Wikimedia Foundation COO Janeen Uzzell on future-proofing history

Information has never been so accessible – the world’s knowledge is quite literally at our fingertips. But as more and more stories get told, that begs the question: who’s telling your story?

Wikipedia, the beloved, widely-known, free-access web encyclopedia is turning 20 this year. It’s one of the most visited websites on the internet, curated by a global network of hundreds of thousands of volunteers who have written over 55 million articles in 300 languages. It’s the world’s largest repository of human knowledge, but as Janeen Uzzell explains, it’s not without its blind spots.

Janeen is the Chief Operating Officer at the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind Wikipedia and its sister products. She joined the ranks in early 2019, after spending 16 years at General Electric working as a director for its technology and healthcare programs and leading the Women in Technology initiative to address the gender imbalance in technical fields and get more women involved. At Wikipedia, she’s also trying to right the scales, focusing on creating a diverse and inclusive community that better represents the full diversity of the world and its knowledge.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard from Janeen. Last year, she joined us on a fascinating panel episode of Inside Intercom, where we talked about allyship, representation, and privilege. This time around, we’ve had the absolute pleasure of delving further into these as she walks us through her mission for the Wikimedia Foundation and her fight towards knowledge equity.

If you’re short on time, here are some quick takeaways:

  • Historically, the privileged have been the gatekeepers of information. We’ve learned history from the colonizer’s perspective. From the mostly male, mostly white, mostly American and European voices. We need to address these historical gaps to get the full story.
  • As Wikipedia turns 20, Janeen wants to make sure its information is an accurate reflection of the world’s diversity. To correct for the systemic gender and race bias and ensure a better representation of everyone’s experiences, they’re encouraging otherwise unheard voices to speak up and write their stories – namely women and Black people.
  • By creating a universal code of conduct, Janeen hopes to eradicate toxic behavior in their platforms and create a safe and inclusive space for anyone who wishes to be a part of the Wikipedia community.
  • Janeen is a fierce advocate of integrating diversity into your team, be it race, gender, culture, age, etc. If everyone in your team looks the same, has the same background, the same experiences, how do you expect to pick up on the biases in your work and create world-class services?
  • Hiring is a process – it’s not enough to wish for diversity. You need to think about what the hiring team looks like, the place you’re hiring from. And when you do hire a diverse team, are you building the space and processes so they’ll be heard and supported?

This is Scale, Intercom’s podcast series on driving business growth through customer relationships. If you enjoy the conversation and don’t want to miss future episodes, just hit subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify, or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. You can also read the full transcript of the interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity, below.

Off the beaten track

Dee: Janeen, we are so delighted to welcome you on the show today for your second appearance on Inside Intercom. Last year you joined our CEO, Karen Peacock, for a fascinating panel discussion on allyship, which I must say was one of my favorite conversations of last year.

And today, you’re back to talk with us in a little bit more depth about your own career and your work at Wikimedia. To kick things off, would you like to share a little bit about yourself with the audience and tell us how you ended up as a global technology executive and COO in one of the most recognized companies in the world?

Janeen: Wow! Well, thank you, Dee. It is an honor to be back again. I’m really excited to have a discussion with you. I just appreciate you all thinking I would have some new stories to share, which I do, and then having me back. So I appreciate that, I don’t take it for granted. Thank you again.

“My commitment has always been access and leveraging technology as a tool for access”

The journey in my career has been one that even I could have never written. I mean, I tried to play it by the book and be a good student and study hard. Then life opened up great opportunities for me. I am, by training, a mechanical engineer (ME). From the very beginning, I’ve been very non-traditional in my career, in that most MEs go into aviation and automotives and things like that, and I went right into healthcare. Because my commitment has always been access and leveraging technology as a tool for access.

I spent the first half of my career focused on access to healthcare. I spent more than 16 years at General Electric where I had an amazing global career. I was an ex-pat in Africa and had a chance to work around the world, bringing ultrasound and other healthcare products into the emerging market. Then, I led an initiative for GE for women in technology. I think that theme still resonates with access because this was access to talent, to ensure that our company did its best to attract, retain, promote, and activate the talent of women as an asset in technology.

