Ryan Carson: We Are Doing Something About Diversity

Saturday, 2007-March-17 at 19:26 1 comment

Carsonified! » Blog Archive » Diversity – The real issues and what we’re doing about it

Joe Clark made an excellent point about diversity in the IT industry:

I am waiting for someone to disprove my contention that the barriers to success in information technology are poverty (can’t afford a computer) and disability (cannot use it), not sex.

The computer does not have an opinion about whether or not you “are wanted”; women have no barriers in *using computers* for their own purposes.

Not only do we need to increase the ratio of women to men at conferences, we need to focus on empowering those with disabilities or those in poverty.

Yes, we do, but that is NOT enough.  While there may be no barriers that you can see other than those you listed, the rest of the world knows that there are still more barriers that need to be challenged.

Let me list a few, just so you cannot ignore the message:

  1. Experience: although those of us that actually work in IT know that almost anyone can learn to do this work at an at-least-adequate level, managers and human resources people want to see X number of years doing the exact same job somewhere else.  If you grow up in an area such as East Los Angeles or South Los Angeles, those jobs do not exist and you will not have that experience, even if you have a computer and you teach yourself to use it.
  2. Psychology: whether we like it or not, people tend to hire people that are similar to themselves unless the job or its tasks are poorly esteemed by the person doing the hiring. 
  3. You are depending on someone announcing themselves to you.  Is this the way you normally recruit speakers?  I’m guessing that you look around to see who is doing work that impresses you and you contact those people.  If this is true, you need to look for people in more places than you have been.  The “women and minorities don’t speak up” line is getting old.  There are plenty of both groups working in the field.  If you can’t find qualified speakers from those groups, then you are certainly not looking very hard.
  4. Let me ask you this: what does your audience look like?  Perhaps you have exhibited an unintentionally hostile attitude toward people outside of your favored groups.  Certainly the Silicon Valley is one of the most ethnically-diverse areas of the U.S.  If you can not attract members of various ethnic groups, whether male or femaie, to come to your conferences then you have more troubles than just trying to diversify your presenters.
  5. In my opinion, diversity is about your history more than it is about being born as part of this ethnic group or in that country, and it is certainly more than what equipment you were born with.  Diversity is a survival tactic.  Our industry has had relatively higher pay and profit levels than most other industries.  There is a natural backlash coming, which can only be blunted by spreading the potential hurt throughout society.  If I were going to a conference here in Southern California, I want to hear from a person who grew up or perhaps still lives in South Los Angeles about what works for them.  I want to hear from someone from Mojave or Barstow about what works for them, and the same for Palm Springs, Hemet, Perris, Murrietta, San Bernardino, Riverside, Indio, and San Diego.  All of these plus Pasadena and Santa Monica would make it more interesting and certainly more relevant.  Substitute Nairobi, Mumbai, Moscow, Beijing, Kansas City, and so on if you desire–if all of your presenters or attendees come from the same place, you are doing something wrong.  The real future of Web apps is not just big, well-funded, well-advertised apps, but the small app that gets used to handle attendance and excuses for the neighborhood school.  Small, locally-focused apps are the future.  The proliferation of small, locally-focused apps penetrating into demographic niches previously unreached by the Internet  and being developed by people who would never have gotten a second look before is the future.
  6. When I do go somewhere, I do look to see what the audience looks like.  If they all look alike, even if I look like them myself, I know that is not the place for me.  Since I know that not all Americans fit into one group, and certainly not all IT workers, seeing a monoculture tells me that someone is not doing what they could to find the best and brightest.

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