Back to resources

Ethics and Equality in Software Engineering

Leadership
Ethics
Psychological Safety
Toxic Atmospheres

2 November, 2021

Chris Sellek
Chris Sellek

Staff Software Engineer at WillowTree Apps

Chris Sellek, Staff Software Engineer at WillowTree, details his recommendations for companies to uplift moral practices and start conversations about inequalities.

Problem

In February of 2020, before the pandemic hit and companies transitioned to remote workplaces, I was scheduled to deliver a talk about ethics in software engineering at TSQA, a conference local to Durham. I was aware of various scandals, like the Volkswagen emissions one, where engineers consciously lowered emissions data to pass environmental standards. I struggled to understand how engineers were unethically writing code without question. I started researching ethics and found that historically marginalized groups prevalently struggled to succeed and faced blatant discrimination in the software industry.

Actions taken

After I discovered this upsetting data, I started to become a vocal contributor in terms of equality. My company is very aware of discrimination and inequalities within our industry. They value each individual and, from my experience, resolve each situation brought to their attention with integrity. Equality is not only a moral standpoint; vast amounts of research prove that more diverse teams are more successful. On my social media, such as LinkedIn, I work to bring light to discrimination and inequalities; by posting and highlighting my experience as well as my knowledge.

I recommend that companies have unconscious bias training with the entire organization. Everyone has their own bias, but it is impossible to address them without knowing what they are or that they are even there. Secondly, I recommend having microaggression training that depicts small insults that treat historically marginalized groups as stereotypes. Pushing both of these types of training will bring awareness to common intolerances many groups of people face. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was that everyone has an unconscious bias, which doesn’t make you a bad individual. Our brains are programmed to take shortcuts, and they do that even when the shortcuts are built off of societal stereotypes.

Before leadership gets to a point where they can listen to diversity issues, they need to make sure individuals are comfortable talking about them. Ensuring psychological safety for team members that want to talk about these issues is critical. Bringing this level of security for people to raise concerns and awareness about these matters is essential to sparking change. I recommend providing ways for team members to bring these concerns to leadership anonymously. As these conversations begin, be willing to listen and understand others’ perspectives. Being open to listening and being empathetic is the foundation of equality.

Companies need to push the importance of equality from the leadership level. As an individual within a company, there is still an opportunity to create change and progress. Be willing to admit that you have an unconscious bias and are open to shifting away from negative stereotypes. Equality isn’t a difficult topic to change individually; it is as simple as treating everyone with respect and kindness.

Lessons learned

  • Research can change minds. Especially in technical departments, team members trust data and metrics. When making others aware of the inequalities in software development, having data that share your viewpoint is vital. And, thankfully, there is PLENTY of data out there to help.
  • There is virtually nothing more important than listening with respect and empathy. Sparking change cannot be done without an understanding of others’ perspectives. In turn, creating a safe place for conversation about ethical issues will uplift the value of these conversations.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

10x engineer or 10x impact?

26 May

Hiring 10x engineers is hard for most companies. It’s a tough battle out there for talent. So how should most companies approach building their team?

Building A Team
Leadership
Hiring
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Vaidik Kapoor

Vaidik Kapoor

VP Engineering - DevOps & Security at Grofers

How to Maximize Employee Retention in Engineering Teams

25 May

Vimal Patel, Founder and CTO at iMORPHr, shares how he retained all of his employees since beginning his software development company in 2019.

Building A Team
Company Culture
Hiring
Retention
Psychological Safety
Vimal Patel

Vimal Patel

Director of Engineering at iMORPHr

The Art of Asking Why: Narrowing the Gap Between Customers and Users

24 May

Jord Sips, Senior Product Manager at Mews, shares his expertise on a common challenge for product managers – finding root causes and solutions.

Customers
Innovation / Experiment
Product
Personal Growth
Leadership
Stakeholders
Users
Jord Sips

Jord Sips

Senior Product Manager at Mews

Managing Remotely: Balancing Team Cohesion and Focus Time

26 May

Jonathan Belcher, Engineering Manager at Curative, explains how to balance team cohesion and individual focus time, tapping into his experiences of working remotely for seven years.

Remote
Micromanagement
Meetings
Internal Communication
Productivity
Psychological Safety
Performance
Jonathan Belcher

Jonathan Belcher

Engineering Manager - Patient Experience at Curative

Streamlining Product Processes After a Reorganization

16 May

Snehal Shaha, Lead Technical Program Manager at Momentive (fka SurveyMonkey), details her short-term technical strategy to unify processes among teams following an acquisition.

Acquisition / Integration
Product Team
Product
Building A Team
Leadership
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Reorganization
Strategy
Team Processes
Cross-Functional Collaboration
Snehal Shaha

Snehal Shaha

Senior EPM/TPM at Apple Inc.

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.