Then I had an opportunity to transition from GE after more than 16 years. I just did something that was a proof point to myself that I could take the skills and the experiences that I’d had and bring them into an organization and an opportunity that I thought was a complete 180. We were 300,000 at GE. We have about 500 at Wiki, and we’re growing strong. Working for a bedrock, old school company, which was great, and then taking that to this startup company that just turned 20 years old in January.

I had the chance to be a part of building out the operations department, to ensure we created a space that would make the Wikimedia Foundation, which is the organization that operates Wikipedia and all of its sister products, and the experience at the foundation, operationally sound so that we could grow. To ensure that the foundation, staff, and the people that drive the work Wikipedia gives to the world were having the same type of robust access and experience themselves.

Being a part of access to knowledge and information is something that I’m excited to be a part of. It’s my third year at the foundation and it speaks so much to who I am as a mission-driven leader and my commitment to bring equity within world-changing causes. That’s a bit about how I made it here, and I’ve had a chance to work for two really powerful brands. I’m just doing my best to ensure that I use my position in the places and spaces where I go for good.

Wikipedia turns 20

Dee: It really sounds like it. Some of the most interesting people I talk to, Janeen, don’t necessarily have a career that goes in a straight line. Or don’t necessarily take the most obvious path. But they often have this common thread that runs as a through-line throughout their career. I love to hear that that’s something that you’ve always embodied and that accessibility has been such an important theme for you. Because I know we’re going chat loads more about that later.

You did mention that Wikimedia Foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. I mean, it must be a pretty exciting time for everyone on the ground in the foundation. What do you think were the key moments that defined that two-decade success story?

Janeen: I think that there are a few things. One of the big pieces of what’s been definitive for the foundation has been its commitment to designing this strategy for two main pieces – knowledge as a service and knowledge equity. Being able to bring those two components to the forefront is critical because they are what is driving the next phase of who we are as a movement. Twenty years ago, it was just this audacious idea about this online encyclopedia. Years later, we have a community of more than 250,000 people who edit Wikipedia every day. They’re a part of the knowledge brought into the world, whether you use it on the internet, whether you use a voice monitor like Alexa or Siri.

“We recognize the responsibility that we have, being such a powerful force for free knowledge to the world”

Here we are 20 years later. Knowledge is a service – bringing the service of knowledge to the world on our website, on our app, however you choose to use it. And then knowledge equity, because we recognize the responsibility that we have, being such a powerful force for free knowledge to the world. It’s a very, very important commitment to ensure that that information is equitable and a reflection of the world. With more than 250,000 editors working on our platform, building an equitable experience for the world is something we’ve grown into. That’s one of the big pieces.

Another thing that is very powerful for me with regards to the 20 year anniversary is something that we just introduced on February 2, and that’s our universal code of conduct. This was introduced across Wikipedia and all of our projects. I describe it as akin to the United Nations and their universal declaration of human rights. This is a set of fundamental standards that provide Wikipedia’s global communities with a baseline for acceptable behavior. This is very important because as a community-driven body of work and as an organization that has its goal set on equity, we need to create a space where people who are a part of editing Wikipedia feel safe and accepted, where they feel that they are an added contributor.

“This code of conduct shows a new level of our maturity as we turn 20. It shows that we’re looking at power relationships in online communities and that they shouldn’t be abused”

Before the universal code of conduct existed, we had a lot of different policies and standards for each project, but there was no global standard that set the guardrail for all of our behaviors. So it made addressing toxic behavior much more difficult to enforce because we didn’t have any uniformity.

To me, this code of conduct shows a new level of our maturity as we turn 20. It shows that we’re looking at power relationships in online communities and that they shouldn’t be abused. It’s rooted in our values of respect and civility and assuming good faith. It creates a precedent for how we address behavior, and that is going to be a door opener for communities of people that are like, “I want to be a part of this.” Because our mission states that anyone in the world who wants to be a part of our movement can do that. The universal code of conduct creates a space of safety for that. And that’s going to help us get to knowledge as a service and knowledge equity. Those are two major things that are a big part of who we are as we’re walking into our 20th year.

