Universal Design IRL

by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

43 Reader Comments

Back to the Article
  1. “Users aren’t perfect: They’re busy. They’re distracted. They’re human.” You make this statement yet want all “designers” to be perfect. Questioning someone will natural dent their ego. The person will always respond defensively. Their defensive tactics may range from ignoring, to debating in order to successfully prove they are right, to aggressive nonsensical attacks (verbal or physical) on the person questioning them. You ironically do not seem to empathise and understand this common behaviour, obviously understandably as you were personally hurt by the actions. I agree the behaviour you describe is ridiculous, however, your approach largely conflicts with your empathy message. It would be a superior article if it addressed 1. The reasons behind the poor behaviour (empathising with their position)
    2. Conference design ideas to prevent inappropriate behaviour (perhaps physical layout ideas, guided social interaction, identification of potentially aggressive and vulnerable individuals…)
    3. Guidelines for personal behaviour to prevent inappropriate behaviour of others (a similar concept to the designer improving the error message “you typed something wrong” rather than stating the user is the problem) I am sorry you have encountered such behaviour it is a shame there are so many angry aggressive un-evolved people.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  2. @Tesmond—You’re right; empathy is critical to good human relationships. The first thing I did was actually try to understand why this person was so angry, and show him that we actually have a lot of common ground. That did not work. Moreover, I stand by this: when someone is being attacked, it is _not_ their job to be empathetic to the person attacking them. That’s simply telling someone in an abusive situation that it’s their fault they’re being attacked—that it’s their job to fix the situation. It’s not. The person who is abusive is _always_ responsible for their actions. In this situation, the person was a conference organizer. When we write off the abusive behavior of people in power, we allow it to continue. We become passive participants in that abuse. And _that_ is a true lack of empathy.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  3. I really appreciate you telling these stories. I’ve had some similarly inappropriate experiences and it’s insane how the guilt and shame weighs on you as a victim. I think you’ve correctly identified that providing a clear, confidential outlet for reporting these experiences is crucial and your example is apt. Another thing your post got me thinking about is a conference I went to recently where I wore a ring on my ring finger (I’m not married) just because I wanted a visual cue to discourage any advances. There’s nothing that says anything inappropriate would have happened otherwise, but still, I shouldn’t have to think about this scenario in a professional setting. Do men think about the possibility of being hit on when they attend industry events? I doubt it. I don’t blame men as a group; I just think it’s sad that there’s the difference of experience when it comes to something that should be purely professional.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  4. @trosetty—Thank you. This was a difficult article to write. Telling my own stories made me feel vulnerable and nervous in ways that are difficult to explain. But what floors me is how often I hear this from other women with similar stories. Or, quite often, more horrific ones. When people think these are isolated incidents, things that just aren’t that common, I suspect they’re not paying enough attention—or maybe they’re not the sort of people those who feel ashamed or vulnerable would be comfortable confiding in. Because personally, I hear about it _all the time._
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  5. I was so very disappointed to see this otherwise wonderful article begun in such a bigoted manner. Sara, you say, bq. We accept conference lineups loaded with white men because “we couldn’t find any other qualified speakers,” or “all the women we asked said no.” ...as if you think think there’s something wrong with that. In doing so you make it clear that you don’t actually mean anything else you’ve said in your article. In doing this you’ve engaged in the very behavior your article otherwise speaks out against, which is disappointingly disingenuous of you. Your statement proclaims that what actually matters is a person’s gender and skin color; what really matters is arbitrary race and gender quotas (as defined by whom, you?) and that if the only interested parties were white males, it amounts to an indictment on our industry and the function/gathering in question. If diversity of participation is the result of individual choices of those involved, wonderful. If it’s not, only a racist, misogynist, misandrist, ageist, or other sort of bigot would assign some negative or sinister character to it. Just because it would be wonderful if our gatherings were filled with individuals of a variety of genders, creeds, and races does not mean that if they’re not, they’re objectively bad. How about let’s not address bigotry with a socially safer and more popular form of bigotry? Otherwise, thanks for the excellent article.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  6. Thanks for sharing this, Sara, and tying together some related issues in our industry. Ignorance, fear, and exclusion burn on the same continuum. Narcissism stokes that fire: we surround ourselves we likeminded perspectives from the people who look like us, sound like us, and echo us in every way. We cast disdain on “the other” and marginalize their interests and ideas, and bar them from our discussions, either de facto or by design. And it’s bad business. Those practices have no business in our industry. Literally: it is not a sustainable business model to say you practice user experience design but then ignore target audiences. And for the most part, we know this. We know that perspectives beyond our own matter, and that confirmation bias is a siren song into the rocks. We remind our clients “you are not your user,” as we scope out research. We know that to best serve our clients, we must expose ourselves to the full range of perspectives in the community they hope to serve. And in doing so, we replace arrogance and disdain with understanding and respect. So if we value looking beyond ourselves and our limited perspectives to serve our clients and their users, why do we still hesitate to do this to best serve each other and our industry? We shouldn’t diversify our conference stages to be politically correct, but rather to ensure we hear the broadest range of perspectives. When conference organizers miss this mark, they don’t just fail some test of hippie liberalism. They fail our community and industry.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  7. Major props to Sara for writing this article—it can’t be easy to subject your personal experiences to public scrutiny. I hope you won’t let the detractors stop you from speaking out more. And major props to ALA for running this. This is exactly the kind of consciousness I’d like our industry to cultivate.