Where is the diversity in social media conferences?

August Wilson Center diversity grand opening
photo credit: daveynin

I seem to be on a roll in my pot-stirring ways. Not only have I wagged my finger at Alex Samuel for meta-hand-wagging the hand-waggers, but I also asked the question about diversity in social media conferences over at One Degree. Alexa Clark asks why aren’t there more women in conference rosters (I’m going to assume, given that it’s published on One Degree, that we are going to narrow the scope to tech/social media/public relations – we could talk about science and technology too, or medical or environment, but I’ll just make that bold assumption).

I threw in two comments that, more or less, imply that if we were to look for diversity, we need to broaden the conversation beyond gender and include race and sexual orientation, as well as ask why are we inviting the same women to speak all the time. Surely, there is a gender imbalance in many professions and I wouldn’t be surprised that this is the case in the speaking circuit. In my comment, I did note, however, that all the potential speakers I recommended for TEDxVancouver were women, and that the person who has influenced me the most in how good a speaker I want to become is Glenda Watson-Hyatt, a Vancouver-based blogger and consultant on accessibility who has cerebral palsy. My mother has been one of the most influential people in my life and many of my best friends (and most articulate speakers) are women.

But, as very aptly said by Tamera Kremer (and I’m not saying this because she said “this is why I love you, Raul“) –

Diversity actually means diverse voices too. And I also would throw in that while lack of women’s voices is a HUGE issue, we should also be talking about opening the field beyond white/ straight/ physically capable. Let’s define what being truly diverse really means.

Tamera is absolutely right. Why isn’t there a conversation around diversity and what it means both in general for the speakers circuit and for the social media world overall? As usual, have at it on the comments section.

Related posts:

  1. Ken Herar Cycling For Cultural Diversity
  2. #NetCulture”: Stories of Culture and Diversity in Social Media (April 5th)
  3. Social Media Club Vancouver launch
  4. My recent Social Media Club Victoria talk: “Towards an Action-Focused Agenda for Social Change Using Social Media” (#smcvictoria) @smcvictoria
  5. On the relationship between mainsteam media, social media and academia 1: Mainstream media and social media’s complex relationship

Comments (20)

Tris HusseySeptember 3rd, 2009 at 5:04 pm

This is one of those topics that it can be hard for a straight, white, getting old, male to answer, however undaunted…

You’re right we don’t hear from enough people. And by the same token having a conference for example for gay Latino men that excludes everyone else, isn’t the answer either.

I think when we’re planning speaking rosters we have to ask ourselves are we considering the best person to speak on that topic or are we taking the easy route and staying within our comfort zone. Maybe at BlogHer the absolute best person to talk about WordPress is a guy. Maybe the best person to speak at Web 2.0 Expo on MySQL is a woman.

These aren’t easy things to tackle. There are lots of people who are awesome at talking about both the above topics, men and women. I can think of at least five people for each … and on WordPress the first three folks I’m thinking about are women.

This Raul is a great commentary on how we, as a society, value knowledge. Who bears it, who passes it on, and who caretakes it. I’m assuming that we’ll be talking about this more IRL, and that you’ll be buying the beer. ;-)

GangaSeptember 3rd, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Great topic, Raul! It is also one of my pet peeves that wherever I see the topic of diversity, it is mostly about women’s groups. This has been the case in places I’ve worked in the past as well.

To show that they encourage diversity, organizations proudly display pictures of men and women (more of the latter) and people with different skin colours. Not that I’ve got anything against that, but it’s just that there is more to diversity!

You’re right in mentioning race and sexual orientation. There is also the other dimension to diversity which is physical abilities, or the lack of. I’m hard of hearing, and it has been a struggle getting my needs noticed. I struggle in conferences and social situations where I cannot face the speaker. I manage by a combination of lip-reading and hearing aids, and always try to grab a seat in the front row.

Glenda was right in pointing out during the recent Wordcamp Fraser Valley (now, that was diversity) that 18% of the population have a disability. Not surprising, since 13% are believed to be hard of hearing.

scribe called steffSeptember 3rd, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Speaking as probably one of the diverse and opined, I don’t feel like I belong at social media mixers, really. I don’t feel like part of “that” crowd. I blog and tweet because I’m compulsive about writing and recording my thoughts. From a somewhat-outsider’s perspective, the social media scene in THIS town sometimes seems as cannibalistic as it is supportive.

Personally, as a latecomer to the Vancouver social media scene, I think shit needs to get a whole lot less cliquey if it’s to diversify.

