And the truth (or at least, an attempt at redressing the balance)

Diversity in tech: still an issue in 2013?

Note: My last blogpost was about my 2013 resolution: avoiding negativity, cynicism and spite. This entry might come across as negative criticism but my rationale here is to highlight what I think is an injustice, and look toward positive improvements that could fix this problem. With that qualification out of the way, let’s begin!

A colleague today mentioned the newly-announced Edge Conference — an event covering “advanced web technologies for developers and browser vendors”. It’s organised in partnership between the Financial Times’ Labs group, Google, and Facebook.

I opened up the website and scanned through it, quite excited by the premise and the talk schedules. It was only when I scrolled down a little further that I saw this:

The lineup (as of 3rd January 2013) of speakers at Edge Conference
The lineup (as of 3rd January 2013) of speakers at Edge Conference

I had to go back and check a second time to be sure: 22 speakers, all male. Not a single woman (at the time of writing).

I can’t remember the last time I saw a single-day web conference with this many speakers, which only makes it worse. If they’d featured one woman alongside 21 male speakers, it would’ve been embarrassing. To feature none looks almost deliberate.

The lineup of speakers is brilliant — there’s some of the leading lights of the British web development scene on that list. But none of them are women. Are there no women out there worth a place amongst these 22 web technology experts?

I put this question to Andrew Betts, one of the event’s organisers. He wasn’t happy with my accusation that the conference’s speaker profile was “inexcusable”, though:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/triblondon/status/286860945333030913"]

I pressed him, asking him if he really didn’t think they were any worthy female speakers to be found. He replied that my argument was a straw man, and that he wouldn’t be “debating” it further. I was massively disappointed (and haven’t heard back since, despite further requests for clarity).

Now, I’ve seen Andrew speak at events before and he’s very good — a talented developer, innovative thinker and all-round nice guy. I don’t for a minute think he’s sexist or deliberately curating an event which doesn’t include any female speakers. His refusal, though, to engage with my (and others‘) concerns about the representation that Edge Conference offers, is a big issue for me.

His comment about being “happy with our process” doesn’t cut it in 2013. I’ve seen excuses from other criticised conference organisers, saying that they couldn’t find any female developers, or the ones they asked didn’t want to speak, or that their specific niche just doesn’t have that many female developers — I don’t think it’s good enough any more.

I don’t know what their selection process was, but if it was me organising it, I would explicitly not be satisfied with a process that resulted in 100% male speakers. I would have stopped once we’d reached, say, 17 male out of 22  possible speakers (being pretty conservative, I think) and insisted that the remaining five (a cool 22% female representation) would have to be women.

And, if I’d genuinely been unable to find any women using my mysterious “process”, or all the ones I’d asked weren’t interested, or some freak event meant that any available woman was swept into a hurricane on the day of the conference and would be unable to attend, I would have added a note stating as much, prominently, underneath the pictures of 22 men, not leaving it to attendees to draw their own conclusions about my interest in encouraging equality at developer events.

I appreciate the hard work and often high costs that go into organising a conference. It’s perhaps unfairly easy to pick on developer-focussed events for being overly male in demographics, especially in an industry where female representation is particularly low. The Guardian’s own recent Scale Camp was poorly attended by women, both in terms of speakers and attendees — this stuff is hard.

But with the recent high-profile cancellation of a similar British web development conference with a similarly poor female representation (although only 15 speakers, not 22…), I honestly can’t fathom why anybody organising events in 2013 doesn’t have this stuff tattooed onto their frontal lobe. Look:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/girlonetrack/status/286505706092392449"]

(editor’s note: it’s been pointed out that the age-related claims in the above tweet aren’t backed by any known data)

I don’t want to start a Twitter mob or cause a conference to be cancelled. But I do want to know why a well-intentioned group of developers and companies have managed to create an event stunning for its cheap price, its strong technical themes, and its hugely disappointing lack of the most basic diversity — and it won’t even acknowledge there’s a problem.

The Edge Conference tagline states that attendees will “debate what’s broken, and how we can fix it”. I have a suggestion for a topic.