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  8. This conversation is long overdue, and I am glad that it seems to be happening now across domains (academic offices and conferences, laboratories, entrepreneurial events, etc.) Returning to web development after being at the periphery for a while (I recently completed my undergrad) has been curious. It is discouraging, as a man, to consider applying to a company only to discover that their employees are exclusively men or that there are no women in top-tier management. Diversity fosters creativity, and I want to work in a creative environment, not a stale one. I increasingly see homogeneity as a problem rather than an unavoidable side-effect of something beyond my responsibility. There are more obvious offences, some of which Sara mentioned: photos of sexualized women in slides (included as a “break” in the presentation), gender-specific language and assumptions about developers versus users, and so on. Even in some version control documentation it seems Bob is forever correcting the behaviour of Alice by reverting her erroneous commits. The creepiest for me by far is the trope of half-anthropomorphizing programming languages as female sexual objects. Gross. Stop it. Ew. Then there are cases of blatant misogyny, for which one needs neither the experience of marginalization nor particular self-awareness to identify. Some of these incidents are catalogued in the Geek Feminism wiki. (See “Timeline of Incidents”; I’d link to it but it seems to trigger an ambiguous Akismet spam error? Apologies if this post shows up multiple times…) Even when these offences might be considered amusingly naive, they contribute to the alienation of peoples long excluded from the production of tech. But now, especially with the web, we are all users. And we need to bridge the gap between the homogeneous few who make technology and the diverse majority who use it. (To say nothing of inequality between manufacturing labour and consumers.) We have much to learn from Sara’s disarming rhetorical strategy (present in the tone and structure of this article and in her responses to comments). This is what the conversation requires if attitudes are to be changed; but when the rights of others are infringed, the perpetrator’s behaviour needs to be exposed, corrected (i.e. explained), and firmly reprimanded in the open. Speaking of open—I’ll end by saying that I think some productive research could be done with open source communities vis-à-vis diversity and the philosophy of openness (which can refer to very different things: globalization, freedom/liberté, visibility, etc. and only recently, it seems, inclusivity). Happily, identity politics are slowly gaining traction in STS discourses and science, technology, and society programs are gaining interest (and a bit of funding). In these ways, at least, our bleak future looks a bit less grim. Sara, THANK YOU for this article and for sharing your experiences.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  9. bq. I was so very disappointed to see this otherwise wonderful article begun in such a bigoted manner. Way to set the tone of discussion by accusing the author of a piece that calls for inclusive behavior and etiquette of bigotry. Has it not occurred to you that your interpretation and feeling offended (I’m guessing?) could have been expressed by asking an inquiring question about what Sara meant, rather than a condemning accusation? bq. …as if you think think there’s something wrong with that. There _is_ something wrong with that. That’s the whole point of this debate about reflecting on our industry itself, and not just the work we create: these things send a message to the community. A conference lineup of all white men sends the *implicit* message that in order for anyone to be up there on the stage, they’d benefit a lot if they, too, were white men. bq. Your statement proclaims that what actually matters is a person’s gender and skin color; what really matters is arbitrary race and gender quotas (as defined by whom, you?) and that if the only interested parties were white males, it amounts to an indictment on our industry and the function/gathering in question. You’re making a _huge_ assumption here that the speakers who are selected for a conference are the only ones who were interested. A conference organizer has full control over the selection process, and thus if they _choose_ to end up with a lineup of all white men, they must accept what implicit communication they send out in doing so. It _is_ an indictment in the eyes of many when this happens, precisely because it so obviously fails at representing any sense of diversity that we have in our industry. bq. If diversity of participation is the result of individual choices of those involved, wonderful. If it’s not, only a racist, misogynist, misandrist, ageist, or other sort of bigot would assign some negative or sinister character to it. This is a gross misrepresentation (and misunderstanding) of how bigotry—and thus, racism, misogyny, etc.—works, and what defines it. An all white male conference lineup _does_ have a negative character to it, because it is not representative of a diverse population. This is objective. This is fact. You may _disagree_ with it, but that’s akin to disagreeing with evolution, or believing that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Public industry events carry the unasked-for responsibility of representing our industry. Speaker lineups carry the responsibility of representing our industry’s best and brightest, in some small extent, and if the lineup says “our best and brightest are all white men” then not only is that a lie, it is a negative representation of our industry. It suggests the wrong thing. A speaker lineup is a form of non-verbal communication. If I _write_ the words “the best people are all white men,” then people would be right to accuse me of bigotry. From a communication perspective it’s no different if I were to select all white men as a lineup and leave those written words out of it. It’s like the Republican convention: it was so overwhelmingly dominated by white people that it very strongly sent the message that if you aren’t white, you probably won’t feel welcome or at home here. The fact that they booed a hispanic woman on the stage was just the concrete evidence that proved the already-implied message. bq. Just because it would be wonderful if our gatherings were filled with individuals of a variety of genders, creeds, and races does not mean that if they’re not, they’re objectively bad. It does not make the event or the speakers objectively bad, but it does make it a failing of the event organizers to live up to their responsibilities in representing our industry. That part is objectively bad, and warrants criticism. The speakers can still be great, the talks still wonderful, but it is objectively *not* representative of our industry, and thus it sends an incorrect message. It’s not just “wonderful” to have diverse representation; it’s accurate and fair.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  10. @Andy Rutledge I disagree with your conclusions. I don’t think that a homogeneous conference is inherently “bad,” but it will miss opportunities to be better. It’s too easy to make excuses for not doing something that’s harder and possibly uncomfortable even if it might be beneficial for attendees. It’s much easier to attract people who are just like you (whether in superficial or more substantive ways), but there is something inherently valuable in being in a room full of people who aren’t like you. Things like gender and skin color do affect experiences and that can provide incredibly valuable perspective that you’re not going to get otherwise—and definitely if you’re not making an effort to be actively inclusive toward those that may not naturally gravitate toward your event.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  11. *Andy Rutledge*: That’s pretty textbook false equivalence, man. Citing a well-established inequality—whether it’s a matter of race, gender, or just two numbers—is not evidence of bias on the author’s part. It’s stating that a bias may very well exist, and that we should not be comfortable with that.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  12. There is something wrong with that. What matters isn’t someone’s gender or skin color in the way you’re looking at it, in some essentializing way, as if “female” defines me anymore than “white” defines me. Rather, the fact of my being white and female, just the same as the fact of your being whatever you are, deeply affects your experiences in the world, and to argue otherwise is disingenuous. You bring these perspectives, your experiences in the world, your triumphs and your social and cultural wounds, to the work you do. For all of us, but especially for those of us who are designers, this is important to remember: We cannot challenge our work if we are surrounded by people whose experiences and opinions mirror our own. We cannot make sure the designs that are affected by the world in which we live in and which in turn will affect the world will evolve if we do not force ourselves to evolve.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  13. One thing I’ve always noted about design agencies - both ‘traditional’ and digital - are the stereotypical roles. I’ve often wondered why this is the case, but ultimately, it’s indicative of your experiences at conferences. For the most part, the vast bulk of the job applications for web development and design jobs are males.