And if I feel that way, I imagine different races/ethnic diversities probably feel even less like the door’s open.

Back to me, though. If “diverse” can mean simply in social perspective and cultural mores, then I also feel like the black sheep in the crowd. I mean, shit, I ran a blog called The Cunting Linguist and I have the moniker of @smuttysteff on Twitter, I’m not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. When it comes to blogging seminars, my experience is bafflingly odd, and despite my past successes, I’m as ignorant as they come on the tech side.

But I can write.

So that makes me more of a writer than a social media type, because I feel completely out of my element when I come out and all I hear you guys talking about are social media buzzwords and tech stuff. For a lot of the “social media scene”, it seems about making money. For me, it’s not.

I don’t CARE about brand. I don’t CARE about click-through rates. I care about the communication, and that leaves me feeling like the odd romantic out, too.

That said? I’ve met some goddamned awesome people among the Vancouver crowd. I’m just saying, there are some awfully complicated dynamics at work in this social media sphere, and it’s tricky to wade into waters where Everything is public.

Final thought?

Why not try to actively recruit these diverse ones? I mean, surely these events have ORGANIZERS? Why not extend that open hand and say, “Hey, we’d love you to shake up our mix.” and see where it leads?

That’s my last two cents. :)

Oh. And I’m hard of hearing. So, yeah. I guess that “officially” diversifies me?

Tris HusseySeptember 3rd, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Ganga & Steff you two brought up an excellent point: hearing. I’m not hard of hearing, but I’m getting into middle age and so hearing in large crowds can be, well, hard. I’ve found at a lot of recent tweet ups etc that they are LOUD. After about 30 mins I just want to find a quiet corner and chat with people.

I think this is one of these reasons I’m interested in a more “intellectual” Sunday morning(ish) social media coffee kind of group. I want to be able to sit down with people and talk. I want to be somewhere where people don’t have to struggle to get around to talk or strain to hear.

Maybe I’m being selfish, but I think one of the first steps to diversity might be a diversity of opportunities, ways, and venues to get together.

atomicpoetSeptember 3rd, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Sounds great in theory, but my experience with LiveJournal is that if obsess over social privilege, things turn to shit. For everyone who legitimately needs empowerment, there are always special snowflakes who have the illusion everyone should cater to them. There’s a reason LiveJournal I inhabited only by slash writers, furries, and otherkin.

Glenda Watson HyattSeptember 3rd, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Amen,Raul! I am amazed by the richness of those using social media and the ingenious ways it is being used. Yet, when I look at the speaker rosters, it is the same familiar names over and over – no offense to them, a few of which I could listen to all day. However, in a sense, doesn’t that mean social media is following in the steps of traditional media in that a select few are controling it, or, in this case, speaking/teaching about it?

Raul, in my own work, I’ve noticed that diversity and inclusion are two different things, particularly in the US, and I have no clue why. Diversity seems to relate to gender and ethnicity; inclusion is disability and accessibility. I’m not sure where sexual orientation is “placed”, if it is.

Steff, I hear ya! I’ve definitely seen a shift in blogging in the few years since I’ve started – at least from where I’ve been watching. Its less about the writing, the richness in different voices and personal experiences (first-person stories), and more about monetizing, affiliates, ads. Or perhaps I’m reading the wrong blogs!

Tris, I love your idea of Saturday morning-ish/early afternoon coffee get-togethers. Darrell and I attended one Vancouver tweetup at a fancy wine bar and were totally snubbed! How can you go to a tweetup and meet no one? Sitting around a table, chatting, where you can hear and be heard sounds way more appealing.

Having said all that — it hasn’t been officially announced yet (so standard caveat applies: subject to change), but I’m presenting at BlogWorld! Perhaps another point to this whole discussion is that we “diverse” folks need to put our hands up more to be included on the speaker rosters.

P.s. Thank you for your kind words about my presentation, Raul. ;)

LivSeptember 3rd, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Very worthwhile topic to discuss. I totally agree with Tris that ultimately, the best and most compelling speakers should get the gig but by what measures and whose standards do we count as the best? If this measurement is only created and judged by only one set of people, or “clique” as Steff mentions, then most likely the end result would be still homogeneous voices.

As a woman of colour working in this field, I don’t expect special treatment, a handout or sympathy. What would be nice though is to see more diversity in speakers and leaders to set examples for those to come (as well as someone young like myself). however, I don’t expect this to magically happen, and ultimately, it’s up to individuals like us to stand up and push for that. For those of us in the minority or the fringe, we need to take some responsibility too for having our voices heard.

