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Language Matters: How Earnest Engineers are Promoting Inclusion

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As engineers at Earnest, we are proud to have cultivated a company culture of awareness, empathy, and allyship. Core to Earnest values is doing great things together, insisting on high standards, and having a growth mindset. Earlier this year, the Black Lives Matter movement brought up important conversations among our country, and within our team. Primarily, “Beyond what we do as individuals outside of work, what more could we do to promote an inclusive culture at Earnest?”

As a part of these conversations, we decided as a team that removing biased language was something our team was excited to champion and lead industry change in. We looked at both how we communicate with each other as team members and the technical terms we all learned earlier in our careers.

Language is shaped and influenced by norms, it takes intention and conscious awareness to identify examples and replace them with new language. We are excited to share the areas we have identified for further attention, and how we will be approaching this task as a team. 

Revising the Technical Terms We Use

At Earnest, we identified ~20 non-inclusive technical terms which are so ingrained in our day-to-day usage as engineers that many have not examined if they should be replaced for more inclusive words. Using modern and inclusive terms not only help eliminate racist language, but also offers clearer definitions of what the terms actually mean in their specific context. A few examples are:

Master/Slave

In the software/hardware industry, you would have come across these terms a million times. It is used for databases, hard-disk-drives etc. Opting for more inclusive words like Primary/Secondary OR Primary/Replica eliminates any unintentional offensive verbiage and also maintains the original intent of these terms.

Whitelist/Blacklist

Members of the Security industry are very well aware of these terms. Even though the original intent behind the words is to follow secure system & network access practices, the terms in themselves contribute to racial stereotyping by relating white to good, and black to bad. We at Earnest are making efforts to eliminate these and use Allowlist/Denylist instead. 

Language Awareness Tools

Changing our vocabulary takes time and non-judgemental reminders along the way can really help. In an effort to create real time prompts, Earnest will be utilizing a Slackbot feature that will alert an employee when an identified exclusive word or phrase is used. This list of words and phrases was put together by a volunteer committee of Earnest engineers, along with the support of our People Operations team members. 

The following message will alert the user when an identified word is used: In an effort to be more inclusive, Earnest is actively looking to replace the “term/phraseand it’s recommended to use “alternate term/phrase” instead. 

Setting up this feature is easy and subtle but reminds everyone that we must be continuous and diligent to create lasting change. If you would like to check this feature out, here is the guide to creating automated responses in Slack

Our Call for Technical Teams to Take Action

Martin Luther King Jr. so poignantly said “The time is always right to do what is right”. To bring about enduring change takes effort and a willingness to want to make a difference. It requires us to be mindful of our thoughts, words and actions. We need to be open, transparent and willing to listen. But we also need to remind ourselves that we are human, and with all our virtues, we have shortcomings. We may stumble. 

Above are some of the concrete steps we have taken as an engineering team towards a more inclusive workplace. In addition to those actions; 

  • Earnest also has several employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace. Each group has an Executive sponsor, charter, budget, support, and mentorship. 
  • We are a founding member of the Fintech Equity Coalition, along with 20 other companies, with the goal of enhancing access to financial services, jobs, and career advancement for underrepresented groups. 
  • Earnest leadership also signed the Parity.org ParityPledge® which is a public commitment to interview at least one qualified person of color for every open role, VP and above, including our C-suite and Board.

We continue to promote inclusivity and pride ourselves on creating a comfortable and supportive environment for all our employees to thrive in. We will continue to listen and learn from each other and prioritize uplifting the voices of our employees. We are working on becoming more aware of the language we use and endorse, and we are dedicated to developing a safe, socially-aware space for our employees.

We encourage you to take whatever steps you can, within your sphere of influence. Together we can make a difference. 

Come build the future of education financing.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.