[UPDATED] Should Minnesota Techies Be Treated Differently Based On Their Appearance?


[UPDATED] 9/25/18 10:30am CST:

It was with best intentions that we hosted events like Startup School Femtech to foster the formation and prosperity of female-led technology companies in Minnesota.

Or published original research reports like The Ultimate Guide To Women In Technology to help women interested in Minnesota tech find communities of the like-minded to further their professional goals.

…and created a dedicated “Women” column that was specifically for the recognition + promotion women within the Minnesota tech community.

However, it’s come to our attention that this is a classic example of treating some Minnesota techies different from one another based on their physical appearance.  As such, we have ceased these initiatives because it’s not what most of our audience actually wants and is equally inconsistent with our editorial ethos:

Minnesota techies are not treated differently from one another based on their physical appearance.

[Updated] 9/19/18 8:00 CST: 

Yesterday a poll was administered to ask a timely and important question:

Should Minnesota techies be treated differently based on their appearance?

As the votes streamed in, it became clear what our audience thinks — an overwhelming “No” by 4:1 margin. You can scroll to the bottom to see it.

With so many votes skewing strongly one way and ample sample size (100+) the poll is now closed and concluded. Though comments will remain open for any civil conversation, as this poll (and update) may be interpreted differently by some. It’s worth sharing and discussing any of those differences instead of withholding them. That’s fundamentally how we learn, evolve and grow as humans.

I personally couldn’t agree more with how the majority of our audience voted. It’s reinforcing to know there is high alignment with the same values shared at TECHdotMN.

There was, however, those who voted “Yes” or “Maybe so”, and perhaps that’s worth exploring more, not jumping to judge or demonizing. Because it leaves people wondering: who and why would they think this way?

You’ll notice few voters who actually considered the depth of this question were willing to speak honestly and respectfully in the comments.  TECHdotMN always supports that type of interaction here.

The purpose of the poll was not to be provocative, be rhetorical, or to ‘drive traffic’.

It was to stimulate some constructive thought, hear your feedback, and address situations in Minnesota tech where people are actively being treated differently based on their physical appearance. This isn’t some anecdotal hypothetical stuff, the following are real examples:

  • Some investors will only fund entrepreneurs who look a certain way, and thus and deliberately not fund others based on what they look like.
  • Some event organizers will invite (or explicitly not invite) certain people to participate in events based on their physical appearances.

Instead of focusing in on the similarities among us – what technology we are passionate about, how we make/do/create, what dreams are made of – in these situations, professional and business decisions are being based primarily, if not entirely, on the physical appearance of Minnesota techies.

They segregate themselves from those who don’t look like them and exclude all of Minnesota techies from participating by design based just on what they see outside. This open bias puts one over another in highly competitive environments such as hiring, speaking, or pitching.  This perpetuates a divisive “us” vs. “them” way of thinking and being.

Isn’t this exactly what should be eliminated from Minnesota tech? Segregation, bias, judgement, preferential treatment, and exclusion — based just on our appearance?

Basing decisions and passing judgement of people on the shallow perception of our external appearance — as if that somehow correlates to qualification, competency, skill, or knowledge.  You may personally be a part of these situations above, and therefore you are acting it out in a way that would indicate “Yes” is your answer to the question we’ve posted, considering you are inherently treating people differently based on their appearance.

Or, like one of our commenters you may have replied “No”, as you don’t believe it should be that way, but yet you contradict yourself in reality.  Why?

Would you answer the question any differently now if you could based on a different way of interpretation?

Again, if anyone wants to explain why they voted the way they did, the floor is yours to be respectful and honest as the intention here is.

Treating someone in Minnesota tech differently from another person so openly based on what they look like will naturally have side effects of equal/opposite reaction on the other parties who do not appear to be the same on the outside.  Instead of uniting Minnesota techies, these situations are, by nature,  further dividing them.

Instead of promoting technology advancements in the spirit of “best idea wins” something else is taking priority.

Rather than living equality day in and out, these situations are undermining it.  To preach inclusion while at the same time consciously exclude some people based on what they look like is hypocritical to the core and blatantly discriminatory. This is the unspoken trade-off of such well meaning activities, and perhaps becoming unintended consequence worth reconsidering within the community.