Chet WoodsideSeptember 3rd, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Having a hard time putting my thoughts into words on this.

Perhaps a change in how speakers are recruited is in order, maybe nameless briefs. Submissions could be tied to abstract alphanumeric usernames and an individuals social tombstone data could be excluded from the submission review process. This may help people involved with speaker selection pick the quality submissions first and foremost.

CecilySeptember 3rd, 2009 at 10:19 pm

I’m going to disagree with Tris’ comment about having conferences for gay Latino males not being the answer.

I’ve said this many times, but it’s a concept that people in the majority have a hard time grasping. I’m going to say it again at the risk of being repetitive.

There are times where people who are in the minority need safe spaces where they can work through the issues that affect their communities without worrying about assuaging majority guilt or hurting feelings of well-intentioned members of the majority. It’s also a good lesson for people to learn that all spaces aren’t meant for them, and in some cases, that is perfectly OK.

Is it *the* answer? No, but it is *an* answer to the seemingly endless question of diversity. That’s why I support conferences like Blogging While Brown and BlogHer, because people got tired of their legitimate concerns being taken as whining, and they decided to build their own damned conferences that are focused on their specific audiences. Brava to them both.

I mean, if you really think about it, Northern Voice is one such conference. I’m assuming that people got tired of blogging conferences being so US-centric, so they decided to do their own thing north of the border, but no one blinks an eye when you name drop NV.

Why aren’t there more discussions about diversity? Because it’s awfully hard to see the margins from the centre, and until more marginalized voices can fight their way to the centre and make changes to the status quo, that won’t likely change.

[...] media” scene when I read the always-awesome Raul/Hummingbird604’s blog post on same [Where is the Diversity...?] earlier today. First off, I should say I think that getting out to “tweet-ups” through [...]

Tris HusseySeptember 4th, 2009 at 6:14 am

Cecily, you are right it’s hard for us in the majority to grasp that need, since for straight, white, males pretty much anywhere we go we can feel like that. So the experience of feeling excluded is a new thing for us. I think you’re right specific conferences are part of the answer and not the answer. I also think doing something like having a men’s only conference only also isn’t the answer. That said I’d love to have a blogging dads conference …

isabella moriSeptember 4th, 2009 at 8:06 am

raul, i’m glad you broached this topic.

inclusion AND diversity, once we go beyond the obvious, are very difficult, one of the reasons being what tris mentioned – it’s HARD to grasp.

it’s like fish trying to understand why humans fear drowning, or a grasshopper trying to grasp what’s so good about living under a rock 200 m deep in the ocean.

or wait! in most cases that would be the wrong metaphor – because a grasshopper sees no need to imagine the life of an undersea creature.

or wait! THAT’s what social media and blogging are – theoretically – so good for: hearing/seeing/reading what “those other” people live like, love, hate, and laugh about.

re blogging dads, tris (and steff) (and rob) – one of the reasons why social media here in vancouver is clique-y (and it’s not terribly clique-y but still noticeable) is because the vast majority of people who can get together at steamrollers on a thursday evening at an hour’s notice are single, mobile people, who live and/or work downtown.

a south vancouver grandma like me, or rob who has two little kids – well, it’s hard for us to do that. so the cliquishness comes from different lifestyles, among other things. added to that are the unique social skills and habits that social media types display.

lots of stuff to talk about here. i feel a blog post coming on …

Andre MalanSeptember 4th, 2009 at 10:11 am

I don’t know if you have read this Raul, but D’Arcy Normon described similar things in his post about OpenEd09 here: http://www.darcynorman.net/2009/08/20/on-the-open-education-experience/. there are 35 comments, many of which are very insightful.

diversity and inclusionSeptember 4th, 2009 at 10:11 am

[...] a little more from raul’s blog. the topic raul broached was diversity. by the way, those of you who are not engaged in social [...]

LoreneSeptember 4th, 2009 at 12:19 pm

If you’re looking for a good presenter/speaker (or person for a job, candidate, etc) don’t assume that it’s not a person of colour, Aboriginal, lesbian/gay/transgendered/bisexual, a person with physical/mental challenges, a young person or a woman.

I want to challenge the assumption that it’s lowering the standards to include diversity. Too often I’ve heard the comment about wanting the best – and it’s from people who do not want to include anyone who doesn’t fit what they see as the norm.

Providing different opportunities to include people is a good thing. Sometimes it means providing a safe, welcoming space for people who have been marginalized so they have a chance for their voices to be heard.