    Is this because the profession is openly hostile toward female candidates?
    Is it because females in general don’t find the profession appealing? I don’t know the answers, I just observe the stereotypes. I’ve worked in many agencies over the years. In all that time, I’ve only worked with a single female developer. The design world fairs a lot better, generally having a more healthy mix of genders, but it’s still male dominated. The female role at the agencies I’ve worked for tend to be admin or management based. Account managers for the most part. If the diversity at the agency level isn’t addressed, then it seems logical this lack of diversity filters through to all other levels. I can hazard a guess that this lack of diversity starts way back in the education system and perhaps it’s here that change is required to level the playing field?
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  14. This article covers a tremendous amount of ground. On the whole, I absolutely agree with Sara’s points. However, as with most pleas for improving “behavior”, the argument is explicitly one-sided. Having been on the receiving end of astonishing vitriol over having inadvertently caused offense as a conference speaker and someone who’s name graces the list of sexism offenders referenced in this article, I will state without hesitation that the responsibility for “improving” our community rests equally as much with the people who claim offense. Bad behavior isn’t the exclusive domain of true asshats and condemned conference speakers. If we are going to be honest with ourselves, we have to accept that the issue of inclusivity is not one side of one story. I took on this toxic topic earlier this year with a series of articles I posted on my blog. “Part 1 of 3: The Art of Bullying”:http://www.16toads.com//journal/comments/passionate_sanctimony_part_1_the_art_of_bullying
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  15. I believe that many of the responses to my comment here and all of the incoming volleys on Twitter on this matter have departed from the specific context and passage I cited. Let’s maintain context here. There was no reference in the cited passage that those circumstances were the result of deliberate anti-female or anti-diversity bigotry. I took issue with the passage as quoted. There is no benefit to be gained by inventing a context that was not expressed in that passage. If we are to follow the logic expressed by many in this row, it is that the mere fact someone is a white male in a diverse culture is inherently damning and implicitly racist. Please follow the logic of your ideas here. Thanks. Surely we can all agree that bigotry of any kind is despicable. Let us not invent it where it does not exist or use it to attack a different sort of bigotry. Thanks!
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  16. ...is that people complain about it. The comment by Mr. Rutledge is typical of those who think that talking about exclusion is itself exclusion. This can be seen across discussions of race, gender, and sexual orientation. It is intended to establish an equivalence between the victim and the victimizer and needs to be roundly shouted down whenever and wherever it appears.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  17. They say, “Don’t say anything unless you can improve the conversation.” That is, unless you have a point to make or valuable information to pass on, it’s better to remain quiet and not obstruct the flow of information with poor replies that state nothing new or merely pat the original author on the back with unvarying praise. But I’m going to go ahead and say that this has been one of the best write-ups on the topic that I have read, and the author does deserve praise for that. And the readers deserve praise for reading it. And the people who do something productive with this sound advice and information deserve the highest praise I can offer. In the future, I will not attend a conference that doesn’t have a policy of conduct. I will put my money, and my speaking engagements, where my mouth is, and I will point conference organizers who have no such policy here.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  18. Hear hear, RachelNabors. From now on, I will abstain from conferences that don’t have a policy of conduct. I will also contact the conference organizers personally to suggest that they write one and present a plan to effectively implement it. Furthermore, while I don’t rule them out, I am very reticent to attend conferences that have a lineup comprised of fewer than 30% women. In most cities, that unfortunately includes An Event Apart.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  19. Oh boy. I don’t really want to jump into this but here it goes… Andy, you have several times said that there is an issue of context in how people are responding to you. The flaw I see with that is you yourself pulled a quote out of context of the rest of the article. Sara specifically addressed the “All the women we asked said no” portion later in the article. bq. Consider whether women might be declining your invitation to speak for “reasons you hadn’t considered”:http://rel.ly/2012/09/conference-organisers-a-point-for-your-consideration/ , and address those, too. Perhaps she could have fleshed that out a bit further than just linking to another article, but it was addressed. That’s context. Additionally context: this article is about what we can do to make things better. If a conference has an all white & male lineup, that may not be as good as it _could_ be. How do we make it better? bq. This isn’t good enough. I think you condemned the quote you pulled without considering the context of the rest of the article.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  20. The words ‘respect’ and ‘empathy’ have popped up a few times in this conversation, and I want to elevate them: respect and empathy are both essential skills that we _as individuals_ and we _as a community_ need to practice in order to design better communities. I want to be clear: Having empathy does not excuse poor behavior, nor does it absolve the actor of responsibility for said behavior, not even a little bit. Respect does not mean remaining silent. Look, broadening community is *hard*. Increasing diversity is *hard*. It’s challenging. It’s confronting. It’s messy. And in the process, I guarantee that *we will offend each other*. Not because some of us are angels and others are asshats, not because we intend to be unkind or rude or bigoted or racist or sexist or ageist or insert-other-ist-here, but because we each are the product of—and see the world through the lens of—our own lived experiences. And when we _individually_ fail to see the world through someone else’s eyes, we _collectively_ fail. So, let’s start by recognizing that those places where we cause and take offense are the places where our community’s hard work begins. We must call each other out when we say or do or fail to do the right thing. We are accountable to each other, and we should hold each other accountable. But in those uncomfortable moments, show respect for each other. Demonstrate empathy for one another. Assume good intent. Ask rather than accuse. Listen. Be humble. Let’s remember that we are all here because we are builders and learners and makers and doers. We adopt new tools and techniques on the daily; let’s adopt new perspectives, too.