Postscript: It’s worth adding that I don’t have a problem personally with Andrew or the other organisers here. There’s a really good discussion about the cancellation of BritRuby here, touching on these issues and more. It’s a complex thing and something that shouldn’t necessarily be debated over social media and blogs, but for my money, it’s absolutely crucial to constantly be thinking about it. As I acknowledged in my resolution blogpost, it’s much easier to sit back and criticise the efforts of others than to make that effort yourself. I believe that in this case, staying quiet about something that massively surprised me, a straight white male with a beard (eg. a typical web conference’s target demographic), is impossible. I’d be really happy to be proven wrong; to be told that the organisers did everything they could to reach out to some of our many talented local female developers, but I’d still question why, if this was the case, this wasn’t explicitly stated up front.

Post-postscript: Andrew and team have posted an FAQ statement on the site after Andrew and I went for a coffee and a chat about this article and the conference. It clarifies a few things I raise here and confirms that the people behind EdgeConf aren’t sexist, women-hating misogynists (as I hope nobody seriously suspected) but perhaps made assumptions that others shared their viewpoints on speaker selection criteria.  Anyone calling for boycotts and cancellations should read this first before engaging angry mob mode on Twitter.

Post-post-postscript (this is getting a bit silly now, isn’t it): There’ve been a few good articles now written in response to my blogpost here and the issue in general:

  • Martin Belam wrote an emotive blogpost titled “One day my daughter will ask me how we tolerated this“. I was going to pick out a key quote to summarise but the whole thing is brilliant so just go over there and read it all.
  • Kate Bowles wrote a good piece called “Nothing personal“, reflecting on the statement by EdgeConf and her experiences in the academic world with these issues.
  • The Atlantic began a campaign kicked off by Rebecca Rosen calling for speakers on all-male conference rosters to “refuse to participate unless there are women on stage with you“. It’s a bold request and while I’m not sure boycotts are always the answer, emphasising that these things are as much about individual responsibility as they are about society-wide concerns is a good point to make.
  • http://jojet.com/ @joel_hughes

    Hey matt,
    really interesting post – scrolling that list of white/male speakers does indeed feel strange.

    What do you think the process ought to have been? Or what process would you adopt if you were running a tech conference? (Perhaps you have, I’ve just stumbled across this article via twiter)

    thanks

    Joel

  • http://luigimontanez.com Luigi Montanez

    Here’s a great post by Eric Ries on how he achieved diversity at his Lean Startup Conference:

    http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2012/11/solving-pipeline-problem.html

  • Uhh

    The simplest way to make your point would be to name interested female speakers that are better than the ones chosen – there must be a number of great women to fit the conference!
    That being said, quota systems aren’t a panacea . If selecting 17 male speakers and 5 female speakers would somehow result in picking 4 great female speakers and one poor female speaker because they somehow got only 4 good candidates – now *THAT* would be inexcusable – it wouldn’t be fair to the audience and it wouldn’t be fair to that speaker herself.

    • http://twitter.com/JmacDotOrg Jason McIntosh

      Hello “Uhh”,

      You are correct that there must be a number of great women to fit the conference! You are less correct that the solution to the conference organizers doing a poor job in reaching out to them is for other people to do the organizers’ work for them. The organizers need to understand why this reflects poorly on the conference they are trying to create, enough so that they can do their own jobs better.

    • http://mattandrews.info Matt Andrews

      Hi Uhh,

      Have a look in the final paragraph (in the grey box) of the post — there are some (perhaps oblique) links to a bunch of local female devs/tech experts who could’ve spoken at this event, just off the top of my head.

      I wasn’t calling for quotas above, but suggesting that they should have realised they had a problem before it reached 100% male speakers — nipping the problem in the bud. The numbers were mostly arbitrary — I agree tokenism isn’t an answer.

      • http://twitter.com/paul_haine paul haine

        “a bunch of local female devs/tech experts who could’ve spoken at this event, just off the top of my head.”

        So, no current or ex-Guardian employees then.

