Industry Diversity In Conferences

Saturday, 2007-February-24 at 21:01 1 comment

Better, not more “diverse”: James Robertson continues an industry-wide discussion on diversity.  I think James has some good ideas.  We do not want to choose our presenters (speakers) OR our attendees based on their gender or ancestry.  We do, on the other hand, want to have a broad perspective on what works and why, which does mean that we need to get out of our very narrow perspective.

I originally came across this through Anil Dash’s two recent entries about the selection of speakers at industry conferences.  This led to following some of the conversation at Off the Hoof.  I was surprised to see Anil bring it up, but I probably should not have been, seeing that he has been discussing the need for diversity in the industry (and its events) for the better part of a year.

I do not and can not support quotas.  By this I mean, selecting a person solely because of that person’s gender, ancestry, or whatever is not acceptable.  I think it trivializes the real difficulties that people face when we pick out one to be our shining example, as if to say, “Y’all should be like this gal heah.”

Instead, we need to start out long before the final selections, examining a much broader group of people: people of different genders, different ancestries, different ages, different places of residence, different native languages, different income levels/economic status, different educational levels (and different educational foci, different educational institutions), and different work histories.  The key word in all of this is history.  What you’ve done, where you’ve been, whom you’ve interacted with, and what you’ve experienced uniquely shapes you.  Your history makes you different from everyone else, but in the tech industry, the majority of people have similar histories in many ways.

The different histories will give us different points of view, different perspectives on where we are and where we should be going.  I contend that a well-run business is not a business that strives to make its staff fit a particular profile.  We all know what happens when the world changes around a business and no one inside the business has any idea how to respond to that change.  This is a classic (and expected) result of having too narrow a range of histories within the workforce or at least the executive suite.

Yet, we still have industry conferences where most or all of the speakers have similar backgrounds.  We already know that there are barriers that affect the opportunities for entrance and for growth within our industry (that is, they affect those who have different histories from most of our industry’s members).  We do know this, right?  Tell me that there are not any people that seriously suggest otherwise.  We know that the health of our industry depends upon broadening our staffing and executive ranks to include these excluded people.  We know that there are legal (legislative, executive, judicial) challenges ahead which really could impact us for the long term, where it is in our best interest for a broad spectrum of government leaders and decision-makers to be “invested” in the long-term success of the industry.

So why in the world are we not doing something about it?  I don’t mean X number of men and X number of women type things, but starting with a larger, more inclusive group to begin with.  This, along with a broader definition of “success,” will very likely lead to the results we want without the need for special preferences, although we may need some outreach in order to turn up the dark-skinned and female contributors whose voices have traditionally not been heard.

Entry filed under: Small Business, Society.

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