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  21. Andy questioned whether speaker quotas for minority groups wouldn’t simply be turning the problem on its head. While it may seem that way, it may be a necessary to select speakers based on ‘arbitrary race and gender quotas’—just to get the ball rolling. Minority quotas serve one very important purpose: They encourage other members of that minority group to join in an activity. In this case to speak or to enter the industry in the first place. If we’re new to something, we all look for others who are like us to make us more comfortable in the new environment. Here’s a quick example from my own life: I only entered the web design industry very recently, after a career in marketing. When I considered the career change I was quite frightened by the fact that everybody seemed to be at least 10 years my junior (I’m 39). Of course there are people my age but they just disappeared in the masses of 25-year-olds! However, when I looked at conference line-ups (conferences and books are the public face of the industry) I saw that there were people my age among the speakers and when I started following them on Twitter I found more people my age, as well as people who had made the switch later in life like me. This was a huge encouragement for me to take the leap into a new industry. And I would like to get into public speaking one day, so here is a potential future speaker who is a member of two minority groups: female and soon 40+. I am pretty sure that there are enough really smart people out there who are not white and male and who could be encouraged to speak at conferences. It’s really important that they do because they encourage other to do so, too. If you know people who would be qualified to speak and who belong to a minority group, please encourage them to speak. Conference organisers: Please scout hard for minority group speakers. And if you get a negative reply, try to find out why—perhaps you can do something to change their mind (see Relly’s very good article). It may seem silly to artificially create diversity, but I’m sure that if we do that for a while it would change things in the long run.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  22. The worst outcome I’ve witnessed of the the lack of XX chromosomes on the podium at conferences is that if women are represented, they sometimes make an effort to be just as “bad” as the men, peppering their language with f-bombs and sex jokes.  Women, and smart men, don’t need to drive their language into the ditch to get our attention.  Isn’t it about time we all grow up?
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  23. An invitation to anyone who is interested to participate in this project.
    http://s3.amazonaws.com/ordinary/design.html It is an attempt to make the web available to anyone, anywhere, on anything - regardless of any disabilities, and limitations of screen size and bandwidth they may have.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  24. Gosh the hipsters might beat me up but…
    If your locale does not scale to diversity it just does not scale.
    I live in a less than diverse climate. This is the native social structure here. This has its drawbacks as a less than diverse culture we suffer with a lack of depth, scope and scale. But it is not about race or gender it is a lack of diversity in people. Diversity should be about what people bring to the table not gender or race and trying to make a “happy place” or a “right place” does not work. I am a 50 something designer and I am excluded from the mainstream because I have not graduated in the last 10 years. It is creepy. You can not make diversity happen it has to be native to be honest. If some climates choose to pass on a diverse cultural space they miss out on what it can bring to the table but their level of diversity is unique to them. Good or bad.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  25. Yet another thoughtful, quality post from A List Apart.  Thank you, Sara.  It takes courage to bring these things up, and it is so much easier to just let it go. In any public conversation about gender or racial inclusiveness, it seems there are always a few white men who get quite angry and defensive, vitriolic at worst, but usually employing cold logic to prove their point, and usually poor logic.  These are men who are taking the conversation personally.  I think it’s reasonable to want to defend oneself when one feels attacked, but I would love to find a way to get these men to stop, breathe, an open themselves to the larger conversation..  I think most of them would agree, if they felt safe, that diversity is a positive thing, and that we all have a role to play in supporting it.  Personally, I would much rather these been men be a part of the solution, and have positive relationships with them.  But we can’t work on a solution without clearly pointing at the problem. To those men who are willing to see the problem, get past that initial burst of defensiveness, and add their voices to the causes of tolerance and diversity, thank you, too.  That also takes courage.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  26. The issue is not with “angry white guys”. IT IS OUR CULTURE. The web business did not invent this climate. As a male (the last time I checked) this goes on all over. I find the frat house behavior repugnant and disgusting. That being said I find it equally disgusting that we go out of our way to make people feel wanted. That act in itself is patronizing and belittles people you are trying to include. IT IS PANDERING. Till the natural discourse changes nothing will change. This true for both sides of the fence.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  27. @Faruk Ate? @cruxwireweb and @sibweber I really appreciate your comments. While I cringe at the word “quota,” the rationale remains important. I’d like to see this happen without rules dictating it does—instead having really passionate people (who see the value) make sure that it does. I started writing a response to these comments and in particular @Andy Rutledge, but it got pretty lengthy so I turned it into a blog post: http://triciarosetty.com/a-response-to-universal-design-ir/ I’d love to hear people’s responses.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  28. @Don_U: bq. Diversity should be about what people bring to the table not gender or race Actually, different genders and race _are_ very good things for providing diversity. Diversity of backgrounds, of lifestyle, of upbringing, of cultural impressions, these are what bring diverse points of view to the table, and the very best way _by far_ to get the greatest diversity in views is by finding people of obviously diverse nature. (also: studies have found that a ratio of ~60% women in a group produces the best and most creative output) bq. You can not make diversity happen This is _very_ demonstrably false. Just look at what Pierre Trudeau did in Canada during his term, and the multicultural nature of Canada today. bq. That being said I find it equally disgusting that we go out of our way to make people feel wanted. That act in itself is patronizing and belittles people you are trying to include. IT IS PANDERING. No, that’s not what pandering is. Making people feel wanted is called being inclusive, showing empathy, or simply not being an asshole. _Pandering_ is expressing views based on what your audience wants to hear, whether or not they are your *actual* views. Pandering typically involves lying, and betraying one’s true thoughts. So I wonder why you’d call it pandering…
    bq. Till the natural discourse changes nothing will change. This true for both sides of the fence. The only group in this debate that has a tendency to get emotional, aggressive and/or hostile is the people defending the status quo, the people who try to fight positive action and change. People like Andy Rutledge. This is not a matter of “both sides are misbehaving” — that’s bullshit.  One side is making reasoned, well-researched, fact-based arguments. The other side—which, in this current discussion, you have made yourself part of—is using theory and unsubstantiated claims to argue against the mounting evidence.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  29. DISCLAIMER: I always enter these discussions because I have a genuine interest in finding out different perspectives on these problems, and eventually receive answers that can convince me my perspective is flawed. I often got insulted and misinterpreted, so my stance on personal attacks is *ignore*. I welcome and encourage any other kind of confrontation.