        • http://www.currybet.net Martin Belam

          I’m not sure Matt was advocating that every list of developers needed a quota of Guardian or ex-Guardian staff in it Paul, but it is an interesting idea…

  • Aestetix

    I am interested in how many female speakers *applied* to speak. Given how difficult it is to find speakers for a conference (nearly a full time job in itself). I am noting that is is the first year for the conference, which means the organizer is likely breathing a sigh of relief he got a lineup.

    If there are any women who were *rejected* I could see a reason to ask questions, and if you know someone who would be a good speaker, it might be worthwhile to contact the organizer and suggest them.

    • http://twitter.com/cczona Carina C. Zona

      Typically there are two different rounds of selections. The first round are handpicked. These speakers are personally invited and confirmed well before a CFP opens. These are people who have not submitted a proposal for the upcoming year, and who often are confirmed well before the person has chosen their talk’s topic. So, people who neither applied nor were chosen on the virtues of a specific proposal.

      The problem is that this phase is most vulnerable to unconscious selection bias.

      Depending on the conference, the handpicked speakers may be anywhere from 100% to 0% of the slate. BritRuby drew criticism because it had handpicked a slate of (15) all white, all male speakers; and done so 10-11 months before the conference, and 6 months before opening a CFP for the remaining 5 slots. The math belied BritRuby’s belief that they had created a selection process that was solely meritocratic, and could assure diverse outcomes. (Probabilistic analysis at http://blog.davewilkinsonii.com/posts/conference_diversity).

      Any conference that’s left too little room on their slate for any statistical _possibility_ of meaningful diversity is a conference that needs to fix its process. I frequently see “…but how many women applied…” when conferences are called out on lack of gender diversity. Beware. It carries embedded assumptions. A better question question to start with is “Which of those speakers was selected through invitation, and which of those was selected through competitive process?”

      • aestetix

        Sure, that is reasonable. I didn’t see anything in the blog post at the time of my comment about the process, though. Generally, when I have seen a conference invite a speaker, it is because either: they are a proposed keynote, they have spoken in the past and gotten good reviews, or they have done something significant. Perceived gender usually doesn’t play an active role. Of course, I cannot speak for all events.

        That said, as a conference co-organizer who has tried hard to promote the CFP (call for papers) for applicants, I *can* say it is not easy. It seems that a reasonable “response” might be to put together a list of websites/mailing lists where talented women are more likely to see it, and suggest that the conference organizers post their CFP to those places. If the organizers refuse to post to those places, then people ought to start asking serious questions :)

  • Strawman

    Where are the blacks, old people, disabled… How divers does one have to be?

  • http://irez.me/ Vaneeesa Blaylock

    “Discuss the latest web platform technologies Debate what’s broken, and how we can fix it Focus attention where it’s needed”

    You can’t possibly do that when only young, white, men are allowed to speak. A year-and-a-half ago Google launched Google+ and at the same time they launched the Nymwars. To some this once noble company made their assault on civil rights because of sales greed, but I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they meant well, but their only compass is what feels right to young, affluent engineers in silicon valley. If your life or interests happen to be not so young, or not so affluent, or not so San Francisco, then Google, perhaps without even realizing it, isn’t representing your life or values. Google is here to empower you, as long as your vision of empowerment matches the aesthetics and ideology of a young hipster engineer. In my judgement Google’s “mistake” was a lack of diversity in their staff and management, leading to a lack of tolerance for diversity in their product users.

    Now we have a conference that wants to think about the future of the web, but only wants to let young, white, males think. Do they really believe that women, people of color, and people of age can be represented by… NOT representing them? Someone who only ever drives a car wouldn’t be my choice to consider the needs of pedestrians, and a full-time pedestrian wouldn’t be my choice to articulate the needs of motorists. The web has to be at least as complex as a traffic light, and a conference that wants to think about the future should represent all stakeholders. It’s wonderful that the status of “nerds & geeks” is higher than it’s ever been in human culture, but that’s not a free pass to think that you and a bunch of people like you have some omniscient way of representing all of humanity.

    • J

      “You can’t possibly do that when only young, white, men are allowed to speak.” – you use the word ‘allowed’ here. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that FT Labs have disallowed any women from speaking.

      • http://newstechnica.com David Gerard

        If the result is exclusion, then the process was exclusionary, unless you are seriously positing there are no possible qualified female speakers.