We all benefit from sharing and helping each other – and I find I learn so much when I hear about different experiences. That’s what I like about social networking.

Alfred DePewSeptember 4th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Diversity! A subject close to my heart. In my world, we talk about it in terms of Deep Democracy, a term Arnie Mindell came up with and has given us permission to use at the Center for Right Relationship. People of seemingly similar cultural backgrounds have astonishing diversity when we listen for it–so I want to hear more diversity within as well as among. More on this at a later date. Thanks for bringing this up.

TylerSeptember 4th, 2009 at 1:47 pm

I dont know if my comment is meant for this thread but I noticed how people have said how some of the get-togethers are loud, or clique-y. I personally like when things are quieter so I can concentrate on what is being said. Too much mingling and I have troubles keeping tabs on conversations in front of me. If there is music blaring away, good luck at me remembering anything that people have said, my hearing tends to focus on music over conversation.

Again if this isn’t part of the discussion here, just ignore me but…I still don’t feel like I belong at the meetups etc that have to do with Social Media. I don’t know why, but when I do go I tend to be shy and sit in the corner or something and just observe everything around me. I then start to think.. Why am I here? I’m just not social enough I guess offline. Oh well, I’m working on getting out more to these things and being not so shy.

When I was living out in the valley I did find it odd that a lot of the meetups were at 5pm downtown, or anything happened at 5pm no matter the location. How many people in the normal work area are able to get off work in time for a meetup at 5pm? Does the majority of people not work the typical 9-5 jobs these days? Then again while I’m laid off of work collecting EI, I do like the ability to head to things whenever…. ok I’ll stop now :)

RobynSeptember 4th, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Steff, your comments below really hit home:

“So that makes me more of a writer than a social media type, because I feel completely out of my element when I come out and all I hear you guys talking about are social media buzzwords and tech stuff. For a lot of the “social media scene”, it seems about making money. For me, it’s not.I don’t CARE about brand. I don’t CARE about click-through rates. I care about the communication, and that leaves me feeling like the odd romantic out, too.”

You’re not the only odd romantic out! ;)

For myself, I feel like I’ve always been involved with online communities here in Vancouver, all the way back when BBS’s were the only method of connecting online, back before we called it social media, web 2.0… back before buzzwords and seminars and WordPress and social media “gurus”.

The internet for me has always been inherently social, except now it seems that the medium has become the message. And boy is it ever hyped!

And I suppose that’s what puts me off. I’m personally not interested in discussing the medium of social media, I’m interested in the content they contain. I’m not interested in business ventures – I do this for… wait… FUN. Yeah, that’s right. I write content on blogs and use social media for fun!

And yet I feel like an inherent outsider because of this. I feel commpletely aliented by it all… and it’s the social media scene here in Vancouver completely intimidates me most of all.

And that’s from a girl who used to organize Mindlink meetups at 15, #Vancouver IRC meetups at 17, and have been contributing to online discussion forums and blogs of one form or another for the past 12 years. I’m interested in discussing ideas, but when marketing through social media becomes the actual topic of discussion, I no longer feel like I belong.

Tessa HorehledSeptember 4th, 2009 at 10:32 pm

There are many industries… the two I have interacted with the most are technology and entertainment… that are still primarily male dominated. Often white males.

I think there are a number of reasons for this but the only actual solution I find for this is for the minorities (whether it be sex, race, or other) to be more aggressive in pursuing these opportunities. Sad as that may be. We have to create the landscape that will embrace the equality. Look at your audience.

AdamSeptember 7th, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Raul – great post. Funny how such a short piece got so much commentary going!

Cecily I agree with what you said: “There are times where people who are in the minority need safe spaces where they can work through the issues that affect their communities without worrying about assuaging majority guilt or hurting feelings of well-intentioned members of the majority.”

What struck me after reading the comment above was that in a social world, none of us really have anything to complain about: if you can’t find something that caters to your “Tribe” then just go out and build something of your own. Make it exclusive if it needs to be in order to serve your purpose, just make sure you do something about the need.

Personally I’ve started blogs, groups, events and so on over the years whenever I belonged to a group that didn’t have an event, blog or whatever to rally around. It’s so easy to do this today but it takes initiative.

So if you don’t like the scene at Vancouver social media events, then take Cecily’s advice and start something of your own. Lead the tribe so to speak.

Again, great article and cool to read the many, interesting and diverse opinions here. This is why I like being a part of the Vancouver community: diversity and interesting opinions and people!

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