Press This Podcast: Grow Your Technology Business by Leaning into Diversity feat. Allie Nimmons

Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.

David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to Press This the WordPress community podcasts on WMR. This is your host, David Vogel Paul, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to you hear every week on press this as a reminder, you can find me on Twitter @wpdavidv, or you can subscribe to press this on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at wmr.fm. In today’s episode we’re going to be talking about growing your technology business by leaning into diversity and joining us in that conversation is the infamous Allie Nimmons. Allie, Welcome to Press This.

Allie Nimmons: Hi David It’s so nice to be here.

DV: So glad to have you have you had to call you in for this because so many people know about you Allie and all the great work you do in the communities. You represent your reputation precedes you for the listeners now in this episode, what we’re going to talk to Allie about malaise with WP Buffs if you’re familiar with that company great WordPress maintenance and you guys do a lot more than that, actually, but about her thoughts on achieving diversity within your technology teams and specifically how you can leverage that to make better technology decisions and grow that team by embracing more points of view. So really excited to have this conversation here. Allie, while we kick off I’m gonna ask you the same question they asked you on wordpress.org when you created your WordPress username back in the day, briefly tell me your WordPress origin story.

AN: It can be it depends on how I how I decide to edit it. Basically, I spent two years of my life majoring in theater, because I wanted to be an actor and a director. And I realized that I was never going to make a living off of doing that, and I didn’t want it as much as a lot of other people did so I thought to myself, what can I do as a, you know, 21 year old person what can I do with the rest of my life. That will enrich me creatively and enable me to work with other people but will also want me to make money and, and have a livable wage and building websites. I mean, it’s, it’s still one of the things that, you know, young people look to right now as you know oh if I could learn how to code that would open, you know all these doors for me. So I tried to start learning how to code. I hated coding. And I discovered WordPress because it allowed me to do all those things that allowed me to build websites that allowed me to work with people and allowed me to build solutions for other people, but I didn’t have to touch code, if I didn’t feel like it if I didn’t want to. So I discovered WordPress. Through my desire to find an industry and find a profession that I could really sink my teeth into creative and collaborative way, and WordPress was just the perfect option for me.

DV: I like that I like that yeah I’ve heard asked this question of all the guests as a lot of themes like I started a blog and started using it that way, customers and my freelance business started asking about it or I was tagged to choose a CMS. And we often hear these kind of life change stories around WordPress like it helped enable me to build this whole new career is really interesting to hear your perspective on like literally seeking that out. So, wondering. Next I guess if you could briefly tell us a little bit about WP buffs the company you’re with.

AN: Yeah, absolutely. WP Buffs is a 24/7 WordPress website management and support services company. We are a completely remote distributed team. We work one on one with our clients from, you know, freelancers all the way up to agency owners to help them keep their sites updated on the front and the back end so we do, you know, typical back end updates, but we also do content updates and troubleshooting and things like that. We work a lot with white label partners that’s a huge part of our business model right now, so that they can build recurring revenue through those support services with us while being able to focus on the things that they like to do with it that’s design.

DV: Yeah I think we had Joe Howard as a guest last year here on Press This and glad to have you here to talk about leaning into diversity So speaking of that topic when I kind of entered this the episode I talked a little bit about how this is something that you do within the community today it’s just specific to your activities with us a little bit about your efforts to improve diversity within the WordPress community as a whole.