        This is really basic shit and you can’t really claim not to get this idea by this late stage.

        • Tim

          If the result is exclusion, then the process *could have been* exclusionary. “No possible qualified female speakers” is a straw man argument: the situation isn’t nearly as simple as that. Given the existing gender imbalance in tech, it is simply to be expected that it is much easier to find men who are (a) qualified and (b) willing to speak.

          There is compelling evidence that gender imbalances in tech employment remain despite a bias *in favour of* hiring women vs. equivalently qualified men: http://sexes.martinsewell.com/RiachRich2006.pdf. I repeat, the statistically significant bias is *towards* interviewing equivalently qualified women (and to nip the obvious counterargument in the bud, a raft of studies show that the vast majority of discrimination happens *before* the interview stage). It makes sense that this phenomenon would translate from hiring workers to organising conference speakers.

          Before you start telling people what is “really basic shit”, please educate yourself.

    • http://newstechnica.com David Gerard

      Worse than that with Google Plus – many people inside Google tried to tell them why this was a bad idea for everyone who wasn’t a well-off young male Silicon Valley engineer. Vic Gundotra, head of G+, ignored them. Many left the company over this, having discovered just what sort of company they were at. Vic has a documented history of trying to nobble diversity issues in his previous career at Microsoft; he knows the issues and chose the path he did.

  • Liz

    I’d suggest that any women who would like to attend this conference get together and request a slot to speak. It is REALLY difficult to find women confident enough to be willing to speak in front of a crowd of smart people. The best way to change this is for us to just go out and do it. If you can’t think of anything to talk about, talk about what it’s like to be the only woman speaker at the conference, talk about work, your most recent project, you have plenty to say :)

    • sancie

      ” It is REALLY difficult to find women confident enough to be willing to speak in front of a crowd of smart people. ” I find this comment even more disturbing than the all-male, all-white panel…

      • Mew

        You must not be familiar with common experiences for women in tech, then. Impostor syndrome and confidence issues are regular experiences for women in an industry that puts high value on braggadocio. They show up in almost every study that’s been done about women in tech and why they leave. It’s not a slight against women in tech, it’s an educated awareness of the unique challenges they face in a culture that rarely reflects their perspective.

        • Tarah

          It’s more than a question of finding women “confident” enough to speak in public. It’s a question of finding women who aren’t put off by the fact that they’ll be harassed, objectified, and shouted down at any conference that hasn’t made a real effort to include diversity and has a zero-tolerance policy on harassment. I’d be a lot more happy with this conference if they’d adopted the Ada Initiative zero-tolerance policy. That would tell me a great deal about the mentality of the conference organizers.

      • Candace Dempsey

        Yes, but where is the documentation that there are few women confident enough to speak in front of a crowd? We used to hear that they didn’t want to be senators either, that they would faint if they went into the military? Where’s the proof that the conference organized made any attempt to recruit women or minorities?

      • dunebot

        I agree that the comment about women being confident enough to stand up in front of smart people is more derogatory than the initial post above. As if a woman can not excel past her male counterparts by leading the entire conference and being the only speaker….

    • Guest

      I don’t agree at all. There are lots of women that could easily stand up in front of a crowd and express their views in front of ‘smart’ people. I think many prefer not to, simply to avoid coming off as eye candy for their company/organization.

    • http://www.tangledtech.com/ TangledTech

      don’t agree at all. There are lots of women that could easily stand up
      in front of a crowd and express their views in front of ‘smart’ people.
      I think many prefer not to, simply to avoid coming off as eye candy for their company/organization.

  • Steve

    At my office, among our half dozen senior developers we have two women, one non-white ethnicity, and everyone is older than 30 (by varying degrees). In our full staff of developers, we have black, white, Asian, young, old, men, women, and all combinations there-of. Our oldest full-time developer recently celebrated his 79th birthday. So I get a little doubtful when I’m told that the only worthwhile developers that could be found are all under 30 white males.

  • Jensen

    Are random dudes still going to write novels on “diversity in tech” to pump their cred in 2013? Seems so.

