The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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8:35am on Wednesday, 9th May, 2018:
My talk seemed to go well yesterday. People in the audience laughed, often in the right places, and no-one threw anything. I'll upload the slides to my web site when I get back.
There was actually some controversy about this event. I was contacted in advance of it by a reporter from the Times Higher Educational Supplement, asking if I was going to pull out. Apparently, there had been a minor storm on Twitter provoked by the observation that of the 89 speakers, only one was female. Essex University has a reputation for being a leading institution in the fight against sexism, so would I be withdrawing?
I said no, I wouldn't. Diversity is about more than just gender, although that's obviously an important one. The speaker list was just as ageist as it was sexist, for example. That said, the ethnic make-up, which would be very unrepresentative in the USA, was a fair reflection of the demographics of Poland.
What motivated me not to cancel, however, was the diversity you don't see in the photos. The diversity chip on my own shoulder concerns social class, which you can't see at all from headshots of speakers. There comes a point in any movement for social change when there's a switch from role-models to demands for equality of representation. Equality demands boycotts, but role modelling demands presence. Gender equality has reached the point where it can call for boycotts; social mobility hasn't. I don't see that losing a form of diversity that's struggling to be heard, so as to support another that already has many voices, helps either. Hence, I came here to do my bit.
As it happened, the assertion upon which this was based was false anyway. There were 30 speakers in Kraków, at least two of whom were women (both with talks about blockchain). That's still scandalously low, but often it's not individuals who are invited to speak at these events but companies; if the companies all decide to send men under 40 to speak, there's not a lot the organisers can do about it any more than the Eurovision Song Contest can prevent every country from sending songs with a key change two thirds of the way through. I was still one of only two speakers at this conference aged over 55, although I regard this as actually pretty good for an event about programming.
Also, I was first invited to speak at the conference last year. I couldn't make the dates, but I did check the web site at the time and it struck me that they had many more women speaking than I usually see at technology industry shindigs. This time round was bad for gender representation, but a mass boycott would have bankrupted the company and then there wouldn't have been any events that were good for gender representation, like the one last year (which may even be the norm).
Next time I receive an email from a THES reporter trying to stir things up, I don't think I'll reply.
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