AN: Absolutely. So I used WordPress for quite a while before I really tapped into the community of WordPress are like the people that make up the businesses in the WordPress ecosystem, and the events in the WordPress ecosystem and once I became part of that community which really only happened about a year and a half ago, I really saw. I just saw an opportunity but I saw an opportunity I saw a lack of diversity in this community, but I saw people who were open minded and who are willing to be better, and to learn, who were, you know, unsure and uneducated about how to make an environment like this more diverse who are maybe afraid to ask questions and felt awkward. Trying to breach these kinds of conversations because it can be very awkward especially right now in a year like this when you know these kind of, you know, things like racial tensions are at an all time high. It’s difficult. It’s really difficult for everyone to preach these sort of conversations. And so I saw that opportunity and I started talking. I just started talking to people and I encouraged people to have these conversations with me and I encourage them to say, Listen, you know you can DM me you can come up to me at a word camp and ask me questions. And as long as you do so in a way that’s respectful. I will create a safe space between you and me that we can talk about these things. And that led to all these other opportunities for me like speaking at wordcamp us last year I was on a team, where we did a workshop about building more diverse and inclusive spaces, not just within WordPress but everywhere. I’ve written things and I’ve spoken in formats just like this about the need for this, and you know methods for increasing diversity when people don’t ask me, I always kind of kind of accidentally steer the conversation this way because it means a lot to me. And I do my best, in the spaces that I occupy to advocate for all sorts of accessibility, not just the groups that apply to me so I identify as a black female who is queer. And while those are kind of large underrepresented groups when you think about diversity. There are lots of other ones like people who belong to communities that disabled individuals or people who are older or people who are younger, and I want all of these types of people to not have to think of themselves as underrepresented or think of themselves as niche interest groups but can feel 100% like they belong to this community. So, the majority of the work that I do in WordPress right now is just talking. It’s just running my mouth and trying to encourage people yeah, to have these conversations and that it’s there are dumb questions there are stupid questions but those are questions that are asked, out of selfishness or out of anger and the questions that are asked out of ignorance or curiosity and the desire to do better. Those are wonderful questions, and they can be difficult to ask but if you have somebody who’s listening who’s willing to listen to those questions I think that can make a huge difference. So, I want to encourage people to ask those questions and I want to encourage other people who are in similar positions to my own to be willing to help answer those questions. If they are so inclined.

DV: Ignorance is a sin you only have to commit once right. I like it, I like it so you’re you’re quite involved on the community level, and I certainly seen you around I know I’m saying jump and binder talk, highly of you and others. We had Joanna, a month or so ago. So it’s really it’s really good to hear about this efforts by you and others of course within the community itself. So I want to kind of change gears now and talk about it from, say, a company’s perspective seeking to increase diversity within their technical team, or to make better technology decisions by having a more informed point of view and those decisions. We’re gonna get to that in a second. We’re gonna take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

DV: Hello everyone welcome back to Press This WordPress community podcast on WMR This is your host, David Vogelphol. I’m interviewing Allie Nimmons from WP Buffs about leaning into diversity in order to grow your technology business. Allie right before the break you were talking a little bit about your community were really love hearing about that. When I shift gears now many orgs seemed to be willing to increase diversity you kind of mentioned this with the community, it was like there were people there willing and open to dressing some of these issues, but some organizations have a hard time achieving that. What do you think, most often holds brands back from achieving their diversity goals.

AN: You know, the. We all want to think that we can do better and that we can make a difference and you know, all of these things but it’s, it’s doing the work, really, you know, you hear people say all the time. Oh, I’m willing to lose weight or I’m willing to save money for a vacation or a new house. But are you doing that, like, what habits are you building, every day to push yourself towards that goal like willingness is very easy to have action, especially when it is uncomfortable, or even a little bit risky is a lot harder. I think that a lot of companies fail to make diversity a priority, they fail to be mindful in the things that they do so, I believe that that diversity is not a checklist item right for you to achieve. It is something that has to be woven into all the decisions that you make at every level of the company that you’re at, with every decision making process that you have, how does they receive play into that, how are you supporting human beings right because human beings are diverse. It’s, it’s a lot of it is about kind of identifying where you can spend the time and the money and the energy to. Like I said, set up and then fulfill those habits toward whatever your diversity goal might be whether that’s, you know, a more diverse client pool or more diverse hires or you know whatever that might look like. For example, I interviewed a while ago at a company that I won’t name that had zero, people of color in leadership in this this is a company of over 100 people. And when I asked about that in my interview I was told that Oh yeah, you know, increasing diversity is on our radar, but it’s, it’s not a priority right now for us to develop a team and address that at that at this time you know we have a lot of other things going on that are more urgent, but we would be really happy for you to do that kind of work you know if you came to work here that would be something we would love for you to. And I immediately. Like, that was in my mind the end of the interview, because they told me essentially that I was not a priority. But they would still be willing to benefit off of my skin tone. And my gender, and my efforts to grow support I thought absolutely no support in that situation. And yeah, it was it was really frustrating and disheartening to experience, something like that to hear something like that, but it’s extremely common.

DV: So sounds like if I just summarize all that it would be the notion of brands that have intent but not action, wanting it or supporting it is different than acting on it. So that’s really a salient point. So as I think, to kind of further this a little bit, so we think about the things that hold brands back kind of intent, but not action. So if they act and if they achieve diversity within their technology teams, what are some of the business or quality benefits to having a diverse technology team like what does that add? To your org that maybe you might not have if you have kind of more of a monoculture within your team?

AN: that’s a that’s a difficult question for me to answer a little bit, I see it as unlimited. There are tons of studies, you know, out there about how diverse businesses perform better and, you know, all these other sorts of things. I see it as an inherent injection of goodness into your company. I know that’s, that’s not a very technical term. But it’s the right thing to do. Right. And, and when you do the right thing, I think in any situation is what we learned in kindergarten, right? You do the right thing. And the rewards of that can be Unlimited, but they’re also doing the right thing as it is its own reward. So I mean, I think of this as a systemic problem across all industries or not, I think of it as it is a systemic problem across all industries. We have, you know, men making decisions about women’s makeup and undergarments that they’ll never have to use or wear. But that’s how it is we have able bodied people designing buildings that disabled people have to use. I mean, there’s there’s a story that I love about Sally Ride who was one of the very first women in space. She was going up into space for a week and NASA gave her 100 tampons and asked, Is that going to be enough? All right. So having diverse individuals avoids embarrassment in situations like that. Involve avoid timely sting. I mean, with text specifically, which is what you asked about. A lot of tech is problem solving. Right? Like I like I said, I’m not a coder. But I’ve worked very closely with people with developers and I’ve worked very closely with people who code and who work on the technical aspects of you know what That company is all about and what is tech but solving problems? You know, what’s the problem that we have? How can we build something that will solve it? How can I write this code in such a way that I can solve this problem with the least amount of code possible, right?

DV: And having some perspectives of, you know, diverse people in your technology teams, I’m guessing this is kind of surfacing. You know, as you mentioned, like with the architect, if there’s, you know, no disabled people involved with that, then you don’t have a very clear perspective on how to address the needs of those users of that system. So it’s like that perspective is helpful to have a diverse team. I also like to think about it of the idea toolkit, the notion that you know, most ideas are not actually unique, but rather a collection of your experiences expressed and solving a problem. For me, having you know, a larger kit of things to connect ideas with ultimately leads to better outcomes. I couldn’t agree with you more. So let me ask you this question. So What should brands do to attract and keep a diverse set of people on their technology teams and recruiting is like the number one problem in tech. And obviously, that extends also to hiring diverse teams. But what can brands do to attract and keep that diverse set of people on their tech teams?

AN: That’s a great question. And we I feel like we just kind of answered it, or we just talked about it. I believe it’s hiring diverse people at the top of your company. So not just trying to fill as many positions with diverse people as possible, but hiring them at the top, pushing them to the top, providing them support. Not just pawning diversity, work on to them. The idea that, you know, when I work somewhere I want, who I work for and who I want, who I work with, to value what makes us the same and what makes us similar like you and I we We have WordPress in common, right? That’s, that’s our common unifier. But I also want to work with and partner with people who see what makes me unique, see what makes me different from them and value that as well because that means they value me as a wholly complete person. Right? If you’re valuing both of these sides of me, that makes up who I am, you know, by saying, Oh, we don’t see color or something like that you’re stripping someone of part of their identity. Or if you’re saying, Oh, I don’t see your disability, you’re stripping part of who they are. See the color see the gender, see the disability, see the age or lack thereof, and seen as a value add of like you said, What perspective can they bring to the team having a different experience in life then you do. It’s really easy to sorry, really easy to accept what you have in common, right? We do that with WordPress all the time. But when you hire for differences maintain that attitude not just in the hiring, but in the, in the life. The what am I trying to say, in the lifelong relationship you have with that person, you begin to attract more people like that.

DV: I like that I particularly like your point on the leadership mentioned, you know, I had a conversation. I don’t know if you saw it with Genesis light casting with Mike Liddell and Anita Carter and Sandy Jackson. And they spent a lot of time talking about, you know, when you show up at an event, when you polish thought leadership, and you don’t see faces that remind you of yourself, you think maybe I don’t belong there. I think this is an aspect to engaging with WordPress in general, but of course, also within businesses and with the technology teams that you know, if you don’t see someone there that you can relate to. That can seem like it’s excluding you, even though the company itself might want to, you know, hire more diverse teams and bring different types of people into different leadership roles, but by not seeing it, it appears there’s No path even if the will is there to provide that path. Great stuff. I have more questions, but we’re gonna take a quick break and we’ll be right back.

DV: Hello everyone. Welcome back to Press This the WordPress community podcast on WMR. I’m your host, David Vogelphol. I’m interviewing Allie Nimmons about growing your technology business by leaning into diversity alley right before the break. We were talking a little bit about the how to how to brands attract and keep people you kind of really focused in on the have a diverse people represented in your leadership groups to help provide that visibility and path for others. The next question is how can technology teams take stock of what they build to make sure their technology is helpful for all So you talked earlier about the kind of able bodied architects designing for people that might have a physical disability? But how can when you build your tech, how can you achieve technology that’s helpful.

AN: That’s fantastic. We, I think we kind of touched on that as well hire, right? Have those people on your team you know, if you hire an architect that has a disability, everything they design, everything they build is going to have that in mind until you’ve already solved that problem. Um, you know, it’s obviously extremely important to have, you know, diverse personas and survey participants and you know, things like that after the fact of like, okay, we want to crowdsource or, you know, some testing with whatever it is that we build, and we want to have a diverse group of people for that, but in my opinion, that’s that’s kind of a waste of time, right? Because then you have to go back once you have all of those perspectives and ideas and and potentially have to start from scratch. So if you can bring those people in at the very beginning, and and do what you can depending on the size of your company to support You know, organizations and different causes that support those kind of individuals as they get a leg up into tech. That’s just going to make the entire ecosystem better. And it’s going to allow us to bring those sorts of people on to our teams from the very beginning.

DV: So yeah, that’s kind of from creation, you mentioned, like having target personas that you design or create software around survey participants, but thinking about it from like the beginning, in terms of creation all the way through the testing and having those points of view there was kind of like I’ll see you kind of focus in a little bit on there on how you can waste time by not doing that by having to go back to the drawing board and it’s not a cycle. My last question, quick answer on this one, you’ve given a lot of great content so far, a little short on time, but only using one type of person in stock photography etc. A way that we will sometimes perpetuate exclusion and technologies like the go to example. Maybe you could share some other examples like power ways that technology might box out people from particular underrepresented groups.

AN: There’s four that come to mind. So I’ll go through them very quickly. terminology, making sure that your any terminology you use in your team or on your website is not gendered. Racist ablest ajust, I’m avoiding. If you’re going to host an event of some kind, it should not be a, you know, VIP exclusive retreat where all the big networking happens that there invite elite so you only have the same sorts of people there. I’m very cognizant of conference slide that a lot of conference lag is a box of T shirts and sweatshirts that don’t particularly that are kind of built for certain body types and not others and something that somebody pointed out to me Recently, all the cool AI in movies like how and kit are men, but real AI, the ones that we use on a daily basis are women. Siri, Alexa, and so forth. And that in and of itself is a very gendered concept that our technological servants that we build are all women. But the ones that get to go to space and do cool adventures are all men. So interesting.

DV: I’ve noticed that trend before it actually now that you mentioned it. I do. I do have one last question though, Allie. If people only remember one thing from the interview today, what would that be?

AN: I would say walk the walk and talk the talk. If you if you have the intent, but you’re not doing what needs to be done on a regular basis to achieve that intent, then it’s you’re not really helping. You’re not really Pushing anything forward. So action in addition to intent is incredibly important.

DV: I love that advice. So all my hopes and prayers, Facebook posts are not actually working completely I need to actually act. Okay, because I’m liking them all and I’m hoping the world will change. I’m just kidding act. But I think that’s great advice. intent without action doesn’t lead to results. So that was incredible. Well, and this has been super helpful. Thank you so much for joining us today.

AN: You so welcome. Thank you for the invitation.

DV: Absolutely. If you’d like to see more about what Allie is up to, you can visit WP Buffs calm to see her professional work and refresh you can check her I’m sure in wordpress.org, slack and all other places around the WordPress community. Thank you, everyone for listening to Chris this today the WordPress community podcasts on w Mr. Again, this has been your host David Vogel poll. I support the written press community through my role at WP Engine and I Love to bring the community to you here every week on Press This.

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