  • Paul Coombs

    While I agree that it iseems strange that it is a all male line-up I would be reluctant to say it is inexcusable without knowledge of the selection process. I take particular exception to you call to insist that 5 places should be reserved for female presenter as i don’t think it good enough any more’ to rely on positive discrimination.

    Certainly I would have raised the issue with the organisers asking why what appears to be a statistical anomaly had occured, and perhaps asked to see the selection critirea. IT IS entirely possible that an unbiased process based purely on technical critirea could result in an all male OR all female or indeed all black or all gay(though how that would be obvious I’m not sure).

    However unlikely a particular outcome is I think that any fair and open process will occasionally throw up such a result and is entirely acceptable. In this day and age to label it inexcusable is missing that point completely.

    • Candace Dempsey

      If a selection process results in excluding half of the world’s population, then it is a flawed selection process. You simply can’t be unbiased and find yourself unable to invite a single woman speaker.

      • abrf

        Half of the world’s population? No.

  • Nick Dunn

    Another tack: most of the female speakers you list are “regulars”, I’ve seen them speak at several other events. The list at Edge features many names that are new to me. Had it been the same old in-crowd I wouldn’t have been interested, even if positive discrimination had included more female speakers. It’s useful to look at other perspectives beyond gender.

    • http://mattandrews.info Matt Andrews

      Possibly — but I think the current roster features a fair few male “regulars” too. Agree there’s more to diversity though.

    • nottRobin

      Your implicit suggestion that among “new” speakers, female ones could only be included through “positive discrimination” is disgusting. If you branch out to find new speakers, you should naturally arrive at a far better gender ration than 22/0.

  • http://twitter.com/williamt William Turrell

    Several things I think people need to remember:

    - Ultimately this is a somewhat niche one-day conference for web developers, not the election of a fixed term parliament or any sort of committee to run the web. There’s clearly an issue with diversity at conferences generally, but I’m going to posit you can’t draw any meaningful statistical conclusion from a single conference, even with 22 speakers (especially when it’s quite bleeding edge) .

    - It’s still over a month till this event takes place. At the time of writing there are 9 empty speaker/panel slots (see the middle section on the site, rather than the last bit in the screenshot.) Maybe some of the panels will change.

    - It’s not a conventional one-track event. The lead speaker for each session only has a maximum of 10 minutes, and the rest of the time is discussion. That may well skew who wants to speak, who’s willing to speak (the format might make it less intimidating – or perhaps marginally more if everything you say is going to be immediately disected) and whether people are inclined to give up other work to spend time preparing and travelling. Also I’m sure there are plenty of generalists – like me – who will be keen read about (and hopefully be able to listen to some of) it afterwards, but have already decided not to go as we’re insufficiently expert enough in most of the topics, so wouldn’t really be contributing. There may be fewer people attending overall than say, dConstruct, UX London, Full Frontal etc.

    - Matt links to some well known female conference speakers (most of whom I’ve seen – all great) – however they have/are already speaking at quite a few events last year and this – are they really obliged to go to everything just so we can reach some acceptable ratio? Because then inevitably you get people complaining “it’s the same people every time” (an argument I hate, incidentally. Not everything can be new.)

    - Tickets are only £50 thus greatly limiting – unless there’s significant sponsorship – the organisers’ ability to fly people in. Speakers aren’t (I believe) being paid either. (The Responsive Design conference in Brighton in March is UK speakers only for that reason. 3 of 14 provisional female speakers there but, again, a completely different theme and can you really conclude anything from numbers this low?)

    Matt: your post is pleasantly full of caveats and low on general outrage (and a massively more useful contribution than whenever people choose to Tweet “heavy sigh” style comments…) – that said, describing someone else’s work as ‘inexcusable’ isn’t the best opening gambit (and also on a public channel, rather than, say, a brief private email) and perhaps limits the chances of eliciting the answers you’re looking for. Ultimately without knowing who may have volunteered to speak, who Andrew explicitly asked and who turned it down, failed to respond or is still deciding, I’m not sure what else we can say. Nor does there appear to be anything wrong with the way it’s been promoted (there’s no overtly masculine language etc). Crucially, at least he and others have actually gone to the effort of organising the thing – it’s clearly going to benefit the rest of us regardless of who fills the remaining slots – and the current speakers (the ones I’m familiar with, anyway..) are all good, friendly people who are just giving up there time to help others, not to boost their ego.

