JAGGAER’s Human Equity Project Leader Gives Her Story on the Movement
Robyn Baker has been leading our project to clean up insensitive language, part of our broader Human Equity Project (HEP). Here she describes the progress being made and shares her own personal perspectives.
She lives in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, although originally from Conception Bay South in Newfoundland, on Canada’s east coast. Her educational background is in clinical psychology and when she moved to Alberta straight out of university nearly ten years ago, her goal was to get into social work or addictions counseling. However, while looking for a job in this field, Robyn took a contract position as a Technical Writer at Upside Software (a company that was later acquired by JAGGAER).
“I fell in love with the tech industry and I’ve been here ever since!” she says.
She certainly knows her way around the company: since joining JAGGAER, Robyn has worked in Documentation, Training, Professional Services, Development, Production Support, and the Project Management Office. She is currently in Product Management, serving as JAGGAER’s Senior Product Launch Manager. “It’s an exciting role that lets me use my cross-functional experience and project management skills to improve processes company-wide. I love working at JAGGAER – the culture and the people are fantastic!” she says. Robyn met her husband at work. They have been married for four years and are expecting their first baby in March.
An Exciting Opportunity
Her involvement in the Insensitive Language Project came about, Robyn says, “by a happy accident. Roger Blumberg, Senior VP Corporate and Product Marketing, asked for project management support, and it was assigned to me”.
“I was excited for the opportunity to be involved for a couple of reasons: on a professional level it’s very different from the kinds of technology or process-focused projects I tend to work on, and on a personal level the topic of human equity has a lot of meaning for me. While I identify as white, my husband is of South Asian descent and our son will be biracial. I get a lot of satisfaction from working on a project that will help to make the world of work more inclusive for the next generation,” she adds.
The Insensitive Language Cleanup project is just one initiative within the Human Equity Project portfolio. It aims to remove all racially insensitive terms and phrases from JAGGAER’s software applications, documentation, and marketing collateral. “There is a surprising amount of racially insensitive language in common use in the technology industry. We sought to identify these terms and come up with more neutral replacements,” Robyn explains.
|Word or term to avoid||Replace with|
|Whitelist||Safe list / Allowed list|
|Grandfather clause||Legacy agreement / Legacy clause|
|Master (in general)||Main|
|Master-slave (system etc.)||Primary-secondary / Controller-agent (system etc.)|
|Master data||Primary data|
|Master data management||Primary data management|
|Scrum master||Scrum leader|
|Whitehat/Blackhat hacking||Friendly (or benign)/Hostile (or malicious) hacking|
|Pipeline||Funnel, Docket, Backlog|
“Going into this project, I thought it would be a fairly straightforward process of coming up with a list of insensitive terms to remove and then replacing them with more neutral language. However, the effort has turned out to be far more complex and time-consuming than that,” Robyn says.
“Some terms (like ‘slave’, for example), are very obviously offensive and there is no context in which they’re acceptable to use. However, other terms like ‘master’ proved to be much more nuanced and challenging. First, because the term ‘master’ can have very different meanings depending on context for example, it’s not only insensitive but offensive (and therefore, clearly has to be replaced) when used in the context of a reference to a ‘master-slave’ system. But what about in an HR job posting where the qualification includes a Master’s degree? That has nothing to do with slavery as the word originates from the Latin, Magister, meaning master in the sense of someone who is licensed to teach.
“Likewise, there seems to be nothing wrong with saying that someone has ‘mastered’ a certain skillset. So, we decided that the word ‘master’ was acceptable in many circumstances, but never in reference to a hierarchical relationship”.
“That led us to a second challenge, which was actually implementing these changes in our software and documentation. While we could easily search and replace some words and phrases such as ‘blacklist’, others like ‘master’ presented issues because they have been widely used in software development and they need to be vetted for context. Remediating this is not impossible, but it requires a huge investment of time and therefore money in areas such as Development and Education. The scope for these groups is actually so large that we needed to secure special budget in order to proceed.
“Other groups such as Marketing, Legal and Human Resources have much more flexibility in making changes to their collateral. For those groups, it was an exercise in reviewing their existing collateral for items that might contain sensitive language, and then coming up with a plan to remove and remediate. Customer Support and Professional Services fall somewhere in between – they have significant amounts of documentation that need remediation, but they cannot revise much of their collateral until the software and documentation have been updated.
“It’s also important to note the downstream impact to customers – many customers produce their own custom documentation that may need to be updated to reflect the removal of insensitive language from our applications. When we get to that stage, we will need to be proactive in engaging customers to let them know of the change so they can prepare”.
“In short, this is not an effort to take on lightly! There are many moving parts and cross-functional dependencies to consider and it’s important to identify as many of them as possible before starting a project like this,” Robyn says.
For the reasons Robyn outlines above, the project is making progress, but there is still a long way to go. The Marketing department was the first to remove all racially insensitive language from their collateral with the relaunch of the JAGGAER website on October 27. For Development and Education, we are still waiting to secure budget to proceed with the changes. We expect this project will span multiple releases (and likely multiple years!)
A Canadian Perspective
It is worth noting that this project has a special meaning in the United States. What is Robyn’s perspective as a Canadian citizen?
“Canada doesn’t have the same history of slavery that the United States has, and in general we have a smaller Black population. Only about three percent of Canadians identify as Black. So, like the in the United Kingdom, the Black Lives Matter movement certainly exists, but it has been rather more nuanced here”.
“However, that’s absolutely not to say Canada doesn’t have a problem with systemic racism. Canada has a shameful history when it comes to the treatment of its Indigenous peoples, and that racism and discrimination is still pervasive today. For that reason, in Canada the Black Lives Matter movement has also focused on drawing attention to the injustices faced by Indigenous Canadians,” she explains.
And indeed, there are terms that are used in a business context that are insensitive towards Indigenous Canadians (and Americans). For example, “too many chiefs, too few Indians”.
“Leading this project has been an eye-opening experience in a number of ways. I was surprised by the sheer scope and magnitude of the work. You would think that replacing a few words would be a trivial effort but in fact it is very complex. This kind of change is a worthwhile initiative for an organization to undertake, but it’s important to understand that it involves a significant investment of time and money and can’t be accomplished overnight”.
“This project has opened my eyes to how many everyday phrases have racist origins or connotations. For example, ‘redlining’ is a very common term in the contract management sphere, but in the United States and Canada it also refers to the practice of denying loans to minorities to prevent them from buying houses in white neighborhoods. Also, the general practice of using ‘black’ to mean something bad and ‘white’ to mean something good is pervasive, and regardless of the reasons for this, it is very insensitive. Working on this project has definitely made me more mindful of the language I use in professional and everyday settings,” Robyn concludes.
The focus until now has been on racially insensitive language, and as Robyn says, the work continues. There are many exciting projects in the Human Equity Project portfolio including company-wide training on diversity and inclusion, improving diversity representation in our employee base, philanthropy programs and more.