At scale, these instances exploit and manipulate people — whether deliberate or not. They appeal to the fears, insecurities, and prompt prejudice by promoting physical appearance as a thing.  They play on human emotion for their own profit and power, fueling separation, angst, and hate. And over time, they have deep subconscious, adverse side effects that don’t ultimately serve humanity. Look no further the state of mainstream media today.

In the tech community, near and far, treating people differently based on their appearance is condemned because it can hurt so many people in so many ways. No-one would dispute that adverse side effect of such behavior.

Why is it still so accepted in Minnesota tech?

Look around and you will find real-time examples of Minnesota techies being treated differently based on their physical appearance happening right now in the community.  In these environments, they are reducing people down to their most uncommon denominator and something that we all as humans have no influence over – what we are born looking like.

The situations outline above are not consistent with the way I aspire to pursue TECHdotMN and coexist with the Minnesota community we support long and hard. Based on the votes of our audience, it’s clearly against the grain the majority of our readers to treat people that way too. Time to change it up!

A more constructive focus in the community would be all of that which comes from within, what makes us all uniquely different, beautiful, and totally human at the same time.

Why should it matter what anyone looks like relative to WHO they are and WHAT they are about as a person?

YOU are so much more than what you look like and when was the last time anyone in Minnesota tech told you this universal truth? Being in this industry in any capacity is hard enough as it is, why should we allow ourselves to be held back or burdened by such simple factors we cannot, should not, care to alter.

To invest time and energy concerned with that which cannot be changed is a terrible waste of the resources we all cherish like our time, energy, and attention. The way we allow ourselves to be labeled, categorized, and to be judged on something so far beyond control is a great human tragedy of our era (this extends well beyond Minnesota and the technology industry).

And we’re all in this together by default, though some are more actively addressing these situations with positive change that unites people in ways which transcend their appearance. Three are plenty of great examples happening right now as well, of people who don’t treat others differently based on their appearance. Those are to be lauded and emphasized because fully inclusive events do not recognize physical appearance.

But it is the right of an individual, group, or business to act one way or the other even though many may disagree.   Again, talking openly about this important subject may be harder than holding it back, but is the best thing in the long run for all of Minnesota’s techies. Talking is a path to learning, understanding, and respecting.

Our forthcoming Minnesota Tech Diversity & Inclusion Study will unearth some overdue objective research on this topic, though that is centered around the hiring practices and internal procedures of Minnesota’s 1,000+ private tech companies; it does not address the more peripheral and subversive examples outlined above.

There was never and will never be a good time to judge or treat anyone in Minnesota tech (or beyond) any differently than you otherwise would based on their physical appearance, full stop. Minnesota tech will be a better place when both 100% of our readers answer “No” AND 100% of the community’s actions are fully aligned with that sentiment.

That is the ultimate ideal, is it not? To reach a place which transcends concerns about what each other looks like and instead elevates the human spirit in us all?

A better future for all of Minnesota techies is one which doesn’t treat any people differently based on their physical appearance.  There is so much more worth focusing on and knowing about them. Start with what’s going on inside, such as their character.

A better path forward is coming at TECHdotMN and initial steps are happening now to creating a better Minnesota Tech media company that removes the risk of such subjectivity and bias around the topic. All media is in great position to be the change not by treating anyone differently based on appearance but on treating them equally.

All we can do is be clear about where we stand and why we stand! This is now an editorial ethos we are proud to articulate and act out:

Minnesota techies are not treated differently from one another based on their physical appearance.

If you are ever feeling personally discriminated against by anyone in the Minnesota’s tech community based on your physical appearance please leave a public comment anytime or reach out directly/anonymously.

[Original] In our Meta poll for September, we’re asking the audience: Should Minnesota Techies Be Treated Differently Based On Their Appearance?

By “Minnesota Techies” we include anyone and everyone who is employed within the technology industry in Minnesota or who has started/operating a technology company here.

What do you think?

Should Minnesota Techies Be Treated Differently Based On Their Appearance?

  • No (83%, 88 Votes)
  • Yes (9%, 10 Votes)
  • Maybe so? (8%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 106


  • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

    To those voting “Yes” – care to expand on that?