Dee: So incredible to hear those two choices because it gives a strong indication of where the focus is for the future for the Wikimedia Foundation. I know you’re at the helm of the foundation’s strategic plan, Wikimedia 2030. Having looked back at the last two decades, what is your ambition for the next decade?

“If you want to be a part of the Wikipedia community, we will ensure that you are accepted and feel safe and are a part of it”

Janeen: This is my third year at the foundation, I’m one of those folks that have come in right at the pivot point. As I look forward, some of the areas that are most critical to me are exactly what I just talked about in terms of our diversity and our equity of thought. One of the ways that we are supporting that is through our thriving movement. The thriving movement is one of our key priorities that fuel knowledge as a service and knowledge equity. There are a lot of different priorities that we’re focused on in our work in the foundation.

But the thriving movement says it will create a space where people can be accepted regardless of gender, race, location, or access to the internet and information. If you want to be a part of the Wikipedia community, we will ensure that you are accepted and feel safe and are a part of it. Being able to fund and support work that is relative to the thriving movement is a big part of what will drive our growth.

When we build our work at Wikipedia, we use Objective and Key Results (OKRs) – the outcomes and all of the key results that drive them. That’s how we measure our work within the organization. As we’re building our funding plan for all of the work we do, the thriving movement is a key part of that work. We need to ensure we support and facilitate and grow the movement in a space where people feel most accepted and healthy. That’s going to help us to grow the languages, and it’s going to help us grow the volume of content. It’s also going to help us ensure that a larger percentage of the world is telling the world’s story.

Who tells your story?

Dee: Amazing. That brings us neatly to my next question, Janeen. One of the reasons I got back in touch with you was this fantastic media piece that you wrote, Who Tells Your Story on Wikipedia. You talk in some detail about your family background and the wonderful culture of storytelling that you grew up with. Would you like to share a little bit of that with the audience here?

Janeen: Sure. I love storytelling, it’s a big part of my life. I think I say in the piece that my father was a great storyteller, and he was. I’m happy to admit that as I grow older, my father is deceased now, but some of his stories were true, and some of them were not. But that is what made them all the more entertaining. Some things I’m learning I’m like, “Oh, that’s not really true.” But he had a way of weaving the most wonderful ways to share information.

For me, and even for the culture that I’m a part of as an African American, storytelling is how we learn about who we are. It’s a source of pride. I sit at my Aunt Laura’s dining room table in her home in New Jersey and she tells me things about people that I don’t know, but I wish I knew, and even people that I did know, like my father. She is one of the only people that have known my father longer than my mother because she grew up in the same town as him and married his brother. She’s known my father her entire life, so she can share things with me about my father that I didn’t get to know even though I had my father as a part of my life into my 40s. But I just soaked up all these great stories. My father and his brother were recording artists…

Dee: I have listened to some of it. Yeah, fantastic stuff.

Janeen: Yeah, there’s quite a controversy. Their hit song is called Smokey Places. It’s a song about infidelity, but I grew up singing this song, and I didn’t know that it was about lovers meeting in the night. I just knew that that was a song I grew up with. I knew how to play it on the piano and I knew how to sing it.

“Hearing her stories, that’s my experience of The Great Migration. And it’s so different than what’s written on our Wikipedia page”

The great migration is a big part of our culture as Black people. Coming from the South and slavery and moving North – some of us moved to California, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Florida. My father moved to New Jersey, and that’s where he met my mom. I know the great migration, but I hear my Aunt Laura tell me about the train ride that she took when my uncles and my father went before them, ahead of them, and then they sent for the family, and how they got on the train from North Carolina and crossed the Mason-Dixie line. Coming up North and getting off of that train and landing in the middle of this… Hearing her stories, that’s my experience of the great migration. And it’s so different than what’s written on our Wikipedia page, which is a great, historical fact. Now I have my own experience with it as well.

The family tradition of storytelling is something that I love for myself and what I can share with my nieces and nephews and others. That’s so important to me. Even if you never write a Wikipedia page, if you’re never a part of our community, I hope that people listening to this will be inspired to go and share a story with someone in their family or in their community that helps keep tradition moving forward.

