Thursday, March 31, 2016

The destructive forces against conferences

My social justice need raises its head once more to blog as a response of what is going on in the interwebs: the Agilia Conferences rude response to a query on diversity. But the recalling of sponsors and asking speakers to take a stand starts to feel like a witch hunt. And there still are no witches!

What happened?

Agile development (and Testing) in my experience are areas of software conferences with very healthy gender ratios in general. Take Agile 2015 in US for example: lots of women.

When  there is a conference with 27 speakers on Agile, and only 2 are women, it is hard to not wonder. And I love the world where we nowadays are (mostly) encouraged to point that out, because awareness is the first step to change things.

So Agilia Conference representative had a rude response. The response refers to caring about this as feminist game, makes the choice of a he-pronoun on welcoming speakers, and and mentions engineer diversity games and not being a political party. Judgmental language, sure. They further referred to extensive screening and later even shared blog post of what that means unintentionally implying that since women don't get through their screening, they are lying more often in their conference presentations.

A step back

Surely the responses have been insensitive and unaware. But what is this campaign I see of twitter going for killing the conference? They were very clearly defensive with their first reply, and their defensiveness under the attack isn't going to change things, just make them feel the great injustice.

So, they miss out on a lot of things:
  • They most likely invited some of the speakers as paid keynotes. There they had full control of choosing. When they did not choose a woman, it more often is about not being aware of great women than an intentional choice of the 2-4 absolute best speakers in the keynoting circle. The chosen men are great. There could be other chosen people who would be equally great.
  • It matters if you see people like you speaking for future years for availability. Conferences that struggle with diversity keep struggling with diversity, because none of the minority speakers wants to be on stage as the token. Software is built by people for people, and we're relatively even on the gender ratios as users. Across roles in organizations (esp. non-technical agile) the ratios are not that far off balance in creation of software over its use. 
  • Their call for proposals is responded by people who  have something to sell. They might pay their own travel to be there - we'll, their companies do. Looking at the Agilia commitment to extensive screening it looks like this applies to people's promises to speak there. But they are very likely to miss out on groups of people to submit that they are willing to publicly insult. 
  • Insulting anyone and not being nice is always  bad. The underlying idea of not really caring for the gender of the speakers gets distorted and just oozes unwelcome.
But really, is this crime so bad that there needs to be a campaign to hurt them?? If they don't see things our way, they should go away??

Regardless of the bad expressions, I'm reading into their responses:
  • They might be genuingly puzzled on what aspect is making people upset. It's not the amount of women they ended up with, it's their response to raising that issue. 
  • They might not have the help to solve this. They need women to help but it is not the womenkind's responsibility to stop all their doing and jump to help (even if they seem to be thinking that). 
  • They're oblivious that conference organizing is not about passively waiting for your call to be found and responded to,  but you need to actively seek. Very much the same way the extensively screen what they get for being truthful, they need to pay attention to the truthfullness of the industry they are aware of.
If you have energy for the negative action, how about targeting that energy for a little more positive?