    ——-
    @Faruk Ates: you make some very good points which help making your position very clear. Yet there are a few reasons I’m still not 100% sold on these types of debates. Whichever arguments is brought to the table, I can’t help but get this feeling of tokenization and quotas when it comes to issues like the Brit Ruby fiasco. I’ll elaborate on this one: the IT community is still predominantly male, that’s how it is for now. Is it really impossible that among X available speakers, all the most interesting candidates for the lineup were men? Does a 100% white men lineup necessarily mean that the criteria for choosing the speakers lineup is flawed? Assuming my premise could be true, is your point that the organisers would’ve HAD to keep looking for women (or anything but white men) not with a tokenization attitude, but with the confidence that the diversity would have improved quality of the talks without any doubts? I also often feel like all this stuff is not that different from being condescending towards women. Let’s assume there are 20 slots available for speakers. You’ve filled 19, all men so far, and you have two candidates available for the last slot, a man and a woman. The two professional profiles, however, reveal that the male candidate is likely to deliver a more relevant, more interesting talk to the crowd. From your comment I’m guessing your position on this would be rejecting this construct all together, i.e. a similar situation would never verify itself and if someone does believe to have this kind of scenario in front of him, his reasoning is flawed because he’s been influenced by all sorts of factors to have a certain perspective and see things in a certain way. The shift that needs to happen when it comes to IT and technical professions should begin from how we educate our children. This is an emblematic, remarkable example of what I mean http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/16029337/goldieblox-the-engineering-toy-for-girls To offer a bit of the background forming my perspective, I currently live in Naples, Italy. Down here, anything that’s IT related is considered to be a male profession, to the point that women who show any kind of interest on the field are often discouraged by friends (female friends!) or simply seen as weirdos. IT universities are literally “womenless”. Do I know any good solutions? Of course I don’t, it’s definitely not a simple problem. But do I think that a men only speakers line up is undeniable proof of discrimination? Sorry folks, I just can’t see it. There are still mostly men in our industry, I am confident that picking a technical topic for a conference and looking for non white men candidates can still be a daunting, frustrating task. Peace.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  30. @sformisano: Thanks for taking the time to ask for elaboration and providing relevant scenarios to address. I’ve put my responses inline. Since this has become such a big and arguments-laden response I will also repost this comment in full on my own blog: bq. Whichever arguments is brought to the table, I can’t help but get this feeling of tokenization and quotas when it comes to issues like the Brit Ruby fiasco. This is understandable, but try to reframe it in your mind; think of it all not as “quotas” (or tokenization) but as _a passion for seeing diverse viewpoints fairly represented on a stage_. Sure, some organizers may feel “obligated” to try and include diverse speakers, but others are *disappointed* (with themselves and the status quo) if they can’t produce enough diversity to suit their wishes. bq. the IT community is still predominantly male, that’s how it is for now. Is it really impossible that among X available speakers, all the most interesting candidates for the lineup were men? No, this is entirely possible. With a small sample size from a male-dominated industry, getting all men is an easily replicable scenario. *However*: who says that all guys actually _are_ the “most interesting candidates”? Whose standard is that by? Because I can promise you that _I_ won’t find an all-male (_and_ all-white) lineup “most interesting” at all, as a conference attendee. Because I would argue that, no matter what they’re speaking about, I’d feel like I’m getting a homogeneous point of view presented to me. bq. Does a 100% white men lineup necessarily mean that the criteria for choosing the speakers lineup is flawed? Yes, it means that the conference organizers’ perception of “best” is biased. Or that they were just really lazy, at best. It doesn’t mean the speakers or the organizers themselves are flawed, but it does mean *all of* the following things: # The system in which we all exist is flawed (tech is male dominated, but far too big an industry for that to be an acceptable balance, thus it is flawed);
    # The process of selecting speakers did not take the flawed system into account, resulting in systemic biases in favor of the dominant demographic;
    # Unconscious biases may have made the process of selecting speakers even worse. bq. Assuming my premise could be true, is your point that the organisers would’ve HAD to keep looking for women (or anything but white men) not with a tokenization attitude, but with the confidence that the diversity would have improved quality of the talks without any doubts? Having diversity for diversity’s sake is no guarantee of quality. However, as I hope I’ve now sufficiently explained, looking simply for your own definition of “quality” and not putting in a conscious effort to also find diversity, does effectively mean that your quality will come from a very homogeneous point of view, and this has historically and statistically been proven to actually _reduce_ quality. Study after study finds that greater diversity in a group’s membership improves the quality of their collective output. bq. I also often feel like all this stuff is not that different from being condescending towards women. Not sure what to do with this. Why do you think it’s condescending? Working hard to ensure diversity is not like saying “here you go women, have some speaker spots too”; it’s saying “dear women: we really value your input as well, please share it with us.” bq. Let’s assume there are 20 slots available for speakers. You’ve filled 19, all men so far, and you have two candidates available for the last slot, a man and a woman.