Dee: Yeah, that was a part of your piece that really resonated with me. I think there’s a similar culture of storytelling and music in Ireland. For many centuries the only history that you would read in books was the history of the colonizers. It was only in the last century that Irish history and culture began to be written down or celebrated.

It’s just fascinating to me how something like Wikipedia can become a resource for those unwritten histories that may have been forgotten about for some fairly depressing reasons. There’s a line in your piece that says, “This was history, but it had never been written down.” I studied history, and so often we hear the expression history is written by the victors. But I do wonder: is it a fair assessment to say that, in fact, history is written by the privileged?

“We know that the history of knowledge and information is that it’s been in the hands of the privileged”

Janeen: Ah, wow! That hits me right in the gut because when truth stares you in the face, it’s both inspirational, and sometimes it makes people pretty angry. But I don’t disagree with that because we know that the history of knowledge and information is that it’s been in the hands of the privileged. Oftentimes, at least what has been in the past, the information that you would be exposed to is exactly what people wanted you to know. It had their bias completely surrounding it.

Even as slaves in African American history, slaves were given a different bible than their slave owners. Because the slave’s bible was very much stories of submission and control to keep them from having an experience of freedom. There’s an actual slave Bible. Much of the content of the actual Holy Bible is taken out because they’re not meant to understand the capacity of who they can be as people who serve a great and mighty God.

The thing about stories and knowledge is that people have a perspective about someone or something they don’t know anything about. They may have a perspective based on what they see on television, what they’ve heard from other people, or what they read on Wikipedia. But that’s not the only experience.

And when those stories are not shared, the things that are written by those that have privilege, whether it’s the privilege of information, access to the internet, the ability to write as opposed to verbally share a story, to be part of a community where you feel safe and welcome versus, “Hey, I still want to be part of a community but I don’t feel safe here so I’m not going to do it” – anything that grants you access to privilege where you can disseminate knowledge and information with a bias in it or that is just not a complete story causes other people to gain a perspective of someone that is incomplete. Then you have a perspective about me, or I have a perspective about you, your people, your culture that is incomplete. That is what I mean when I say that access is so important. We need to ensure we create access for everyone to be able to communicate and to share. You need to have access to health, access to knowledge, access to education. This is what creates a complete life.

In all of my world travels, in all of the experiences I’ve been fortunate to have as a girl whose father got on a train and came up from North Carolina, sang some songs, became a laborer, put his children through college, the lineage of who I am as I think about my ancestors (to the generations that I can trace back to) – what I know is everywhere I’ve been in the world, there is a uniform thread of what people are looking for. And it is just equity, it is just to be seen, to be heard, and to have an experience that is equal to what others have. I believe so passionately and sincerely in that. That’s what I talk about in the stories that I share, and that’s certainly something that I’m proud of as I learn more and more about who I am as a daughter and a member of the family that I’m a part of.

Mind the gaps

Dee: You talk about accessibility there, Janeen. Before our conversation and before reading your piece, to me, accessibility, when we think about knowledge, was access to be able to read something or to listen to something. I never really thought about it in terms of access to be able to write something, to be able to share something. It flips it on its head a little bit in how we traditionally think about it.

One of the most powerful aspects of Wikipedia, as an outside observer, has always been that sheer volume of knowledge that’s accessible to me at my fingertips. The ability to delve deeper into every topic. A person, an event. I could be watching a film, and I’ll often look up a character that’s only on screen for a couple of minutes. Then I find myself in a Wikipedia hole where I’ve clicked blue link after blue link after blue link, and I suddenly know heaps about a family that’s been dead for two centuries. Because I’m always interested in the people involved.

Janeen: We call that the rabbit hole, by the way.

Dee: Well, I’m definitely a rabbit. You’ve noted in your piece that we’ve been talking about that there are some areas of Wikipedia that don’t have many of those blue links or much coverage at all, which means that in this total of current knowledge as we think about it, there are gaps. I’d love to know why you think these gaps exist and why they exist in the areas that they do.

