In the span of roughly a month, I (virtually) attended two web conferences: EEConf and Dot All. The former focuses on ExpressionEngine1 and the latter is the official Craft CMSconference; two CMS platforms that I still work with (albeit ExpressionEngine is one I use less and less these days). Each has its merits and I always learn something or take something away for pondering later. However, something stood out to me perhaps more so than at any point in my career: diversity. Sadly, I don't say that in a positive way. In fact, it feels like the same sh--, different year2.
Diversity. Or lack thereof.
Perhaps it's the various happenings of the past couple of years that has made, at least in my perspective, the lack of diversity and inclusion more pronounced. I'm not really sure. But as a woman of color in a white male dominated industry, the topic of diversity has always been on my mind. It's hard for it not to be.
I struggle to find the right adjective to describe this. Pathetic? Sad? Disappointing? I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s not good.
Why this is important
I want to make one thing absolutely clear, especially for the few who may read this as an attack on white people: in no way, shape, or form do I think that white people have nothing to offer as speakers at these conferences. They absolutely do. But so do people of color. The difference is that we’re often overlooked or, worse, not thought of when it comes to putting these conferences together.
I don’t believe that that’s done on purpose or with mal-intent. Race and equity are complex issues. And while the focus here is on web conferences that I happen to attend, the issue of not having people of color at the speakers table is a result of a myriad of systemic and societal issues and biases, many of which we as a society and as individuals don’t even realize are sometimes embedded into our subconscious.
So why is it important to see people of color at conferences like EEConf and Dot All? Quite simply, because visibility matters. Because representation matters.
The mere act of people of color being seen is powerful. It can break stigmas, shatter assumptions and stereotypes, and alter perceptions. It quite literally moves us from being unseen, invisible, and ignored to the opposite of that. When people actually see BIPOC represented at something like a web conference, others (and I don’t just mean white folks) can better understand who we are and how our lived experiences shape our work. That can create an important shift in small communities like CMS conferences.
Take that a step further from the point of view of a young BIPOC web developer. Seeing a fellow person of color can foster an immense sense of affirmation in their identity within a specific and significant part of their life: their career. When you work in an industry dominated by people who don’t look like you and quite possibly grew up differently than you, it’s easy to feel alone or that you’re an outlier fighting an uphill battle. These feelings magnify and intensify as you add more variables such as language, nationality, age, etc.
What’s required for change
Change, as we all know, doesn’t magically happen. I’d like to think that plenty of BIPOC folks submitted talk proposals. But I don’t know that for sure. Chances are I’m wrong. If that’s the case, then we need to step up. It’s far too easy for us to say that there aren’t enough people of color at a web conference. We need to remind ourselves that our voices and experiences matter and have value. Then we have to make the effort to put ourselves out there (yes, that absolutely includes me). Submit your talk! I guarantee that if your talk is accepted, at least one person will get something out of your talk and someone who looks like you will find affirmation in simply seeing you on the stage.
But there’s that big “if”, right? If your talk is accepted. That’s entirely out of your hands.
I’m not going to pretend I know or understand the amount of work that it takes to organize a conference. The small meetup I used to run here in Portland was difficult enough. But like it or not, those of you who are organizers have a giant role to play here. A lot more effort is required on your part to find BIPOC voices in your community.
I don’t claim to have all the answers. Hell, I don’t claim to have any answers. But asking questions and pointing these things out is important. If we expect to see change we need to ask questions.
More importantly, we need to take steps, however small, to begin to see real change. It’s not going to happen overnight. And at the risk of sounding extremely cliche, we need to part of the solution, part of the change. Waiting around to maybe see it happen is not the answer.