A plea for moderation and understanding on diversityby@pauldowman
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A plea for moderation and understanding on diversity

by Paul DowmanSeptember 24th, 2017
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I’m one of the organizers of the <a href="" target="_blank">Assert(js) conference</a>, a conference focused on testing for JavaScript developers.

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I’m one of the organizers of the Assert(js) conference, a conference focused on testing for JavaScript developers.

Recently a supporter (not a conference organizer) tried to encourage speaker submissions from demographics who are often underrepresented at conferences.

I applaud the effort, we want to receive as many submissions from qualified speakers as possible.

Unfortunately it was widely interpreted as discouraging submissions from white males.

We want submissions from all qualified speakers. We don’t ask about race or gender. And we will support all our speakers and attendees and do our best to make everyone feel welcome.

Corporate PR would stop right there. But I personally want to add a plea for moderation and try to explain where I think the misunderstandings are happening in this conversation.

Diversity is a polarizing topic and it’s easy to form opinions quickly without spending the time trying to empathize with multiple viewpoints. It’s a very personal and emotional topic for many people.

But we’re a profession full of intellectuals, and thinking deeply and analytically is what we do best so I’m proud that we have these kinds of discussions. I just want them to happen with more compassion.

The thing is, the barriers are higher to submitting talks if you don’t feel you’re part of the group for whatever reason. Public speaking isn’t easy. You’re taking a risk by doing it. The more you feel part of the group the more you will likely take that risk.

So for us to be able to access the best talks that the whole community has to offer we need to encourage everyone, and it’s not bad to make a special point of asking for submissions from people who are often reluctant for whatever reason. Do you have a shy friend? Please encourage them to give a talk at a conference or local event and support them if they would like to.

As conference organizers the steps we need to take are clear:

  1. Make sure that a diverse audience is invited to speak. Post in places where you’re likely to reach a variety of people. (We reached out to groups such as Women Who Code to try to spread the word of the CFP to their audience, and please feel free to suggest others to us at [email protected]). This is a somewhat specialized topic and it’s not as easy to find qualified speakers, so we need to proactively seek them out wherever they may be.
  2. Help to lower barriers in any way possible. That might be economic (we’re offering travel for speakers whose employers aren’t covering it, and we’re offering diversity scholarships for attendees) or it might be coaching on delivery of the talk (we will offer this to our speakers). We’re also accepting shorter talks (we have a 20 minute format as well as longer ones).
  3. Continue to strive for the best speakers available.

So can you help? Here’s what you can do:

  • Share our call for speakers in places where you think qualified speakers from all demographics will see it. The submission form is available here.
  • Let me know personally if you can think of good speakers on this topic who we should reach out to and invite.
  • Tell me what else we can do.
  • If you know someone doing amazing and interesting things in their work, encourage them to share it in a conference talk or in a blog post.
  • Engage in discussion with an open mind, prioritize compassion over the satisfaction of making a good point, and use positive language whatever your opinion might be.

Thanks for reading this with an open mind.

In case you didn’t see it, here’s the original tweet that started the whole thing: