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Open Letter to the iMasons Community

Earlier this week I received an open letter from Anne Wojcicki, CEO and co-founder of 23andMe. What stood out was the DNA data she shared. 99.5% of all people in the world are genetically the same; but, socially, I understand we have historically lived different lives. The senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others of color in the US, have shown once again that all people are not treated the same.

Personally, I have struggled with how to express my support without seeming insincere. I’ve found the best way is to start with the truth. I am a leader in the global digital infrastructure community. Our US and European members are predominantly white males. I have never been judged or treated differently based on the color of my skin. I have had more opportunities than those in the Black and Brown communities and I have white privilege. While these facts work in my favor, I don’t have to agree with what they represent; but I must also acknowledge that they are the reality of the society we live in.

It’s times like these that make us feel helpless. It may appear that we can’t possibly change what is going on, but each of us CAN make a difference! There is power in our voice and in our vote. We must exercise these rights in the times when it matters most (like now). This is how we can make real change. We should be having uncomfortable conversations, because it takes us out of what we know and opens us up to information that really speaks to the situation. It is with this information that we gain the true understanding of how people are really feeling and the action that must take place. We should be vocal about the disparities in our industry. Once we shine a light on it, we can get to work on rising above it. This letter is exposing the reality of the digital Infrastructure community and our belief that it cannot stay this way.

In March of this year, I had a LinkedIN conversation with an industry colleague who asked me a simple question. Why is diversity and inclusion important to me? I shared my business perspective around two points.

First, diversity of thought. Many leaders unknowingly fall into the trap of hiring people that look and think like them. It’s easier to relate because they believe the same things or think in a similar way. What they miss is the outcome of people challenging ideas because of their background and experience. I believe this is true even in tenure. Sri Shivananda, CTO of PayPal, was one of my mentors. He asks his interns to do a reverse mentorship. They mentored him. He wanted to know what he was missing from younger generations and what he should be thinking about so he never gets into the trap of assuming what something “should” be. I see the same thing with experienced teams. If you can get that diversity of experience, it leads to diversity of thought and you come up with better ideas and solutions. That drives inclusion. Everyone is involved. Engaged. Heard. Valued. It’s pretty amazing when it happens. I’ve been blessed to see it first hand.

Second is simple math. If you limit yourself to a category of people, you will get what you ask for. That portion of the population. The reason we are focused on diversity in iMasons is we are missing a huge swath of the population. More than half the world’s population is female, but we have less than 10% women in our industry. There are even smaller percentages of other under represented groups. If we raise those percentages, we solve our talent shortage. At the same time, we enable the first point. Diversity of thought.

The question is what can we do about this? We should double down on the work that you are already doing.

Scholarships: Our community has raised over $300,000 for the scholarship fund. We’ve granted 28 scholarships with 75% awarded to women and other underrepresented groups. This is a good start but no where near to where it should be. We should be partnering more with schools, colleges and universities with diverse student populations to promote the opportunities to join our industry. We would love your ideas and help on how we can do that.

Member Resource Groups: Last year, we established the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and member resource groups (MRG), with diverse leaders spanning four different diverse populations. These leaders have a seat at the table to guide the iMasons direction. Yet, we do not have an MRG for our Black community. We want to change this and not because of the current social climate. We have committed to establish an MRG for the Black community because it’s the right thing to do. We want there to be equal representation at the iMason’s table. We could use your help in making this happen.

Get involved: Get behind the iMasons community to unite the builders of the digital age on our common causes. Be active on the platform. Join the member resources groups. Help raise money for the scholarship fund. Speak about the industry opportunities at schools and encourage students to apply for scholarships. Work with your leaders on how you can link internships and hiring to drive diversity in your companies. Show solidarity with our Black community by participating in peaceful protests, signing petitions, spreading useful information, donating, and use your vote to drive change. Your actions will speak louder than words.

Reflect: Take a moment to think about who you are as an individual. Ask yourself those uncomfortable questions. Understand that unconscious biases are real and can cloud your decision making or actions. Be willing to step up and be a change agent for the change in you. Have healthy conversations. Dare to be critical. Ask for feedback. Demonstrate that you are open minded and that you will be receptive to what you hear…even if isn’t favorable.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking. Our community is doing good things, but we are not an organization that accepts the status quo. We believe in human rights and we know we can do much more. We must take the necessary steps as individuals and as a community  to make our contribution to help address racism and social injustice in the US and around the world.

Dean Nelson
Founder & Chairman
Infrastructure Masons

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