    The two professional profiles, however, reveal that the male candidate is likely to deliver a more relevant, more interesting talk to the crowd.
    From your comment I’m guessing your position on this would be rejecting this construct all together, i.e. a similar situation would never verify itself and if someone does believe to have this kind of scenario in front of him, his reasoning is flawed because he’s been influenced by all sorts of factors to have a certain perspective and see things in a certain way. I won’t reject that construct, or that scenario. It’s perfectly realistic. My point is that in order to _get_ to such a scenario, you have already gone through a flawed process. Already you have failed to actively reach out to (enough) women, and failed to introduce a diversity of selection in your own process of qualification. If you as a conference organizer are in such a position, all the steps you’ve taken so far have had an element of mistake to them. You’ve ignored or missed every opportunity to introduce diversity into the mix. I don’t attribute this to malice, and neither does almost anyone else. This is virtually never an _intentional_ scenario for conference organizers to find themselves in. They also don’t necessarily _want_ such a scenario, either. The problem lies in them not knowing, or not caring enough, how to avoid it. Plenty of resources exist online to avoid such a scenario, so every time it does happen, it is a failing on the organizers’ part. bq. The shift that needs to happen when it comes to IT and technical professions should begin from how we educate our children. This is an emblematic, remarkable example of what I mean:  “Goldieblox”:http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/16029337/goldieblox-the-engineering-toy-for-girls Goldieblox is a great example of how we can start to address the systemic sexism that permeates our society for the generations to come. It is but one step of many thousands we need to take, however, if we wish to establish a more meritocratic, equal and fair industry anytime soon. bq. Down here [in Naples, Italy], anything that’s IT related is considered to be a male profession, to the point that women who show any kind of interest on the field are often discouraged by friends (female friends!) or simply seen as weirdos. IT universities are literally “womenless”. That’s something that will need to be addressed with some major cultural reform, which won’t come easily, knowing Italy and its cultural views on women. (not saying you share those views; I’m sure you know what I mean) bq. But do I think that a men only speakers line up is undeniable proof of discrimination? Sorry folks, I just can’t see it. This will perhaps be the most informative part, then: there is an important difference between *systemic* discrimination and *active* discrimination. The latter is something that is done consciously, and by individuals. It is when people say or do things that is harmful, that suppresses or diminishes groups. Systemic discrimination, on the other hand, happens through no one person’s fault. It is not something anyone individually should be blamed for, because it is a result of a system that doesn’t actively police itself well enough. It is the result of a culture that gets created through _inaction_, rather than action. It is when you take a group of 20 individual men, ask them if they’re sexist, they all say no and genuinely feel that way, but then when you put all 20 together in one room, the culture that emerges feels openly hostile to certain women, and they will not feel welcome to enter it. This is not because all those 20 men are “secretly sexist” or anything like that. Quite likely, not a single one of them is. It’s because they were not consciously trying to make sure women would also feel welcome in the group, and at face value, they are now a group of men that some women will simply not feel like they are welcome in. This phenomenon also explains the level of butthurt expressed by some men when dealing with this topic: they get offended and have a hard time believing that people could think of them as not welcoming to women. “Of course I’m welcoming to women!” they decry. But the reality is, when a large group of people is very homogeneous, it simply does not _appear_ to be inclusive to people on the outside. This is a shallow, superficial thing, but that’s the problem: if your group _appears_ to be unwelcome, then it is inevitable that some people will not even bother to try and find out if you really are. And that’s the great loss here: those people cannot be blamed for their caution, but we all miss out on their input and their voice, because they won’t attend. History explains and justifies their caution; that’s why conference and event organizers carry so much responsibility in choosing their lineup: they set the tone for how their event is perceived on the outside. If you’re a white man, you will probably have no superficial problem seeing other white men as speakers. But if you’re any other demographic in any way at all, seeing white men over and over and over again will start to wear you down and make you wonder if this community is really as inclusive as it claims to be. And, even worse, it’ll justifiably make some people wonder if this community actually values other people’s points of view as much as those of the white men. If you wish to claim you value everyone’s points of view equally regardless of race or gender or what-have-you, you need to actively work on representing a diversity of views if you’re organizing an event with people speaking to an audience. Because if you don’t, you’re sending an implicit (and probably unconscious) message that you think white men have the most valuable points of view. And while that’s probably not true, it reveals your biases as well as your lack of effort, still making you look pretty bad. In closing, to address the BritRuby case specifically: when faced with a situation like BritRuby’s, which is very close to the hypothetical 19-out-of-20 men scenario from above, the way you react to and handle this kind of criticism is _far_ more important than whatever failing took place that caused it. Garann Means mentioned the case of LXJS in “her blog post on BritRuby”:http://www.garann.com/dev/2012/hostess-and-britruby/ which was a fantastic way for a conference organizer to react to criticism of all white male speaker lineups (not even addressed to them specifically). BritRuby, with their canceling of the event _and_ the blaming of those who expressed their opinions for it, falls squarely in the Worst Possible Way To Handle It-category. BritRuby’s organizers could have reacted very differently, and then none of this would have been a big deal, and the event would still be planned. The loss of the event and its hypothetical value to the community is entirely, 100% their own fault.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  31. A colleague suggested that I post here to share my perspective as someone who’s had some success organizing inclusive conferences. Disclosure: the author of this article is [another] friend and colleague of mine. When I read the fallout from Sara’s article, the main area of disagreement seems to be whether an all-white-male lineup demonstrates a [de facto] discriminatory organizer policy (it does, even though the organizers are probably not misogynists). If you are genuinely interested in this question, and like @sformisano above it throws up issues of “tokenism” and affirmative-action-type dilemmas for you, I recommend you read everything “Faruk Ate?”:http://farukat.es/ has written on this topic. If he can’t convince you, I suspect you’re not listening. Here’s what I’ve learnt about organizing inclusive conferences: # If you put the work in, it’s possible to organize inclusive speaker lineups
    # When you do that, it improves attendees’ perception of quality (in the talks overall)
    # It also raises the stakes for attendees, because they feel more like participants than spectators So far I’ve organized one conference (with Destry Wion and Randall Snare): Content Strategy Forum 2011, and I’m working with my colleagues at Brain Traffic on a second conference, Confab London coming up in March 2013. For CS Forum, we made inclusion an explicit aim of the conference, and worked hard at it. The formula is simple: # Have a female keynote
    # Announce invited speakers who are female
    # Run an open call for speakers which explicitly mentions inclusion. One of the fields on the submission form asked for recommendations of people who are under-represented at conferences (for us to approach).