    • Scott Burns

      The question troubles me because I don’t think it works in a survey. I answered no for that reason. If I’m being honest, I do treat people differently on occasion based on demographic factors. I definitely try to increase access to my time and attention to people of color and women. I do that because I’m very aware that I am inundated with requests to help white dudes and that they don’t (on average) have his many hurdles to overcome in building their networks. I have a long ways to go to be helpful. I’m really thrilled when I see lists like this that show our innovation community getting more inclusive: https://www.americaninno.com/minne/inno-insights-minne/minne-innos-25-under-25/ I generally am one for getting opinions and ideas out there. Surveys are tricky and this topic feels wrong for a one question pulse survey.

      • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

        Thanks for having the courage to speak honesty and respectfully Scott. There’s something to be said about that.

        So you voted “No” but act “Yes”. Interesting!

        • http://bustoutsolutions.com Jeff Lin

          I don’t think that’s Scott’s point at all, and I think you’re vastly oversimplifying a complex topic by equating appearance with identity in a poll. People don’t appear female. They are female. I don’t appear Asian. I am Asian.

          Should I be treated differently if I show up to a board meeting wearing a thong bikini and a rainbow wig? Uh, yes. That violates social and professional norms of appearance. But I don’t think that’s what the poll attempts to get at, right?

          For the record, I voted “yes,” but I also don’t really know what this question is asking. If it’s trying to address workplace diversity issues that Scott touched on in his comment and that I, as a person of color, deal with quite often, then maybe a better question would be, quite literally, “Should dimensions of diversity be a factor in employment of Minnesota techies?”

          My answer to that question would also be “yes.”

          • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

            Jeff, thanks for speaking your mind about it while also being respectful.

          • http://bustoutsolutions.com Jeff Lin

            Again, I think the question is worded incorrectly. Physical appearance is not the same thing as diversity. To answer the question that I think you’re asking, yes, I make hiring decisions based on diversity. I could go on for hours about this, but here’s summary of thoughts:

            – Diversity of ideas leads to better products and services. I think of it analogous to evolutionary molecular biology and the Red Queen Hypothesis. In order to stay relevant and stable, you have to constantly move and change and evolve. Stagnation leads to extinction.
            – Building a diverse team in no way implies dropping standards. Sad that I have to state this on a regular basis, but very often people in the majority conflate the two.
            – Diversity goes deeper than appearance. In fact, appearance has little to do with diversity in most cases. In a heartbeat you can find two people who physically appear similar, but are night and day as humans.
            – Minnesotans are more interested in talking about diversity than most places I’ve lived/worked. Minnesotans are bad at walking the walk. Not sure why.

          • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

            Interesting points, thanks again for sharing Jeff.

          • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

            Thanks, Jeff. Same question as some of the others if you’d like to answer:

            Would you like to somehow be treated differently in Minnesota’s tech community based on your appearance?

        • Scott Burns

          Jeff- I’m sorry I took the bait on your clever all lives matter charade. I certainly respect what you do, generally, here on this site and also respect your right to have a viewpoint that is different than mine. I was mainly just completing the survey to make sure Structural’s name wasn’t associated with it. I appreciate that it wasnt even as we are supporting the more comprehensive survey. I realize there are white men who want to say they are being excluded from opportunities because of these funds and spaces that seek to elevate women and people of color. I feel differently. History and the current facts suggest that we need to be more intentional about creating opportunities and access for people of color and women if we want to expand our tech sector. I applaud intentionality. There is evidence that the types of spaces and investor paradigms that have led to profound inequality need to be disrupted by new models. As an entrepreneur, I appreciate people who are willing to try new models when the same old models aren’t working. I hope the longer upcoming survey and other efforts help uncover facts and new opportunities to continue to make our tech community more inclusive. We have a long ways to go.

          • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

            Thanks for elaborating Scott, and for maintaining respect.

            Wondering…would you like to somehow be treated differently in Minnesota’s tech community based on your appearance?

    • Mohammed Aaser

      I’m with Scott, Jeff Lin, and Josiah on this. I thing there is common fallacy that says if we help underrepresented groups it comes at a cost of the majority group. This is only true if we see a world where the pie is limited. But it is not. There are millions of people in groups that have little access to funds, mentorship, and guidance – if these people get access and succeed – it increases the pie for all of us. We get more startups, more jobs, and hopefully a better economy. Increasing access, and thus the market size, is usually a good move.

      • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

        Thanks for sharing your perspective on things and doing so with respect, Mohammed.

        Curious to hear more…what did you vote and are you someone who would like to be treated differently based on your appearance?

  • Mohammed Aaser

    I do think the wording of a question makes a huge difference. I’m not sure what the goal of the question is – What are you hoping to achieve or do differently based on the response to this question?

    Watch this 2 min clip on wording of surveys

  • Josiah Gulden

    I fail to see how the substance of this is any different from “All Lives Matter” rhetoric. The practical impact of underrepresented people creating opportunity vehicles (meetups, funds, positions, whatever) specifically for other underrepresented people isn’t the exclusion of white men, it’s the inclusion of more underrepresented people in our local tech ecosystem. To be frank, framing it otherwise seems both intellectually dishonest and intentionally provocative (despite claims to the counter). I expect better from Tech.MN and am increasingly disappointed by the tone of its editorial content.

    • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

      Thanks for being respectful in sharing your opinion Josiah, both are welcome here: respect and opinion.

      It’s your (and anyone’s) right to believe it’s OK to treat others somehow differently based on their appearance (and to actually do so) though not something we are supporting editorially or newswise.

      Sorry to disappoint!

    • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

      Hi Josiah, I’ve been thinking about this…you used the word “exclusion” and I’m wondering if in some cases, treating people differently based on appearance does actually lead to the exclusion others in whole or part, simultaneously.

      Consider this example which is based off an excerpt from Scott Burns’ comment:

      “I definitely try to increase access to my time and attention to people of color and women. I do that because I’m very aware that I am inundated with requests to help white dudes and that they don’t (on average) have his many hurdles to overcome in building their networks.”

      In this instance, Scott has a limited resource of time and attention (which everyone does) and what he’s saying is that when inundated with requests – appearance become part of the thought process around choosing who to give it to (which not everyone does). He assumes that someone has more or less of a perceived need for his time and attention based off of their physical appearance – which could be true or false – but that’s his choice.

      Because Scott’s time and knowledge is limited (a big part of what makes it so valuable is the scarcity in the first place), his allocation of it may be given in different quantities based off of physical appearance. There’s only so much of it, which means in this case, someone may have received more directly based on what they look, like while another received less indirectly based off of what they look like.

      Neither person need be wholly included or excluded for there to be an imbalance in the allocation, though that could likely happen when it comes down to it. Take for example if he only had time for one meeting: who does he choose and why?

      Now consider that time and attention are scarce resources for everyone…same goes for money and energy – and their scarcity is commensurate to their value by in large. Thus, making a decision to allocate these limited resources for one reason – such as based on the physical characteristics a person – is to simultaneously limit or deny resources in another way. I guess that’s why it’s called a trade-off, and there are real tradeoffs to treating people differently based on appearance.

      Media, competitions, investors, affinity groups – they all have functions of scarcity inherent to them by nature and this is their very value proposition: to pick people to allocate finite resources towards. They also, by process of selection, will exhibit various degrees of treating people differently – though not all base their decisions around appearance.

      So what do you think in all intellectual honesty…can you see how in the situation outlined above treating someone differently based off of their physical appearance could lead to the exclusion – in whole or part – of another?

      • Josiah Gulden

        I’m not inclined to get into an ongoing debate with you about this, since I really do not believe you are engaging the point in good faith. But, I’ll respond in two ways:

        – Your contention is rooted in an assumption that everyone is (or should be) equally entitled to Scott’s time, or media attention, or investment capital, or what have you, and that allocation of those resources is therefore necessarily zero-sum. My contention is rooted in an assumption that nobody is entitled to any of the above unless relevant individuals and institutions have expressly set expectations to the contrary (e.g. anti-discrimination laws, access funds, etc), and that allocation of those resources is therefore necessarily positive-sum. By definition, positive-sum resource allocations are inclusionary and not exclusionary because logically speaking a positive-sum allocation can not deprive anyone of anything.
        – As others have pointed out, characterizing D&I decision calculus as being appearance-driven rather than identity-driven is a dishonest reduction. There is ample evidence, anecdotal and empirical, which you can find easily should you choose to look for it, that the technology industry at large does not reflect the ethnic and gender identity distributions of its addressable market(s), and that there’s an inherent and substantial opportunity cost in the myopia and groupthink that lack of diversity engenders. Minnesota is no exception. Those like Scott and others who go out of their way to create access for underrepresented groups and individuals are in a way acting in their own rational self-interest as greater diversity of perspective, born of lived experience, is correlated with improved economic outcomes, which benefits everyone in the ecosystem. This is precisely why LPs have flocked to A16Z’s Cultural Leadership Fund and others like it; in addition to it being a lever for economic justice (startup equity returns are disproportionately concentrated among white males), there’s a lot of money being left on the table.

