Thursday, July 19, 2018

Diversity of thought requires background differences

I care about diversity and inclusion. When I say that, I mean that I want to see tech and testing in particular to reflect the general population in its variety and conferences lead the forefront of the change in that equal opportunity. Looking from within my bubble, testing is already the area where there are a lot of women and seeing testing conferences that struggle with finding one woman worth giving stage (as some of them phrase it) is just lazy.

The diversity and inclusion means more than (white) women like me. I want to learn from people who are not like me or the men I've been strongly guided to learn most from through other people's choices. When people are different, their backgrounds and experiences are different, what is easy and hard is different and they end up learning new insightful ways of teaching from the platform they have created for themselves.

Some people seem to like saying they want to see diversity of thought in conferences as a way of emphasizing that they don't want to care of diversity and inclusion in the way I look at it, recognizing that the platform you are teaching from, the person you've become through your experiences is an essential part of being able to really have diverse perspectives.

Diversity of thought could mean:

  • I want conference talks where people tell me that the foundation of my beliefs is off even if it isn't so that I think about it.
  • I want talks of topics I have not yet heard, or really insightful ways of delivering a message I feel is important enough so that I could learn from how that message gets passed on
  • I want people who I feel can add something to what I know (even if usually it happens 1:1 discussing) 
I find real diversity and having a representative crowd of speakers worth focusing in conference design. Given any deeply technical or insightfully hard human topic where you can name a man, I can name a woman or a non-binary speaker who can deliver the talk with experiences the men can never speak of. I have a lot of work on recognizing the people of color due to my limited exposure, but I'm working on it. And I still work on being able to for any given international expert name a local expert.  

Representation matters. You need to see someone you identify with to believe you can go there. To get the general population of talent into the software development world, it is not enough to share the white men talking heads, but actively show a representation of what the world needs to look like.

It shouldn't be hard to have top-notch speakers for 10 slots in a conference when selecting from a pool of millions of candidates. Yes, there's a lot of people out there who feel they need to work twice as hard to get half the results. How about conference organizers working twice as hard identifying them and supporting places (like SpeakEasy for testing) that support those people starting off on a fast track to awesome speaking.

Finally, back to diversity of thought I wanted to add that I find that is a catchphrase not founded on reality. In the last three years of conference organizing, I have spoken through 200 proposals a year, totaling now at 500 since I'm half way through this year. There is no diversity of thought as such that I can see. There's diversity of topics and experiences, a lot of insistence of using the right words but overall we mostly share a vision of what good testing looks like from perspectives of testers and developers. Every one of those stories is worth a stage. But some of those stories are refused a stage because they require work before they are ready, others because there's someone who can deliver similar story with a different background, and others just because there is not enough space period.

In the same timeframe, I've spoken in tens of conferences a year and used the conferences in hearing other people talk. So I can probably add 15 a year, with 10 talks each - 450 more samples.

In addition, I volunteer for various other conferences that do traditional call for proposals as a reviewer. That adds more.

The datapoint that I have are the people who submit. I'm personally a datapoint that does not submit. I have given stage to many many people who did not submit - some that never did a talk before. I found them amongst participants. That's where the real stories I need to get out there are.