Janeen: Well, there are gaps. Wikipedia, one: we’re not perfect. Also, Wikipedia is a tertiary source. What I mean by that is it’s one of many resources on any given topic. What’s important is that the information on Wikipedia is only as strong as the citations that support it. That’s why you’ll often hear Wikipedians say, “Citation needed.” This is true, but where’s the citation to back it up? It’s also what lends so much validation to the stories and the content on Wikipedia because the likelihood of the truth being told is backed up by the citations and the newsworthiness. We like to say, “If it happens in the world, it happens on Wikipedia.”

“There would be more stories about women if more women felt like they could be a part of the community”

Now, the challenge of that is people will say, “Well, this is critically important. Why is there no Wikipedia page on it? This person is encyclopedic, they’re Nobel Prize winners or otherwise. Why are there no Wikipedia pages on them?” One: because there is a bias, a gap that we have to close, particularly as it relates to women and the content of women on Wikipedia. There’s no one size fits all method to improve diversity, and that presents a serious challenge.

Currently, right now, only about 18% of the biographies on English Wikipedia are about women. We know that that is not reflective of the percentage of women in the world, correct? So we’ve seen gender disparity. There would be more stories about women if more women felt like they could be a part of the community. This goes back to what I talked about earlier about our universal code of conduct and creating a place that is safe and thriving.

For the past several years, only about 10% or 11% of our contributors across all of the projects identify as women. Last year, in 2020, we saw this number jump to about 15%, and this is exciting and wonderful because we are trending in the right direction. Based on our research, we’re seeing this increase in gender mostly among contributors that live in Africa, the Americas – both Latin America and Northern America – and Oceania. This is exciting and important because editing Wikipedia is an activity that’s been dominated by men. So we need more community organizers to be women, we need leaders within our movement to be more diverse so we can create a space that shifts the structures of power, even in our movement, so that they’re more representative of the world.

Another thing that I want to say is back to Wikipedia being a tertiary source. As much as we must do our part to ensure that we have a more diverse community of people, other media sources in the world must tell the stories that support what goes on Wikipedia. When we write a story about someone, we need the news to back up the validation of that story. If there were more stories in the news about women: women in technology, women in STEM, women in medicine, women in sports, if the news wrote more of those stories; if our media sources spent more time elevating the stories of women, then that would help drive content to Wikipedia as well. It’s a community effort, both on Wikipedia and in the world.

Dee: It almost sounds like you’re future-proofing history to a certain extent because this is such a massive resource. But, as you say, it is tertiary, and it requires these other sources to back it up. Looking back at the past, they didn’t always exist, but with the work that you’re doing, you can make sure that in the future, they do. Presumably, though, Janeen, this isn’t just a thing that’s affected women. I read that your survey data indicates that fewer than 1% of your editor base in the US identifies as Black or African American. Are there multiple areas where Wikipedia can be a force for good in rewriting different groups back into history?

“Who is writing the story of Black people? Not Black people, which means there is a gap in accuracy, a gap in information experience”

Janeen: That’s right. Less than 1% of our community identify as Black. I already mentioned that maybe only around 15% at this point are identifying as women. This affects so many things. It affects the content: Who is writing the story of Black people? Not Black people, which means there is a gap in accuracy, a gap in information experience. Someone can write a story about a Black person and it might have some accuracy and detail, but not the fullness of the story and what it means to live out an experience. That’s with any culture. That’s you writing about Ireland versus me, who has been there, but it’s not my culture.

There’s a gap in groups of people, and it goes back to what I talked about creating a movement where people feel safe and welcome. This is access and equity. It’s also ensuring that our product delivers a user experience that makes it easy for people to participate. Because being a part of Wikipedia isn’t always writing a complete, full article from start to finish. Members of the community taught me from the time that I joined. They’re like, “Janeen, start somewhere. Start with editing vocabulary, ensuring the pages are set up well.” You start with a small edit here and a small edit there. That’s what starts to build you as a Wikipedian. Access to be able to do that from your mobile phone, if you don’t have a laptop. Or in various languages, if English isn’t your primary language. These are things that deter other people from being a part of our community.