        If and when the balance ever tilts and the identity distributions of our industry demonstrate that people like you and I are underrepresented relative to the demographics of the US consumer market, I’ll readily pick this dialogue back up. Until then, I’ll leave it at that.

        • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

          Hi Josiah, thanks, will review. “I really do not believe you are engaging the point in good faith” = why do you believe that? What does “good faith” mean and are you engaging in it any differently than I am despite our difference in opinions?

  • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

    9/20/18 11am CST: There is no moderator on staff beginning now through Monday morning 9am central; therefore all comments site wide will be saved pending in the queue and published/updated at that time. Thank you.

  • Eric Nelson

    Different models of affirmative action work better than others. The question ought not be WHETHER affirmative action is necessary — it’s about WHICH models are most effective for the time, place, and demographics.

    People with different appearances have different experiences, and those experiences must be accommodated. It doesn’t mean I presume someone with dark skin is more or less capable than someone with light skin — but I know, in general, they’ve had different experiences as a result of that inherited physical attribute. Same with those who look feminine vs masculine — with or without the anatomy to match.

    Affirmative action is an intentional counterbalance to known, pre-existing bias to trust, like, and help those who look and act like “one of us” vs “one of them”. The “us” is simply those we grew up trusting or have since formed bonds of trust. And on the scale of society, people who share attributes with those possessing resources and power will retain a larger share of social support. And, in general, those who don’t look and act that way will retain less support.

    I think it takes more guts and honesty to try to navigate the complexity of human variation — and, when acting a societal architect, to design economic and political access points for people who don’t look like and act the way that society’s power brokers do. Especially for those with physical attributes which simply cannot be adapted to suit said power brokers’ implicit preferences. And the noblest power brokers know they are personally responsible for deploying personal models of affirmative action as a check against their own known biases.

    How Tech.MN operates is your business, Jeff. But I personally hope to see the Twin Cities entrepreneurship community continue building more and better access points for people who generally have a harder time tapping existing systems of support — including events and programming designed to elevate a particular demographic. And I’ll help build them where I can.

    • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

      Thanks for respectfully airing your thoughts, Eric.

  • cognitive dissonance

    cognitive dissonance

  • Grady

    Tech is the area where one can most readily distinguish themselves with their product or their code or their metrics. Like sports for instance, there’s a direct physical output and demonstrable measures that someone can point to with their tech output that can give them a level playing field. The original poll was so ambiguous I thought it was addressing how tech people tend to dress more casually, I believe because of this reason of measurability people can say “I’m going to dress in a hoodie for work because my work speaks for itself.” Investors unfortunately do have a bias in some cases, but in no other industry can these issues be more readily overcome than in a tech company because you can show metrics and objective measures to back your claims and raise your credibility to an unassailable status. Jeff I feel like you’ve taken some heat from this poll, and whether or not this was the best format to bring forth the discussion I’m glad we’re having it as people need to question their own perceptions and their own biases. The product is the product and the code is the code, and the voices from these underrepresented populations may be bringing a product or service forward that serves an unmet need for that population creating new market opportunity to serve unmet needs for in some cases big populations.

    • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

      “but in no other industry can these issues be more readily overcome than in a tech company because you can show metrics and objective measures to back your claims and raise your credibility to an unassailable status.”

Yes and the world does not care care who made it, who owns it, or even where it comes from (except for some macro geopolitical security/tariff stuff). People really just want their needs met and problems solved. So long as the code/product/company does just that – it’s irrelevant what the coder/creator/founder looks like which is part of the beauty of technology and entrepreneurship :)