Even amid the catch-all event that is the COVID-19 pandemic, the story of the summer has probably been the protests surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and a push for racial equality. Microsoft has been working to address its position on the racial divide in support of the movement. IBM is also making efforts in its teams.
Both Microsoft and IBM are encouraging employees to create informal groups to search documentation and source code. The goal is to find any language that could be racially insensitive and replace it with neutral terms.
Neither of the companies has publicly confirmed this move, but ZDNet reports Microsoft and IBM has already initiated the programs. It is worth noting the companies are not working together but are simply embarking on the same endeavor.
Of course, cleaning up language across services won’t prevent the shadow of racism. However, Microsoft and IBM control some of the largest software services and code repositories. Simply addressing the language across these services is a step in the right direction.
While Microsoft has an informal group, the company has been working on this initiative for years. That’s interesting because it means the company is now simply being reactive to the current climate and seeking praise.
That said, it seems Microsoft has ramping up efforts in recent months, with more employees searching for insensitive language. All people working on the project are doing so for free and in their own time.
The task involves scouring source code and documentation for language that is biased. So, what does that mean? Well, Microsoft is looking for inclusive and/or neutral terminology. A good example are the words whitelist and blacklist, which become denylist and allowlist.
Sometimes, source code cannot be changed because it taps into third-party code. In these cases, Microsoft now attaches warnings to public documentation pages that there is non-inclusive language in the content.
As for IBM, the company is driving its change from an executive level. Microsoft is relying on the initiative of employees to push the search, whereas IBM’s plans were started at the top. A group was created in IBM’s Academy of Technology (AoT) to review 15 technical terms and find neutral alternatives.
IBM points out tackling racism is not the only goal. The company also wants to focus on xenophobic or other biased terminology.