Beyond the A-List, Diversity in the Web Community
February 25, 2007 at 12:24 PM
The age-old debate about gender diversity at web conference has kicked back into full swing again which spun a wider debate about gender diversity and even ethnicity in the industry as a whole. Here are some recent posts on the topic: Gender Diversity at Web Conferences, The diversity division, On Conferences and Diversity, Diverse It Gets, Why are smart people still stuck on gender and skin-color blinders? and the list goes on...
Not to dilute the main issue at hand, but I think Jeffrey Zeldman is spot on here in his post Gender and Ethnic Imbalance in Web Design. I think the speaker diversity problem is really just a symptom of larger and still growing problem within the web industry. What is the main problem? It is the web industry's continual focus on the same circle of professionals regardless of gender or ethnicity, or even eye color (thanks Tantek). I go to only a small fraction of conferences available to me in my geographical area and what do I see? The same handful of speakers giving darn near the same talk about the exact same damn thing that could have been read on the speaker's blog about a year ago. Nothing new, few new faces, fewer new ideas, rarely anything new to learn. I feel like nearly every conference I go to is playing the same damn broken record.
Why do we have this problem? What can be done to fix it? Ahh, the conference organizers are to blame right? Not so fast. As someone who can speak from both sides of the fence here let me just say that it is like pulling teeth when trying to get some of the web professionals (regardless of gender or ethnic background) who are newer to the industry, perhaps lesser known, and maybe even inexperienced with speaking to come and speak at an event. And I am not talking about people who don't do anything remarkable here, I am talking about people who are otherwise unknown but have done some very amazing things in the web world. Yes, there has been a few diamonds in the rough, a few totally new to this world of public speaking but ones who are willing to step up to the plate and give it a go.
It's not like conference organizers are not seeking these people out. I am going to go out on a limb here and use smart mob mentality here. If you know of a web professional who is talented, has done some remarkable things, and should be speaking at some web design conferences by all means let us know... If you don't know who to contact at the various web conferences contact me, I'll give you contacts at SXSW Interactive, WebVisions, Web Directions, @Media, An Event Apart, and more. I don't care where they speak or if they speak at conferences I am involved with or not, lets just get them out there and speaking.
I must admit i've never attended a single webdesign related conference. One of the reasons is the same list of speakers on all conferences. another the complete information availability on webdesign; there's nothing to learn at a conference if your feedreader is stocked. For me, most conferences are too expensive to be 'just a social event'. I kinda expected the 'a-list' webdesigner to be replaced by the 'b-list' over the last 2 years. But that hasn't happened. Mostly the b-list, and circle around that, the c-list, have diluted, and formed their own groups, webrings, mailinglists, etc. I don't miss the total worship of the a-listers at all. Nowadays it's much easier for new webdesigners to learn best practices through all kinds of channels, so this could very well be one of the reasons it's getting difficult to find 'new meat' for conferences. Oh and i think the "Gender and ethnic imbalance" really is a non-issue. Maybe it matters to uptight Americans, but I know plenty female and non-white programmers/designers, making it hard for me to take the fuss seriously.
The truth of the matter is that having equal opportunity doesn
Let's keep in mind that Nick has moved away from the subject of gender to the topic of looking for fresh faces, new perspectives, and sort of undiscovered talent (at the conference level) in general, to broaden and enliven what is offered at conferences.
So maybe the problem
I don't think that the problem lies with the conference organisers, it is a more endemic issue within the web/tech industry. The average percentage of women speakers in the events that Kottke listed (if you leave out BlogHer) is 14.4% - but according to ITPro, the proportion of female workers in the industry is only 16%! Judged against that number, representation by women at conferences is broadly in line with the demographics of the industry.
One thing I'd like to see at web conferences is more integration with the SEO/marketing side of things. This is a separation that is painfully obvious when you look at blogs, websites, and conference offerings on both sides - there is a huge devide there (something I have written about). Including some SEO and marketing people in a conference would be a great way to bridge the gap. On a personal note, it would be much easier to convince my boss to let me go if there were some sessions on marketing!