Recognizing the Value of Underrepresented Groups in Tech

Jemmima Knight

Engineering Manager at Sanity



"I remember being the only female in a meeting where we were talking about machine learning and how to apply it to one of our products. I have a master's degree in artificial intelligence and felt that I had at least some academic experience in that area. A fairly new male colleague, who had only recently been brought up through the sales team, suggested that we should look at a particular use case. The group immediately nodded their heads and verbally agreed. I chimed in and countered, stating that we should also consider another use case which was related and that included a data set we had access to. However, I faced strong criticism around my contribution and was questioned whether I understood how the machine learning actually works. I found that I had to defend myself, my knowledge, and my ideas that I brought up while the rest of the group had easily accepted the input of my male colleague."

Actions taken

"Unfortunately, this wasn't an isolated circumstance and I have had to develop strategies in order to prove myself, my knowledge, and my decisions as a woman in tech. These strategies include ways that I can subtly let the people around me know that they should be able to have confidence in me when I speak about a particular topic. When I say something, I feel the need to back it up. If it's about a topic that I don't have a master's in or that I don't have a piece of paper showing that I am qualified for, then I tend to stay quiet. However, I am working on this. I am working on feeling like I can defend an assertion even if I don't have a qualification on it.

Honestly, I think that more people should do this. I think more people should be less certain about making assertions in meetings like those who come from underrepresented groups. A lot of people are able to speak out with confidence, even if they don't have the knowledge to back it up, and that leads to false conviction amongst the rest of the group. In my case, for example, the rest of the group agreed with my male colleague, taking what he said at face value without questioning it. Whereas if you have a diverse group of people, or at least people who are less certain of themselves, people will question their contributions a lot more which guides the group to analyzing topics better.

When I am the leader of a meeting, as opposed to an attendee, I try to ask questions in such a way that people feel like it is safe to ask stupid questions or make stupid suggestions, instead of feeling like they are being grilled, like how I felt. I express that there are no bad ideas and that it is best to get them all out in the open. I write them all down, including open-ended questions, and then go through them one at a time, regardless of who brought them up. This way we are not having a discussion right away but use them as talking points later. It creates a situation where people aren't inclined to react to each other differently due to their contribution. This is because nobody can really remember who brought up which suggestion. It is a means to conducting a meeting more objectively."

Lessons learned

  • "Take it with a pinch of salt how confident somebody seems when they are saying something. Confidence does not equal knowledge or know-how."
  • "I think it is a positive aspect to have a group of people who aren't as sure about things and who are use to justifying their contributions, like those in underrepresented groups. They will ask more questions, come up with clearer answers, and be more open to other viewpoints."
  • "Meetings may take longer because of challenged assumptions, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can lead to more valuable meetings with critical thinking, digging deeper, and real results."

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Jemmima Knight

Engineering Manager at Sanity

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationDecision MakingMentorship ProgramsFeedback TechniquesDiversity ImpactOvercoming BiasIndividual Contributor RolesTeam & Project ManagementDiversity & Inclusion

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