Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

Unintentional Filters

This isn't a super-original idea, but it's still worth sharing.

I think it's important for anyone in any position of influence, authority, or power to think carefully about whether they're unintentionally putting up filters that make things unfair for people around them. The key word here is unintentional; even if you have the best intentions and don't purposely mean to exclude others, it can be really easy to put up unintentional filters.

Here are some examples off the top of my head:

  • If you organize workplace social events on weekends or after-hours on weeknights, then you've unintentionally filtered out people who have more family responsibilities.
  • If your workplace social/bonding events involve physically-demanding activities, then you've unintentionally filtered out people with certain physical disabilities or health issues that may be completely invisible to you.
  • If you run meetings and just let everyone talk freely without any structure, then you've unintentionally filtered out people who do not feel as comfortable in a free-for-all, pound-the-table, loudest-one-wins environment. Instead think about having a more structured protocol for who gets to speak.
  • If you host an online live event at a certain time of day, then you've unintentionally filtered out people around the world in time zones when that's inconvenient. One possible solution is to host several identical sessions at different times of day.
  • If you're giving a talk and accepting questions from whoever comes up to the microphone, then you've unintentionally filtered out people who are reluctant to charge up to the mic and speak out publicly. One idea is to have the audience submit questions online during your talk (perhaps anonymously) and then choose from amongst those questions.
  • If you're a teacher who doesn't make it easy for your students to reach you with concerns, then you've unintentionally filtered out those who may not feel comfortable proactively emailing or cold-approaching those in authority. I'm not saying that you need to be reachable all the time (boundaries are important!); but it's important to set a reasonable policy that's inclusive of students who may not feel comfortable taking such initiative.
  • If you're overly critical of certain things in a public setting, then you've unintentionally filtered out people (especially novices) who identify with those things. For example, if you proclaim, “using language X isn't REAL programming, it's just a toy”, then you've just discouraged a bunch of people who happened to start learning using language X and actually like it (see Programmers: Please don't ever say this to beginners ...).

I understand it's impossible to fully account for everyone's constraints, but it's still worth considering. Sometimes these constraints will inspire you to come up with creative solutions that benefit everyone (see universal design).

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Created: 2018-09-24
Last modified: 2019-05-08
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