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Turns out, tech can be us

November 19, 2021, 7:53 PM UTC

There’s a new MVP in town! Also: Sherrilyn Ifill takes a bow, Dennis Rodman strikes a pose, and, who actually killed Malcolm X? All that and: Jonathan Vanian steps up to the plate and tackles on how to successfully use technology to hire diverse teams. Hint: Bring in the bounty hunters

But first, here’s your rare lunar eclipse week in review, in Haiku.

This newsletter will
be shorter than usual
today. Why? Because

I got up in the
middle of the night to look
at the eclipsing,

resplendent moon. A
reminder to show up for
miracles when they

appear! Put down the
work for just a minute. Then,
I pictured Julius

Jones, alive to see
that same moon. See what I just
did? Minute over.

Celebrate every miracle you can! We hope you get good rest this weekend.

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com

In brief

When building diverse, artificial intelligence and related technical teams, companies need to do more than simply look for recruits who hail from prestigious universities like Stanford or Carnegie Mellon.It may take some work to scout for technologists who aren’t from "central casting," but the effort could help businesses more likely spot bias problems with their A.I. software.Jutta Williams, a product lead for Twitter’s machine learning ethics, transparency, and accountability (META) team, notes how its recent algorithmic bias-bounty program, in which the company enlisted outsiders to spot bias problems in a home-grown photo-cropping tool, was aided by a community of diverse voices. With their help, Twitter discovered numerous bias problems with its cropping tool that could have gone unnoticed, such as the software removing people who wear head garments like hijabs and turbans.“You don't know that you need to solve a problem unless you recognize that a problem exists in the world,” Williams said.Williams and Twitter’s META chief Rumman Chowdhury shared with Fortune some helpful tips for companies to create diverse A.I. and tech teams.• Don’t hire based on jargonChowdhury urges hiring managers to not be swayed by a recruit’s mastery of A.I. and techie lingo.“So the thing about being in Silicon Valley is you learn a way of speaking,” Chowdhury says. Just because someone learns “how to answer the question, that doesn't actually mean you're better or smarter,” she adds. There may be perfectly qualified tech recruits of color who haven’t learned to say the “right words” that make them appear to be A.I. superstars. • Take a thorough scan on LinkedInChowdhury says that her team will go on LinkedIn and “look for people who might be candidates that maybe traditionally wouldn't come up by a recruiting company.”She looks for “signals” that indicate a person’s capacity to learn that are “not necessarily the skills and tasks” they list on their online profiles.“The dirty secret they don't tell you is that when people go from company to company, [you] have to learn a completely different tech stack,” Chowdhury says. People need to know “the principles of how these things happen,” and not necessarily each individual developer tool. Williams says she personally reads the academic papers that recruits have published to get a sense of what they can do and scans their contributions to the software-repository service GitHub, which can give people an idea of their tech chops. • Don’t create a culture that fosters imposter syndromeIt can make women and people of color feel like garbage if their company management “makes a point of celebrating diversity hires, and you are a member of a class that is part of the diversity hiring pool,” Williams notes.“It lends itself to an increase in imposter syndrome,” Williams says. “Like, I had never felt imposter syndrome until I came to Silicon Valley, because it's…it's in your face.” She adds: “They talk about it excessively and then they tell you how important diversity hiring is, and it really makes you question yourself a lot.” “It really is demoralizing sometimes,” Williams says.

On point

A new MVP is crowned and the world is cheering  Shohei Ohtani is an official global phenom, and one of the rare professional baseball players to be unanimously voted American League's Most Valuable Player. The Los Angeles Angels star carried the weight of enormous expectations when he was recruited from Japan four years ago. Click through for his stats, but his low-key style was evident in his response to the honor. "I don't have any special plans, actually," Ohtani, said, speaking from his home in Japan through his interpreter. "I'm probably gonna spend a lonely night by myself at home." Awww.
ESPN

Dennis Rodman won a different and equally worthy award More of a magazine designation, but those count? GQ has named the former NBA superstar the “fashion icon of the year,” it’s really just an excuse to profile the explosively fascinating celebrity, now 60 years old. This is a story about athleticism, family trauma, money, business, excess, and personal pain, and a still unclear plan to make amends. But to whom? The story is also populated with extraordinary photos of Rodman in the highest of high couture, a fitting tribute to a man who occasionally sounds surprised to be still alive.
GQ

Who killed Malcolm X?  Two men who were convicted of killing the civil rights icon in 1965 have been exonerated. Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam each spent more than 20 years in prison. The move comes after years of complaints — and more recent 22-month investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office — that the investigation into the murder was badly botched. “It’s long overdue,” said Bryan Stevenson a civil rights lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice initiative. “This is one of the most prominent figures of the 20th century who commanded enormous attention and respect. And yet, our system failed.”
New York Times

Sherrilyn Ifill will be stepping down from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, after stewarding the storied civil rights group through one a time of enormous reckoning and social change. Her longtime second in command, Janai Nelson, will take the helm sometime next spring. Since 2013, Ifill has grown the organization to more than 150 attorneys, created a grass-roots organizing arm, and launched the Thurgood Marshall Institute, an internal think tank that researches civil rights law and structural racism. She raised some real money for the cause, too.
Washington Post

 

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On background

How to handle Thanksgiving as the non-Black guest This hilarious “user guide” to black family Thanksgiving spills all the tea on the specific and beloved rituals and personalities you might find if you’re invited to a black household for the holiday. Written by beloved food historian Michael Twitty, it is clearly satire, but filled with genuine affection. Rules for what to bring (it’s gotta be something, as long as it isn’t pumpkin or parsnips), and who to sit near, how to load your plate and what to expect for amusement. It's pre-pandemic, but delightful nonetheless. “Expect an elder to ask a young child to dance, perform, recite a poem or read from the Bible against their will for the entertainment of other elders.” But most of all, expect to feel welcome. “We love Non-Black guests. So be prepared for the “Naw we don’t do handshakes,” and deep breast hugs. Get air before you go in.”
Afroculinaria

Mood board

RaceAhead-Julius Jones
The same moon for all of us would have been nice...
Andrew Lichtenstein—Corbis/Getty Images

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