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Steve's ITK: A parallel universe


Steve's ITK

November 10 · Issue #3 · View online

Steve's In The Know: Thoughts from a European tech insider.

Trump’s presidential victory (and Brexit before it) is a stark reminder that progress is never won, it is only ever fought for. Keep on fighting.

Opening thought: Knowing when to declare your hand
When I was younger I had two policies at interviews: if it was a large company with an overtly positive employment policy I would flag my disability on first contact (and at almost every opportunity).
But for smaller companies I would choose to surprise them on the day, which rarely failed to impress. A little audacity can sometimes go a very long way. 
“You’re miserable, edgy and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.” ― Warren Ellis
Despite being wary of becoming pigeonholed as a disabled journalist who covers disability tech issues (see last week’s newsletter: ‘Playing the disability card’) I can’t resist a little agitation.
That’s why in a feature article published on TechCrunch this week I asked seven leading U.S. tech companies – Intel, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Google, and Salesforce  – why they don’t include disability in their public diversity reporting, and if they had plans to do so. It was supposed to be a pretty straight-forward story, designed to start a conversation on the topic.
Then I hit a wall: hardly anyone wanted to talk on-record or talk at all. When a PR at a leading fruit-flavoured tech company asks if you are Ok going off record, you know you’re about to enter a parallel universe where conversations you’re sure you just had never actually happened.
In the end (and only after I played one against the other) three of the companies talked on record, one on background only, and three declined to respond at all.
Afterwards, an MBA student at an Ivy League university in the U.S. emailed to say thanks for raising the topic of disability and diversity in tech, and to share a personal dilemma: at what stage should he declare his disability when interviewing for a job?
One of the hurdles I have faced is talking about my disability in an interview setting. I am still figuring this out, but I have learnt that it is in my interest to hide my disability as much as and as long as possible. I have had settle rejections and interview processes going ice cold when I have shared my disability. Often, I might need accommodations for the interview process, but am afraid to ask for them. I am unsure how the recruiters and hiring managers will react to my requests. Not having a standard list of accommodations, or a clear process for interviewing with accommodations makes it difficult to ask for an accommodation. I don’t want my potential employers to think that I am any less capable just because I asked for an accommodation in an stressful and timed interview setting. At the same time, not being open about my disability is like not acknowledging such an important part of my identity.
The above anecdote needs to be read by every HR department, recruiter and startup CEO. It points to a few practical changes to a company’s hiring process that could make a ton of difference.
Things I wrote this week
Thngs wants to be a Wikipedia for physical objects
Teamleader scores €10M Series B to help SMEs go digital
London fintech startup Soldo launches multi-user spending account for families
GoOpti, a ride-sharing platform for European shuttle bus services, raises €4.4M funding
Freespee secures €9.25M Series B to help companies manage conversations with customers
Tech companies don’t want to talk about the lack of disability diversity reporting
Closing thought: On background only
If you’ve ever read an article where a company declines to comment but the journalist (quite magically) regurgitates what it would have said if it had chosen to do so, that’s likely the result of a PR talking on background only. The unwritten rule is that you never talk about the process publicly.
After my disability and diversity feature was published, a journalist at a leading national newspaper emailed me sarcastically: “Seems like you’ll be popular now with the tech giants”. What have I done?
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