with your collaborators to make the rules and vocabulary accessible by all. Start with light scaffolding to empower collaborators to contribute their expertise early and often.

Catalyze collaboration.

While maintaining each participants autonomy, collaboration and convergence of projects can emerge when people are encouraged to share their projects and needs before they’re fully formed. Developers find designers and vice versa. Beware of pre-existing cliques, social media morasses, and conference experiences that can affect dynamics in the space.

Resources:

Inclusive Interactions - The presence of diversity alone is not sufficient to create an inclusive space.

Community Participation Guidelines - Inclusive spaces are less about the physical space and more about how people treat one another in it. Affirmatively define respectful behavior and call out less respectful behavior.


Essential Element: Mutual Support

Establish a cadence.

Meeting regularly over food and establishing trust allowed relationships to grow naturally over time. Choosing tools that supported focused 1-1 and small group meetings helps reinforce the value established by meeting in person.

Find glimmers of light.

Find leaders who will believe in your initiatives personally and back up your ideas when there are challenges. In emerging technologies, turning to leaders in hardware and software for donations, complimentary licenses, and travel sponsorships is essential to ensuring access to cutting edge tech.

Pay it forward.

Seeing mentorship and mutual support in action can be a career-changing, if not life-changing experience. It creates a natural urge to spread those stories, and create new ones through mentorship and friendship. Encourage this dynamic.

Resources:

Clayman Institute Voice and Influence - The approach of creating “circles” of mutual support is one that’s been gaining steam. Creating some settings of absolute confidentiality is key to establishing trust and sharing experiences around the most difficult barriers to entering emerging technologies as a woman or underrepresented group.

Chatham house rule - In a setting where collaborators are sharing intimate details and starting stealthy companies, a clear way to reference collective experience and stories without revealing individual identities would be very helpful.

Mentoring Post #MeToo - An increased reflexivity about mentoring and what it actually means is a powerful outcome of the MeToo era.