    # Select speakers from the open call using a number of different criteria. For example, we wanted a mix of countries, backgrounds, etc. “Here’s the lineup we ended up with”:http://2011.csforum.eu/speakers A good mix of genders, some non-white faces. I’m sure I can do better in the future, of course—e.g. more diverse ethnicity, including disabled people, different educational backgrounds, etc. etc. When I worked with Brain Traffic to bring Confab (the Content Strategy Conference based in Minneapolis) to London, we used a similar strategy, and we got a lot of love (on twitter at least) for “the inclusiveness of our lineup”:http://confabevents.com/events/london-2013/speakers/ Yes it’s hard work, but *in the medium term* it’s also good for business. Just one example. Imagine you are a female German web professional, and you look at the “Confab London 2013”:http://confabevents.com/events/london-2013/speakers/ lineup. Wow, there’s an awesome German woman presenting! People like me! Now contrast that to an all white, all male, all English-speaking line-up. Less attractive, and you’d have immediate concerns about whether you’d be welcome there.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  32. I know we as “people” are infatuated with pretty things, but if I see another website with grey background and grey text I will throw up in my mouth. Something as simple as adequate ensuring adequate levels of contrast goes a long way to ensuring people can consume your content.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  33. I agree with Andy Rutledge. All white men are not the same. I could cry over being discriminated against because I am short (5’7” 130lb). I could fill the page with stories of how I was assumed to be fragile, weak or otherwise less able than my taller and larger peers. I could tell you how I was given less chances to make mistakes (because one mistake up was sufficient evidence of my lack of ability); or, how I had to prove myself worthy in order to be included. I could have let those experiences turn me away from pursuing what I loved. I could have complained and probably been made fun of, ultimately to not be included anyway. But you know what I did? I worked extra hard. I made less mistakes. I held myself to a higher standard. And I earned the respect I deserved for my ability. It would be nice if we could all live by the Golden Rule: Treat others as you have them treat you. Maybe someday. Trying to force people to do it will not work. Oh, but my opinion doesn’t count because I am a white male.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  34. Thank you for writing such an honest and thought-provoking article, Sara. I’m thrilled to see this conversation happening here on A List Apart. This is not an easy conversation to have, so I commend you for sticking your neck out. And while I agree with some comments and disagree with others, I respect everyone’s opinion and am again glad that this issue has been raised. As a woman in this field, and as an emerging public speaker, this article hits close to home. I can certainly empathize with Sara’s perspective. The vast majority of interactions I’ve had with men throughout my career have been overwhelmingly positive, productive, and professional. But while it hasn’t necessarily happened at conferences, in my 8 or so years working as a designer, I’ve been blatantly hit on by (married) male superiors, bullied into doing unpaid freelance work for a superior’s cronies, ridiculed for carrying what was perceived as a “just in case I end up at some dude’s house tonight” overnight bag to work, and asked if I “like porn” by men I barely know at happy hours. At larger conferences such as SXSW, I see “booth babes” and ads objectifying the female body to promote the latest and greatest technology. There’s a pervasive and alienating brogrammer culture that still exists in our field, and we’ve got some work to do, both at conferences (and beyond) to move on from it. The good news is that we _have_ come a long way. Tolerance for sexist or otherwise offensive behavior is dwindling. And there’s been a huge push to make the field more welcoming to those who are not white men. At conferences, anyone at the lectern is perceived as an expert or a leader, so it’s been wonderful to see more female speakers, speakers of color, and non-US speakers as each year progresses. Diversifying the speaker roster is not easy, but it can be done. At this year’s JSConf EU, planned efforts to recruit more female speakers “paid off in a roster of 25% female speakers”:http://2012.jsconf.eu/2012/09/17/beating-the-odds-how-we-got-25-percent-women-speakers.html . This is fantastic for everyone, not just women in our field. In addition, every employer I’ve worked for has had an explicit anti-sexual harassment policy. It was very clear to me who I could go to should I encounter such a problem. I’m glad to see this idea carried over to the conference space. We need to work together to prevent the conditions that make anyone feel excluded or mistreated, but we also need to implement a course of action to deal with it when it does happen.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  35. So you are saying that within a subgroup of say white guys that could not be diverse. Since when do I share the same values or ideas than say a white guy in California? The concept that we share the same thing or are the same thing because of like gender or race is, well, bigoted at the very least. REAL DIVERSITY can not be defined by a study are we sure that a 60% make up of a given group insures diversity. Government can not regulate something that has to happen naturally. I am a liberal, I have tons of friends that are conservative. They come from diverse backgrounds and have diverse ideas. This did not happen because governance told me to be friends it is because I made the effort. My wife is finishing up her degree. I was talking to her adviser who happens to be African American and the first man to play baseball in a local league. He was featured in the local paper during “Black History Month”. What he said about it was, “I don’t want to be known as a black man who played baseball. I want to be known as a MAN who played baseball” Any argument you may have has been laid moot by that last bit of insight.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  36. Hello, commenters! I’ve been remiss in not taking part in this conversation over the past few days, but to be honest I’ve been a bit overwhelmed—thankfully, less by the bits of vitriol I’ve seen sprout up, and more by the thoughtfulness nearly all of you have had in your responses, here and around the web. In fact, here are some follow-up pieces, if you missed them:  * *Margot Bloomstein* wrote about “Using Math to Prop Open the Door”: http://appropriateinc.com/ideas/math-to-prop-open-the-door/ 
    * *Tricia Rosetty* wrote “A Response to Universal Design IRL”: http://triciarosetty.com/a-response-to-universal-design-ir/
    * *Squirrel & Moose* recorded a podcast called “Do Not Feed the Trolls”: http://3rdaverad.io/shows/squirrel-and-moose/episodes/do-not-feed-the-trolls/