    I sincerely hope more women *are* able to speak at Edge and elsewhere, but in the meantime it won’t prevent me from continuing to read dozens of blog posts and articles from various female developers I could name who I regard as my go-to sources of information on jQuery, PHP, CSS and plenty of other areas.

    Conference speaking has the potential to bring with it a very small amount of fame in an industry that the rest of society usually dismisses, but we should never let it become the only way of measuring “success”.

    • Daniel

      “Ultimately without knowing who may have volunteered to speak, who Andrew explicitly asked and who turned it down, failed to respond or is still deciding, I’m not sure what else we can say.” This is the crux of the issue: What was the mysterious process? Surely Andrew Betts has a better response than: “I don’t feel need to defend this.”

  • matt

    Oh dear, strangely enough when I looked at the sessions I looked at the title and abstract, the age / gender / ethnicity of the speaker was irrelevant.

    • M

      That’s easy when every single person listed on there is probably in some way similar to you (gender and/or ethnicity). You get to not notice that you aren’t represented in many arenas, because you are, which makes it a non-issue for you and something you don’t even pay attention to. When you look at a selection of people and see not a single person (or a very small number of people) similar to yourself, that’s when you notice something is off.

  • Dean Wood

    I think it probably is a straw man. I work in computational science and have attended numerous HPC meetings and conferences at my Uni (Russel Group University) and in all that time have only ever seen 1 woman at any of the meetings. Does that mean my university is inherently sexist or that the people organising the conferences are sexist? I don’t think so. It is genuinely representative of the number of women who work in HPC and have research interests in the more computing side rather than the science side. When there are conferences that are more focussed on the science side of computational science the number of women attending increases immensely. When organising a conference, I am gender blind. The aim is to get the top people in the field to come and talk and if at the end of the day they are all male, so be it. I would say the same if they were all female.

    If a woman from the field would like to come forward and say they have experienced negativity and sexism that would be a different matter and would need addressing. I don’t doubt that does happen but my suspicion is that there is a lot of generational issues involved there and things will change when people of my generation gain positions with different attitudes.

    • A person

      Really? You’ve never heard a woman discuss facing negativity and sexism in the tech industry? I find that very hard to believe, and putting the onus on the most marginalized group (as far as representation) to represent themselves more strongly is fairly backwards. It leads to the sort of blind assumptions that women simply aren’t interested, or that negativity doesn’t happen, or that it will change as generations do. No. It will change as we discuss it and bring these issues to light, but that (sadly) happens most only when men like Matt make a concerted effort to pay attention and talk about these issues. It’s far too easy to marginalize it as a ‘woman’s issue’ and pay no attention because a woman hasn’t “come forward”. Plenty of women come forward, their points are often seen as less valid than when a man brings it up. So bring it up. Gender blindness is a lovely idea, but impracticable and naive.

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  • http://twitter.com/katebevan Kate Bevan

    Since I’m namechecked in one of the tweets, it would be rude of me not to respond.

    First, I hope nobody wants tokenism. I dislike positive discrimination; I would rather people were asked to participate on their expertise and excellence. However, it astounds me that Andrew couldn’t raise one single expert woman to take part. Who did he reach out to? There are a number of groups for women in tech – the one that immediately springs to mind is London Geek Girls (incidentally, I loathe the use of “girls” in the name; it seems only to perpetuate the problem), which has a number of devs as members.

    I can see another problem, which is payment, or lack thereof. By definition if you’re only paying expenses, it’s harder to attract people. I don’t work for free (or for travel expenses); I don’t expect anyone else to. To attract high-quality people, you have to pay a rate that doesn’t insult them. Sure, the people who are representing the sponsor companies shouldn’t be paid – it’s part of their day job – but freelancers or people who are otherwise giving up their time should be paid.

