Diversity Technology

We are out there

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Clay Shirky left a gracious comment attached to the Dripping with Irony post. I’m glad because this helped the thread reach a positive note, rather than continue into a downward spiral based on the old “she said/he said” pattern (of which I, unfortunately, contributed my share).

When I replied to Clay, I repeated something I told Tim O’Reilly in response to a statement that Tim made in his comment:

Not to mention the dripping irony that, with three women out of twenty-odd participants, this group was more sexually diverse than the typical computer geek gathering…

I told Tim and Clay: We are out there.

The diversification they want, we all want, we all need is out there. There are women, and Blacks, and Latinos, and accessibility challenged folks and other non-represented people out there. But we can’t continue following the same old patterns of connectivity and communication and expect to see something other than the same old faces, time and again.

If we are discussing social software, then we have to first understand the society we’re trying to enable with this software. And to do this, we have to understand the limitations and challenges each of us, as individuals and as a members of one or more “categories”, is facing.

Clay mentioned that he did try to ensure more even representation of gender at the meeting, and I’m sure he did. As he commented, some of the women invited were academics and most likely couldn’t attend because of school commitments. And two women cancelled at the last minute.

However, rather than not have this representation, couldn’t Clay have used technology to enable these women’s participation without their physical attendance? Most people now have access to conference call capability, and most have access to video cameras for their computers. In fact, the software application Groove enables this type of participation, and the creator of Groove, Ray Ozzie, was there — could this not have been used? What a wonderful opportunity this would have been.

With this type of already available technology, these women could have participated and every one would have been richer.

And let’s take a moment to consider the reasons why the women couldn’t participate. Was it just school commitments? Or was it other constraints, such as family responsibilities or finances?

Speaking only of the United States, over 31% of families are now single parent, and only 5% of these families are headed up by men. When you’re a single-parent, especially if you don’t have extended family around you, it becomes virtually impossible at times to physically attend conferences. Or to even attend meetings of user groups at night.

Additionally, money could be more of an issue to both women and minorities. Statistically, women do make less than men, and are not as prevalent in the positions of technology leadership. I believe the same could also be said of many minorities. Both of these circumstances can make it more difficult for a person to buy a ticket to come to a meeting or conference; or to pay for the priviledge of attending the conference. Or even be in a position whereby the company pays the costs.

If we’re discussing social software, isn’t the first place the discussion should start is the constraints preventing potential audience members from becoming full participants? By doing so, we might begin to understand that what we don’t necessarily need is ways of getting the under-represented to meetings and conferences and training; but ways of getting meetings and conferences and training to the under-represented. This outreach, to me, is what social software is all about. It isn’t about sharing music files in such a way that one isn’t busted by Hollywood.

I don’t want to keep picking on Clay and his social software gathering, because I happen to know that he is a decent person who is trying very hard to open closed doors, and give voice to those who are quiet.

However, I will continue speaking out when I see these opportunities.

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