May 11, 2005

The Heterogeneity Issue, Part I: Pop!Tech

Update: the person mentioned below who is affiliated with Poptech is not an 'organizer' but instead is one of a 'loosely affiliated working group' that many people are apart of that do different things for Poptech.

This is a subject I haven't blogged about too much, though I've discussed with people in person. Diversity, homogeneity and heterogeneity are difficult issues, because it's easy to be misconstrued. I don't want favors for people due to their demographics or some sense that they are supposed to be included in order to create heterogeneity. I want people to be included because of their work, perspective or ideas. I'm not interested in quotas.

I choose conferences that see and talk about new and diverse ideas and perspectives. I also go to see people, but the first choice is around the conference material itself. I realize the world is much more interesting and broad than just my white female Bay Area perspective; it's a dead end without other ideas. I cannot survive doing work without knowing people and work beyond my own little world. However, not everyone needs to share this. They are free and welcome to make groupings of work and people from a singular perspective, and present these in conferences or anywhere else.

So when I choose a conference to go to, what I want are discussions, work, perspectives and ideas framed to reflect what they really represent.

After listening to Pop!Tech's sessions last fall, I blogged about how the conference was just in need of reframing. Okay, this was cheeky. But I don't believe in forcing a conference like that to change or telling them they are bad for not including people who are not white men. Rather, I want them to be honest about what they represent. They had mostly white males presenting last year, with one woman and one black man, and so, Pop!Tech 2004, in addressing "The Next Renaissance" was really addressing the next renaissance from the perspective of white men, about white men's experiences with the concept of it.

For 2005, the Pop!Tech theme is Grand Challenges..

Sounds really great. I'd love to listen to people exploring great challenges.

But here too, it's not all humanity that Pop!Tech is addressing or giving perspective from.. it's from the perspective of mostly white men. Nothing wrong with that. Currently on their site, they have 12 speakers, with 2 that are women (one appears to be Indian), two Indian men. So they have 16% women, and 25% non-white. That's fine. Just frame the conference as addressing "grand challenges" from the perspective of *mostly* white men.

After I wrote the Pop!Tech post last fall, I was talking with one of the people who helps with it in a loosely affiliated working group (note, this sentence was updated). He told me he'd read my post, and didn't understand why women complained about not having women speakers at conferences. He thought that women should just make their own conferences if they wanted to speak. I said in response, you mean, separate but equal? I think he got it, that this was a silly way to see things.

The point is, if you purport to represent the world, and cover the world, in your conference or discussion, then do it by including people who are beyond your demographic, and work that goes beyond your demographic (and there is lots of amazing work out there by folks who happen to have other perspectives), for projects and ideas covering other worlds than yours. This isn't about forcing a change, it's about being honest about what you're perspective is.

Right now, Pop!Tech doesn't appear to have changed much over last year, though they have slightly higher participation from non-white males right now. However, when they post the full 30 speakers they intend to showcase, they will need to have many more people with different perspectives if they expect us to believe they cover the whole world. Though, to show they have women, they've put one of the two woman at the top of the speaker's list. See the image below, but note the list is vertically placed on the Pop!Tech page:


Posted by Mary Hodder at May 11, 2005 10:04 AM | TrackBack

As usual Mary you write a post that begs for more than a brief comment.

Obviously this is top of my mind as we've been putting the BlogHer conference agenda together.

So I wrote my rather lengthy thoughts around your post here:

Posted by: Elisa Camahort at May 16, 2005 09:14 AM