I've been to two O'Reilly Conferences this year and both times I've been struck by the homogeneity of the audience. Most of the speakers and attendees are white males in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. There are few blacks, women, indians or east asians. Much fewer than I'm used to seeing during my typical workday or at other conferences I have attended. Shelley Powers has mentioned this before in posts such as Maids, Mommies, and Mistresses  but today was the first time I've seen this commented on by one of the folks I'd consider to be in the 'inner circle' of the O'Reilly Conference set.

In his post What it's like at Web 2.0 Anil Dash writes

So, there's the Old Boy's Club. And surprisingly, there's a 50-50 ratio of wanna-bes to real successes within that club. But the unsurprising part is probably what the makeup of that club looks like. Web 2.0 might be made of people, as Ross Mayfield said, but judging by the conference, Web 2.0 is pretty much made of white people. I'm not used to any event in a cosmopolitan area being such a monoculture.

Now, the folks who organized Web 2.0 are good people whom I genuinely believe want their event to be inclusive. But the homogeneity of the audience doesn't just extend to ethnicity, it's even more evident in the gender breakdown. There are others who've covered this topic better than me, but it's jarring to me not merely because the mix was such a poor representation of the web that I know, but because I think it's going to come back and bite the web in the ass if it doesn't change eventually.

See, it's not just making sure the audience and speakers represent the web we're trying to reach, but the fact that Bay Area tech conferences are so culturally homogenous is dangerous for the web industry. When people talk about buying a song on the iTunes music store, they're still using some tired Britney Spears example, or if they're under 35 or so, they might mention Franz Ferdinand. This is not an audience in touch with Bow Wow or Gretchen Wilson, even though they've sold millions of trackcs. When they talk about television, they're talking about broadcasting Lost or Desperate Housewives, but they're not aware of Degrassi or Ultimate Fighting. Worse, I met a number of people who were comfortable with being culturally illiterate about a great many people who live right here in the U.S.; I can't imagine how they would reach out to other cultures or countries.

I've been quite surprised by how much O'Reilly conferences fail to reflect the diversity of the software industry as I've experienced it, let alone the Web at large. This is "Web 2.0"? I surely hope not.


Friday, October 14, 2005 5:55:49 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Its hard to blame ORA, as I dont think other computer conferences represent society at large. Winhec hardware engineering? Big taiwanese presence; few women. IEEE Web Services conference? Big chinese presence; some women. Apache OSCon Europe: people from all over europe; two sri-lankan speakers (Axis2 dev team) and one woman speaker (complaining about Apache's code-centric bias keeping women out).

Maybe its just semi-professional speaker is a career choice of white men. And yes, I will be speaking at the ORA OScon Europe next week, yes I am a white male.

An interesting thought is that as india becomes more of a centre of computing than the US, what will that mean for conferences and books. When will javaone move to Bangalore? Should books use different examples and metaphors for the indian/asian audience. Even in europe we find some of the US metaphors grating in books; it must be worse over there. The computing industry as a whole has to go global, and by that I mean more than just having conferences here in europe, even if the latter are far more fun due to the broad availability of beer from the morning break onwards.
Friday, October 14, 2005 6:21:10 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
>Its hard to blame ORA, as I dont think other computer conferences represent society at large.

I don't think they should reflect society at large. However from where I sit they don't even seem to represent the software industry at large. I can understand there not being many women or blacks but the lack of Asians and Indians is pretty weird given how many of them work in the software industry in general and at Web companies specifically.
Friday, October 14, 2005 6:59:10 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, in the US the tech industry is made up of 25-28% women; in Europe and Asia, it's a higher percentage. Taking numbers as a whole specifically in the US, I believe this is a greater number than even Asian men.

Fast forward: blacks make up 11% of the population in the US and women make up 50%. All minorities in the US combined I believe make up about 40% of the population (you didn't mention Hispanic, which is our largest minority in this country).

These individuals at least make up the client base of most software.

Friday, October 14, 2005 8:18:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
> I've been quite surprised by how much O'Reilly conferences fail to reflect the diversity of the software industry as I've experienced it

Really? It's totally consistent with my 12+ years of experience in the software industry. For reference, the last black software developer I met was in 1993. I've since met hundreds of white male software developers, and a handful of female software developers.

> the tech industry is made up of 25-28% women

Yes, but "the tech industry" is awfully broad (no pun intended). Are those 25-28% women actually hard core, technical developers and evangelists? The type of people that attend the conferences Dare cites?

I'm not denigrating women. The more the merrer! I'm just observing that the numbers Dare cites are TOTALLY consistent with what I've seen in the last 12 years.

At some point this is like complaining why there aren't more black hockey players. It's not some grand conspiracy by "the man". Why not defer to Occam's Razor, eg, the simplest explanation: black people just don't tend to play hockey for whatever reason.
Friday, October 14, 2005 9:22:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
>Why not defer to Occam's Razor, eg, the simplest explanation: black people just don't tend to play hockey for whatever reason.

Occam's Razor depends on your perspective, eg, the simplest explanation: a bunch of white guys between 25-35 who are organizing a conference will target an audience and speaker base that is from a similar demographic.

Friday, October 14, 2005 9:37:44 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Either it's not a very good Anil's joke or I'm afarid of his mental state.
Friday, October 14, 2005 9:38:15 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Maybe its just the themes dont interest women quite so much. Certainly I offered my wife (female, indian descent) the opportunity to attend. She made it clear that she could think of much better things to do in amsterdam than listen to a bunch of engineers get excited about how they patched their own linux distro onto a linksys router, especially when the phrase "I'm going to do router maintenance" is one that I am only allowed to utter with availability guarantees and the existence of a backup wlan box in case I fail to meet them.

That is: maybe the themes themselves dont always appeal.
Steve Loughran
Saturday, October 15, 2005 3:34:06 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
>>O'Reilly conferences fail to reflect the diversity of the software industry

Umm, probably not. Probably your workplace has more diversity than usual and you seem to think you represent an industry.

>>This is "Web 2.0"? I surely hope not.

What a strange observation that has nothing to do with the Web or whatever version is being hyped at conferences.

Sorry Dare, I'm flipping the Bozo bit on you as it's pretty clear you have no clue.
Saturday, October 15, 2005 8:39:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
So you still want to be a white guy and blend in? It's really too bad that you were unable to get over your own racism and relax.

Do you think you're the only one who was there and has a broad interpretation of what's real or relevant? White guys are capable of imagination too, just like black guys, or green gals or brown kids.

I think you may be working too hard. Focussing in this way on your self-centered projections onto others is a sign of impending mental illness. You may need some medication.
Sunday, October 16, 2005 1:55:18 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
So I'm wondering, what does it take to create the type of "invitation" that attracts the kind of diversity that creates sparks, insights and creativity.

Here are some of the things that hit me off the bat:

* price it so more people can afford it ($100 day or less)
* put people in the speaker slots who attract us in a variety of ways (yeah, some "names" always have to be there for marketing); tell me why their ideas or unique perspectives will help advance my learning and thinking; show me a little bit of "me" in the line up to know I'll have some point of familiar departure
* Be honest when you advertise participation. A panel with Q&A is not that participative in most cases. Restructure if you are really inviting me to participate as an attendee
* Put pictures up of your speakers. (I know this is a double edged sword of stereotypes and racism - but we are often visual thinkers)
* Dare to bring in new voices. With podcasting these days, how many times have we already heard [insert fav conf speaker] and [insert token woman speaker] - I mean we love 'em, but they aren't saying anything new.

What else? What would invite you?
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