If you want to write about a subject, if Bollywood is your favorite cinematic experience, and every time you write a story about Bollywood, it’s rejected by our community because to someone in another part of the world that’s not important, that means you’re not going to try. That’s going to reduce the people of that culture that will write about it.

In my opinion, that’s the most important thing that we can do. Some people will disagree with me and say, “The more readers we have, the more editors we have, and that’s how we build content on Wikipedia.” I say the more equitable access we create for the Wikipedia community, the more editors, the more readers, the more content. But until we start to grow what it looks like to be even a part of this group of people, we could hit a wall in terms of how we’re able to grow our work. To me, they’re interlaced, and if we don’t continue to pay attention to this – fortunately, we are, we absolutely are – then we will reap a consequence. Because we deliver a product that looks like the world. We have to look like the world.

Why diversity matters

Dee: What’s really interesting to me is the point that just because something isn’t interesting to you, it doesn’t mean it’s not of interest to other people. It reminds me of when I was in university and a male academic was chiding me for my areas of interest when I was studying. Because I was always more taken with the social side of things. He actually called it women’s history and told me that it would hold me back. So it’s great to see all types of interests being embraced by the Wikimedia Foundation. You’ve referenced knowledge equity a number of times, Janeen. Do you have a neat description of what that means to you?

Janeen: What does knowledge equity mean to me? It has, I guess, two sides to the meaning. On the one hand, it means that everyone has a fair opportunity to receive, identify, go after, and have access to knowledge. If I need to know something, if I need information – knowledge is power, so if I have the ability to gain that information, it makes me empowered. It’s the ability to get information, not just information that is pushed to me, but information that I want to pull.

The other side of that is that that information is an unbiased truth based on a diverse collaborative set of information. The information that is being pushed to me and the information that I go after is not rooted in a biased perspective, but it is true because of the collaborative information that validates its truth. Knowledge equity to me, in plain speak, is: I need to know something, and I can find out what I need to know. And what I find out is true because there are multiple sources that confirm that it is.

“A diversity of teaming will create a diversity of thought, which will create a diversity of experience. The more sources you have generating information, the better”

Dee: I love that. How can other content creators apply those principles? Whether they’re coming from a tech perspective, from the media who you’ve alluded to earlier, or academia. How can these types of content creators contribute?

Janeen: One of the things that I believe most strongly in is the diversity of teams. That is race, gender, culture, capacity, capability, different regions of the world, age, sports activities, livelihood, anything that makes up diversity. A diversity of teaming will create a diversity of thought, which will create a diversity of experience. The more sources you have generating information, the better, in my opinion, that experience is going to be for the person that’s receiving it.

How can other people do this? You gave the example of academia. When you’re in a room creating a product, a curriculum, a training, a course, information, an idea and everyone in the room looks the same, or everyone in the room has the same experience, grew up in the same space, is of the same economic background or status, then you already have a biased component of work that is not equitable. But when you begin to look across the spectrum and pull in just a rainbow of people, then that’s how you can be a part of it.

When you’re in a position to hire, to build a team, to create an experience for people, you have to say, “I need a diverse lens to be able to create that.” To me, if you don’t look at it like that and you think that the construct of your own mind is more than enough, then I believe that that is a misuse of power. It’s very much a privileged way of thinking, which I do not think will get us to where we need to be for knowledge equity.

Dee: Yeah, because what you’re talking about is symptomatic of a trend we see or a problem we see across the world of tech and design. Collective knowledge might lack diversity of perspective, so does data, so does design, so does coding, STEM, and so many areas that are at the heart of driving new technologies and new ways of life.

“If you send one standard look of a person out to attract diverse hires, you’re not going to get it”

I think we’ve seen in the last 10 years, in particular, that some of the impacts of this are annoying, but some of them are actually really dangerous for people and communities. At what point in your career, Janeen, did you first really become aware of the impact of this lack of diversity?

Janeen: I think I learned it and saw it early in my life. In my career, I began to see it more as I started to lead projects. I started, like I said, on the technology side: I did some coding, I was on the product side. But the experience I want to share is one where I had the opportunity to do this and I didn’t do it. I’ve learned from this mistake. We were bringing handheld ultrasound as a product during my time at GE, and this product had been designed to be portable and to identify key symptoms in a woman’s womb so we could ensure healthy delivery in adjudicated environments.

When we first started doing this work, we had in our own mind what we thought a great product could be for the world. We did have some diversity in our engineering team and otherwise, but we only got it right when we introduced the International Midwives Association to work with us and when we received knowledge from the World Health Organization and the United Nations. It took the private sector, the non-profit sector, the international development sector, midwives, and engineers all coming together to bring this solar-powered, portable, and easy-to-use product.

It wasn’t a group of engineers at a research center in upstate New York. That is a lesson that I’ll never forget because in my mind, as I’m speaking to you, I can picture the community of people that were a part of this, what they look like. Each one of them along the journey made this product what it is, which has an impact on women and children around the world to this day. That’s what makes a difference.

Dee: Wow! I mean, for business leaders listening, I guess that’s the answer to how they can change in their organization.

Janeen: It is, and I say it is because who you hire is a process. It’s where you hire from, who you send, what the hiring team looks like. If you send one standard look of a person out to attract diverse hires, you’re not going to get it. What are you willing to do in your organization to ensure that the people you’re hiring are different than the standard of what you’ve built up in that organization so they feel welcome and that they’ll be promoted and supported? What does your diversity and inclusion community look like? What are your policies and practices and provisions for what that means?

“Are you practicing partnership, or are you practicing privilege?”

It’s not just saying, “Okay, fine. I’ll hire a bunch of people and we’ll have diverse teams.” No, because then, when they get on the team, are you listening to them? Are you incorporating their thoughts? Are you practicing partnership, or are you practicing privilege? It’s not just having people in the room – it’s ensuring that you’re accommodating and accepting. I could say, “Oh, it was just me inviting this diverse group of people into the room.” No, it was me actually listening to different cultures and groups of people, from an OSHA worker to a midwife, from a young student to someone from the developing world, as well as the board and profitability. There were so many different components of thought that needed to be considered in that work.

I say the same to business owners today. You’ll need to be open to a variety of thoughts and then filter them in a way that still drives the goal and the mission of your organization. There is power when you put a community of people together to solve the world’s toughest problems. You can do that and still do good, you can still be profitable, you can still have an impact. I believe that organizations and communities and people in the world are better as a result of it. And I do not believe that is purely aspirational. I absolutely believe it is possible.

Using keyboards for good

Dee: Amazing. Now, we’re nearly out of time, Janeen. But before we finish up, one question we love to ask people on the podcast is whether there’s someone in their discipline that they aspire to or are just inspired by.

Janeen: Oh, I’m inspired by a lot of people. But if there’s just one, I think I will land with Joy Buolamwini. She is a Ghanaian-American digital activist. She’s a part of MIT, which is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, their media lab. She founded the Algorithmic Justice League, which is a community of people that are focused on bias in technology, in artificial intelligence, and the impact this bias has on diverse communities, which is often tragic. She’s done just great documentaries and she’s recently received a lot of awards for her great work.

She identified bias in code and started putting a white piece of paper like a mask over her face so she could be identified in coding. It’s an amazing story, you’d have to read more about her, but Joy Buolamwini is someone I admire. She is young and bold and brave, and she is staring injustice in the face and using her keyboard and her technology for good. She’s someone that I truly admire.

Dee: Wow! She sounds incredible, and I really can’t wait to check out some of her work and some of her writings. Lastly, Janeen, where can our listeners go to keep up with you and your work?

Janeen: Oh, I would love if they would check me out on @janeenuzzell to follow some of my day-to-day commentary about diversity, tech, Wikipedia, and the world. That’d be great. You can also follow me on LinkedIn the same way.

Dee: As someone who is already a follower, I can heartily recommend that. It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you today.

Janeen: Thank you so much for having me. I just appreciate you allowing me to be so expressive and to share some of my passions. I hope we’ll stay in touch and I wish you well.

Dee: Thank you.