    On the hostility to women in tech, it’s real. It exists. I face it every single time I write a tech piece for the Guardian. The most egregious example is a piece I wrote last year about the use of Kindles on aircraft. It was a detailed piece with extensive reporting and discussion of technical details, and I worked hard on it. The thread underneath the piece was 11 pages mostly of abuse, telling me not to be a princess and to do as I was told by the cabin crew. It seemed to me that most of the commenters hadn’t read the piece, they’d simply seen my photograph and read the headline and standfirst. It was one of the most depressing experiences of my long career.

    So when a commenter such as Dean Wood says he doesn’t believe gender bias exists, that in fact makes it worse. Our concerns are dismissed; the problem doesn’t exist.

    Bias against women in tech is real. Seeing a conference line-up like this, and then seeing the equivocation from the organisers, when really what they ought to be doing is saying “yeah, we fucked up. Here’s what happened, here’s what we’re thinking about to address it” is insulting.

    • nottRobin

      Wonderful comment. I also hope this isn’t tokenism, but that doesn’t seem to be the point of the post. The real problem, as you say, is the unwillingness to admit to a problem. The problem is that these developers only socialise with, talk to, and end up respecting male developers. Which is a real shame, because they all seem to have fairly similar points of view on things…

      I don’t know if I agree with the complaint about payment though. Freelancers could just as easily decide that presenting for free was a worthwhile promotion of their own brand. And I can’t say I understand particularly how this is related to the gender issue, unless your point is that male developers are much more likely to be on high enough salaries to mind less about devoting their time for free, which may well be true. I’d find some solid statistics about pay discrimination in tech very interesting if anyone has any such stats? And if that is true then this could certainly be an interesting contributing factor to the lack of women speakers in conferences, and a difficult one to solve.

      Do you still have a link to that article you mentioned about kindles on planes? I’d be very interested to read it. Attitudes to tech on aeroplanes do seem particularly stupid.

    • http://twitter.com/ianmthomasuk Ian Thomas

      In the comments that I read on that article (most of the current first page), there was plenty of disagreement with the complaint, some of it abusive, but I didn’t see anything specifically sexist towards the author (although there was one calling cabin crew “waitresses”). I’m not saying there aren’t sexist comments (I didn’t read all 14 pages), or that some of the negative responses are due to sexism, but you can’t assume that a negative response is due to sexism.

      I used to manage a team of developers and must have hired about 15 people, all white males. I didn’t do it deliberately – if anything I would be more likely to interview you if you had a female or ethnic name on your CV – but of the people I interviewed I didn’t feel any were the best candidate available. Maybe I “clicked” better with the candidates who were more similar to me, but there certainly wasn’t any conscious discrimination. I’m not sure what else I was meant to due short of turning down qualified candidates and putting up another job advert.

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  • Candace Dempsey

    Wonderful post, thank, you, but you are being too kind when you say that the organizers aren’t sexist. Of course they are. The faq sheet made me laugh. So lame. The truth is: They couldn’t find a single woman whose views/job experience/expertise qualified her to speak. Imagine what their hiring decisions are like. If it looks like a duck …

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  • Anonymous

    Who gives a shit about who speaks? I don’t give a fuck if they have all transethnic multispecies communists, as long as what they speak about is good. Stop creating drama over nothing. The web is an indiscriminate service, people of different gender don’t need to be represented in any way. Just because you have a vagina it doesn’t make the web broken for you. Just because you have a higher percentage of melanin doesn’t make the web different. These people were chosen as speakers because of their content, to say they were picked out of some imaginary bias is an offense to them and their accomplishments.

  • Sarah Green

    Matt, thanks for picking this up and running with it!

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  • Fuoye

    many people inside Google tried to tell them why this was a bad idea for
    everyone who wasn’t a well-off young male Silicon Valley engineer. http://www.fuoye.edu.ng

  • CN

    Eventually symphonies and Nature magazine decided they weren’t “happy with their process.” http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/01/0212/7b.shtml and http://www.nature.com/news/nature-s-sexism-1.11850, respectively. Maybe at some point tech conference organizers will come to the same conclusion.

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  • swetha jain

    Abviously sexist. And that should take a lot of thinking to understand. Like your post though. There can exist different point of views.

    Swetha Jain

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