March 14, 2007

no lists, just action - speaker diversity and the top-dog bypass

Chris Pirillo wonders why Gnomedex didn't make Kottke's list of conferences examined for their percentages of male vs female speakers.

I'd say it's a good thing Gnomedex didn't make the list, because, although it's an interesting idea to compare today's hot Internet conferences based on these percentages, it's sort of like addressing a zero balance in your bank account by changing the numbers in your checkbook register.

It doesn't really address the lllaaarrgggerrr ppprrrooobbllem.

I wish more tech conferences were like gnomedex, and that more of today's web-tech conference organizers were like chris and ponzi. Gnomedex was fostering discussion on the tech landscape LONG before today's webby conferences (and conference organizers), many of whom are doing what they do to capitalize on web 2.0 money, the Internet economy, and the social media 'who's who' scene.

THOSE are the conferences I inherently distrust and see as suspect, and they nearly always give me reason to distrust, because they almost always take the speaker bypass of looking at the technorati top 100 or Top Dogs or Founding FATHERS of blogging, and approach them for speaking slots. These individuals are STILL the easiest to come across when you skim the web looking for voices-as-commodity. They are also pretty good themselves at going after gigs. Easy, visible targets beget easy quick conferences beget money in pockets beget notoriety for speakers and conferences, which beget more speaking gigs and conferences.

Chris and Ponzi don't skim the web. They live here with us. They participate--participated before it was trendy and highly lucrative. That is why I trust them to put together a good, representative conference, and to listen to ideas for speakers and topics if people think they should do it differently.

Back to the Kottke list: There is no universal diversity percentage that makes things okay.

Wouldn't that be simple? It would allow for more bypasses, faster conference planning, and more predictable tracks. It would allow everything to be fair and just, and would mean that no one would have to think about their own beliefs and motives. Just fill in the 38% diversity quotient at work, and then you don't have to wonder if it's okay that you wish your new neighbors weren't black.

The "right" number of women speakers for a deeply-tech tech conference might differ from the "right" number for a social marketing conference. Because there is no right number.

Except for NOT ZERO.


Use your fucking heads.

How to find good speakers? Ask the people you know who are in the populations you think are sparse or missing. Better yet, START READING PEOPLE who don't look like everyone else in your aggregator or blogroll. Then read who they read.

And if you really don't know any women or people of color, expand your world a little bit. Get off your computer, get out of your fucking house, city, state, and/or cultural comfort zone to-day.

THEN plan a conference.