Let me start by saying that I am constantly pushing for more diverse representation in the technology community. There have been a number of cases where people failed in being inclusive not intentionally or because they meant ill will, but simply because they didn’t stop and try to be inclusive. It’s not something that happens naturally unless you actively make the decision. These social structures are ingrained in us — breaking them takes a lot of effort.
The tweet that started it all.
Nice speaker lineup for @Brit Ruby. Except for the 100% white guys part.— Josh Susser (@joshsusser) November 17, 2012
From this simple tweet to the entire conference being canceled as more people added on expressing displeasure, but I am not going to discuss the full details of the situation. There are plenty of other people that have discussed this issue at length. I am not even going to go over how we solve this diversity problem, because yet again plenty of people has explained how this is done. Instead, I will focus on how everyone lost out in the case of Brit Ruby.
No Lessons Learned
Nothing is better. The conference is canceled. No one pushed to repair the situation. Those who felt in the right to criticize and call people out still feel right. Those who felt in the right that all the speakers were white men still feel in the right. There was no good dialog between the two sides at the end of this. There was a lot of anger and bad feelings, and nothing good came out of it.
Ruby has, overnight, become a very ugly thing for me.— Kurtis R.G. (@krainboltgreene) November 19, 2012
A polarized community
Canceling the event seemed to increase the polarization of the community. Anger on both ends and really no meeting in the middle. When a discussion of you event ends up on /r/MensRights you have hit a point of no return (note the /r/ruby thread is full of horror). In fact, the first thing I said when I saw the event was canceled was; “Oh, shit this is going to seriously damage any future discussion on diversity.” My second thought was; “Fuck, I was gonna work on a proposal.” It seems like Brit Ruby died to become an anti-diversity martyr. Galvanizing those who already think of those of us pushing for diversity as a bunch of fun-hating harpies.
Hurt feelings all around
I don’t think anyone, no matter where you stand in this discussion, is happy that Brit Ruby was canceled. To me it’s the worst possible outcome from this series of events. Had they pushed forward and tried to remedy the situation by pulling in a bit more diversity with the other speakers they could have redeemed themselves. Had they pushed forward and ignored criticism they could have still had their conference. Hell, there have been plenty of other conferences that went on regardless of their completely white male speaker list. Who knows, they could even try better next year.
Twitter sucks for these discussions
Talking about diversity and equality is difficult and often very emotionally driven. 140 characters is hardly enough space to fully express oneself in a way that won’t come off offensive and text itself has a high tendency for misinterpretation. A conference is a perfect place to discuss these issues. It’s in person, it does away with tone miscommunication, and tends to reduce the number of trolls. When it comes to these issues I personally feel that how we discuss it is just as important as what we discuss. We need to be able to facilitate understanding and communication — rather than letting ourselves being perceived as trolls.