    * *Faruk Ates* explained “The Problem with a Slate of White, Male Speakers”: http://farukat.es/journal/2012/11/673-problem-slate-white-male-speakers Apologies if I’ve missed some here. It’s been a crazy week trying to keep up. While I may disagree with some of you, one thing I hope we can mostly agree on is that these are complex issues—issues not as simple as saying we need more women or black people or non-Americans in a conference. I embrace that complexity—welcome the gray areas—because it’s those gray areas that force us to think critically about our values and our actions, and to be, above all, empathetic. That said, there are many ways in which discrimination happens, and also many ways in which diversity happens. White men can be discriminated against for a wide range of reasons (income level, region, language, education, etc. etc. etc.). However, we’re still largely operating within a societal structure _designed by and for white men._ If we continue to create events that only cater to white men, then we perpetuate that social structure—and we lose out on the ideas and innovation we could be getting from others, if we _actively_—not passively—welcomed them in. This doesn’t help anyone. Thank you all for reading carefully, discussing passionately, and sharing mostly productive, constructive comments. Carry on.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  37. Great post on how the design and rules of a community will lead to particular behaviours, and how as a designer or organiser one must be mindful in order to combat this! One thing that keeps coming up again and again I find is the issue of discussion. One only has to look at the comments on YouTube or Facebook or news websites to see some of the filthiest, most vile and horrid human communications. This is accepted without question in the name of “free speech” without any thought about how some of this abusive, libellious, bigoted, offensive content affects the community. I guess what I mean to say is that I think “Discuss this article. We reserve the right to delete flames, trolls, and wood nymphs.” is the right sort of approach to fostering meaningful and appropriate culture in a community based around a website.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  38. Additionally, I find it very interesting that although there have been many white males who have been on both sides of the “is having mostly white males a problem” discussion on this article, close to 100% of the people who think the problem of “white male privilege” is unimportant or non-existent are white males. I guess it’s a good example of various psychological biases including fundamental attribution error, status quo bias, defensive attribution hypothesis, egocentric bias, ingroup bias, just-world phenomenon, outgroup homogeneity bias etc. Essentially, if you’re not being discriminated against or are part of the dominant group, it is harder to see that others are being discriminated against- though not impossible of course, as we see that many of the white males have agreed with Sara. It is also harder to see that exclusion of others might be a problem if you have a different viewpoint and do not belong to the dominant group. In addition, people tend to attribute their own success more to personal strengths, their own failures to outside forces, others’ successes to outside forces and others’ failures to their personal weaknesses. Certainly the idea that one’s own position in life is not 100% earned by personal strengths and that there may be others who are more deserving but are discriminated against is a difficult one to actively accept and the cognitive dissonance often (though not always) leads to the belief instead that the less powerful groups in society are truly less deserving and that that is why they are not achieving. And that redressing the balance is in some way causing “reverse discrimination” when it is actually redressing a gross imbalance or injustice.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  39. The part about the discrimination against webbies outside the USA definitely resonates with me.
    From the statistics which never cover my geo location to the lack of services and apps because it’s not offered in my country, it’s obvious that the web has a long way to go yet.
    As for your personal incidents of harassment - they were totally unacceptable but I think after expressing yourself here you’d know how to deal with those in the future.
    For any conference organizer who can, a concerted effort to include those outside of your continent will not only move us closer to the ideal of an all inclusive web but in the long term will actually satisfy even your most mundane capitalist needs.
    So.. as the world becomes even smaller what is required is a little more consideration, more respect and a wider frame of view - all of which doesn’t require any technological advancements.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  40. Reading through the aggressive comments leaves me feeling cornered, and not as open as I felt immediately after reading the article. Sara, I appreciate what you wrote. It takes courage to share an observation, as it opens you up to subjective-discussion. And the packaging on your message itself, gets ripped to optimized-shreds. As a man who minored in women’s studies in graduate school, I found there to be a fine line of discussion about bigotry and sexism that was difficult to have in large groups, and could often only be had one-on-one. Communication, concern, empathy, and understanding of the mutual parties are of paramount importance, in order to not have individuals feel attacked. It takes guts to share your stories. I’m glad you did. It has me thinking. I hope, if nothing else, it has others thinking, as well. Cheers, Sara.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  41. Thank you, Sara.  It takes courage to bring these things up, and it is so much easier to just let it go. In any public conversation about gender or racial inclusiveness, it seems there are always a few white men who get quite angry and defensive, vitriolic at worst, but usually employing cold logic to prove their point, and usually poor logic.  These are men who are taking the conversation personally.  I think it’s reasonable to want to defend oneself when one feels attacked, but I would love to find a way to get these men to stop, breathe, an open themselves to the larger conversation..  I think most of them would agree, if they felt safe, that diversity is a positive thing, and that we all have a role to play in supporting it.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  42. Thanks for sharing Sara, it is great to hear another woman in the web design industry share her experiences. Good on you for championing diversity, creativity and originality.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  43. Useful one. I have to translate this for the ru-net ))
    G+1 from me.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.