There’s an interesting post about diversity at a tech conference. It is itself a response to a number of tweets by an attendee, so you should read both those things, and probably all of the other comments first.
I’ve now tried twice to add a comment to this article, but each time my comment disappears into the ether. Mark tells me that he is not seeing the comments, i.e. they are not being held for moderation, so I just assume some bit of tech somewhere is failing. Yes, I do get the captcha challenge thing and do complete it successfully. Blog comment systems are awful aren’t they?
So anyway, here’s the most recent version of the comment I tried to add:
I originally wrote this comment on the evening of the 6th, but the blog appears to have eaten it, and I no longer have a copy of it so I’ll have to try to re-type it from memory. Also since then I note a number of other comments which are highly opposed to what I wrote, so you’ll have to take my word for it that this is genuine comment and not an attempt to cause strife.
I do not believe that OggCamp specifically has a problem and I agree with much of what Mark has written, particularly that the unconference format is not in fact used to excuse lack of diversity (though it can be, and doubtless will be, by someone). I do believe that OggCamp has tried quite hard to be welcoming to all, and in many ways has succeeded. There seems to be a slightly larger percentage of female attendees at OggCamp compared to other tech conferences I have been to. I feel strongly that there is a larger percentage of female speakers at OggCamp.
I do however believe the widespread observation that tech conferences and tech in general do have a problem with attracting people who aren’t white males. I do believe that any group organising a conference are obligated to try to fix this, which means that the organisers of OggCamp are.
Stating that there is no such problem and that everyone is welcome is not going to fix it. Clearly there is a problem here, there’s people reporting that there’s a problem and they don’t think you’re doing all that you could do to be welcoming. There’s a word for telling people who say they’re subject to an unwelcoming environment that they in fact are wrong about how they feel, and I’d really like for this not to go there.
However I do not think that many of the things that Mark has proposed will actually make any difference, as well-intentioned as they are. To help improve matters I think that OggCamp should do some things that Mark (and many others in these comments, apparently) will not like.
I am in favour of positive reinforcement / affirmative action / speaker quotas / whatever you want to refer to it as, as part of a diversity statement. Like, aspirational. To be regarded as a sort of “could do better” if it wasn’t achieved. I believe it has shown to be effective.
My first suggestion is to have some sort of diversity goal, perhaps one like, “ideally at least one largest-stage slot per day will be taken by a person who is not a white male”. If we assume one largest stage, two slots each on morning and afternoon, that’s four per day so that’s aiming for 25% main stage representation of speakers who aren’t white males. I believe the gender split alone (before we consider race or other marginalised attributes) in the tech industry is something like 80/20 so this doesn’t sound outrageous.
My second suggestion—and I feel this is possibly more important than the first—is to get more diversity in the group of people selecting the invited speakers. I think a bunch of white males (like myself) sitting about pontificating about diversity isn’t very much better than not doing anything at all. Put those decisions into the hands of the demographic we are trying to encourage.
So, I suggest asking zenaynay to speak at the next OggCamp, and I suggest asking zenaynay if they know any other people who aren’t white males who would like to speak at a future OggCamp.
I do not think that merely marketing OggCamp in more places will fix much. People that aren’t white males tend to be put off from speaking at events like OggCamp and the only way to change their minds is to directly contact them. More diverse speakers will lead to more diverse attendees.
In the same vein, there’s the code of conduct issue. We tend to believe that we are all really nice guys doing the best we can; we would never offend or upset anyone, we would never exclude anyone. The thing is, people who aren’t like us have a very different experience of the world. So just saying that we’re not like that isn’t really enough. Codes of conduct for conferences are a good idea for this reason. Many people who are not white males will not attend a conference that doesn’t have one, because they feel like there is no commitment there and they’re not welcome (or in many cases, safe).
Ashe Dryden compiled a useful page of tips for increasing diversity at tech conferences. If there is genuine desire to do this then I think you have to come up with a great counter-argument as to why it isn’t worth trying the things that Ashe Dryden has said have worked for others. Codes of conduct and diversity goals are in there. As is personally inviting speakers.
“We don’t have time to run a full CFP process” seems like one of the stronger counter-arguments to all of this, to which I think there are two answers:
- Don’t bother then; nothing changes.
- Try to find volunteers to do it for you; something may change.
Shanley Kane wrote a great collection of essays called Your Startup is Broken. Of course this is about startups (and a US-centric slant, too) not conferences, but it is a great read nontheless and touches upon all the sorts of issues that are relevant here. I really recommend it. It’s only $10.
Finally, I feel that many of the commentors are being a little too defensive. Try to take it as an indictment of the tech sector, not an indictment of OggCamp, and try to use it as feedback to improve things.