One day my daughter will ask me how we tolerated this

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 4 January 2013

In the olden days of blogging, you used to be able to write one sentence, include a link that would trigger a TrackBack, and everybody would know that you’d agreed with what somebody had just written. But it isn’t the olden days, so in order to say “I agree with what he said” I need to manually link to Matt Andrews’ blog post and say “I agree with what he said.”

So go and read this, and then come back.

You back?

Great.

Matt pretty much said everything I would want to say. I’ve done some arranging of events and conference programmes myself, so I know the score. As @Aral put it on Twitter:

“If my process resulted in a 100% male speaker roster in an industry that isn’t 100% male, I would not be happy with that process.”

This isn’t a witch-hunt against a particular set of conference organisers, it is a problem for our entire industry. We simply can’t be building the best products, which will be used by the half of the human race who are female, if we don’t involve women in their design and manufacture. I’m not talking about ushering in some communist dictatorship or socialist utopia here, I’m just pointing out that limiting your ideas and discussion pool to the 50% of people who happen to be male just doesn’t make sense.

If my daughter grows up and wants to go into tech, and is still faced with events where organisers think it is OK to have 22 male speakers out of a possible 22 speakers, she’ll be entitled to turn around to me and ask why I didn’t make a fuss when I could.

UPDATED 16:24 — Matt, who wrote the blog post that inspired this one, has posted a series of tweets saying:

“Update about the EdgeConf diversity issue and my blogpost about it: @triblondon (conf organiser) and I went for coffee earlier… We had a polite(!), productive and enlightening (probably from both sides) conversation for over an hour about the situation. They’re going to add some explanatory rationale behind the conference planning which should hopefully make things a little clearer And I’m going to keep an eye on any unintentionally-emerging Twitter mobs (and perhaps email feedback before blogging next time). Overall I think their heart’s in the right place, no malice was intended and everyone’s learned a bit about social responsibilities.”

7 Comments

If, after all this time, web development is still something that is so overwhelmingly male-dominated that a conference organiser can claim to have made a half-decent effort to find female speakers and come up empty for nearly two dozen slots, I would think that that alone would be a topic worthy of a session in every single web developer conference ever organised.

After all, if you're truly concerned with the best design possible, you would surely believe that women might be able to bring something to the process that men might not see, wouldn't you? I'm just thinking back to when I was younger and had (male) friends doing computer science at uni. I sometimes wonder, if I had understood back then that web design can be/should be a creative endeavour, might I have seen an opportunity for myself? But, I suppose there are a lot of men in the field who simply don't see the gender imbalance as a problem.

All is not lost, however. I note that the Edge organisers have finally found a woman to add to their line-up of speakers.

The point I think most people are missing is this slightly ridiculous notion that working web designers are predominantly male.

In no country where I've lived is that currently true.

Look at the speaker list again. Not a single one of the speakers is African-American, Latino, or Asian. Clearly, something should be done.

Martin, are you familiar with the Ada Initiative? It's a non profit organization that is aiming to change that disparity for women (mainly in open source) tech and serves as a great platform to help change the world for your daughter :)

Thanks for writing this blog!

To be honest I doubt your daughter will even ask... she will assume, rightly or wrongly, that the 22 people selected for the panel were the 22 best people for the panel... because the idea that someone was or wasn't selected on the basis of gender, race or sexual orientation will be "inconceivable" (and yes, I do know what that word means!).

The same way many young people today stare at you blankly when you tell them that there used to be separate bus stops for coloured people, or that a woman had to resign her Public Service job when she got married, that women weren't allowed to go to University or that people went to jail for being homosexual.

For the record, people do still go to jail for being gay. Recently, two people were imprisoned in Cameroon just for wearing women's clothes, drinking Baileys and, in so doing, giving an impression of "gay behaviour". The two people in question are to be released, but it's feared that they could be murdered for the same reasons that they were imprisoned. Inconceivable as it might be, it is a reality.

My view is that it's right to challenge prejudice, but only where it really exists.

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