Beyond the A-List, Diversity in the Web Community

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 ConferencesThe diversity divisionOn Conferences and DiversityDiverse It GetsWhy 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 have 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.