Since I’ve already been assailed as someone who preaches to the converted, chiefly at technology conferences, and since I have exactly one more of those scheduled, take the following as expert advice. I grow weary of the biannual call for more wymmynz speakers at technology conferences. This demand is presented under the guise of “diversity,” but that is a lie, one that even its proponents do not understand they are telling.

If you want diversity, then you want a diverse range of speakers at conferences. If you want 50% women (or, if proponents were more honest, 50%+1 to 100% women), then you aren’t interested in diversity. You’re interested in quotas and vengeance.

Nobody seems to be too concerned with the actual quality of the delivered speech. I have no available biological or neurological evidence that would explain why I am a better speaker than every single woman I have ever watched at a technology conference. Yes, every single one, and yes, I really am saying that. Your opinion may vary, and that’s fine; this is my site and I don’t have to articulate your opinion. But if you agree with me and are keen on dismissing the foregoing as an artifact of experience accrued through endemic sexism (“You’ve had lots of speaking engagements purely because you’re a boy”), keep in mind that I was a better speaker on my first outing. I’m a good speaker because I have talent. That’s why they hire me. It certainly isn’t because I speak on mainstream topics and am a dream to work with. I don’t and I’m not.

Beware unintended results

Knock me out of a lineup of a conference because I’m a boy and suddenly the number of out gay speakers drops to zero. (And nobody wants to talk about that – ever. Tech conferences have a don’t-ask/don’t-tell mentality.) Still committed to diversity?

If you take Anil Dash’s advice to heart and knock him out of a conference lineup because he’s a boy, suddenly the number of Indic bipolarist speakers drops to zero. Still committed?

A speaker lineup can be “diverse” even if it has zero women speakers. Or zero men. Sex is not the only criterion of evaluation even if some women, and one scrawny nerd, think it is.

There are actually surprisingly few male speakers, even A-list speakers on the circuit, who are not minorities in some way. Pretty much everybody but Derek is.

On the question of disabled presenters talking about Web accessibility: Nearly everyone working in the field has no disability or has a disability unrelated to actual Web accessibility. (Really, most disabled people just want to surf the Web, you know?) To use the classic example of blind people, I can count on one hand the number working in the field. Two of them are semi- or completely retired and all but one are guys.

If you want to hire a wheelchair user as a speaker, well, have you set up your stage, podium, and microphone to accommodate someone at that height? (There were three people in wheelchairs in the audience at Web Directions. But they were all guys, so they’re out of the running.) There are almost no deaf people with an observable interest in Web standards and accessibility, but do you really want to pay for interpreters for such speakers? (They’ll need a team of interpreters, at $70 to $120 an hour each, for the entire duration of a conference. Or they may need real-time captioning. Or both.) Still committed to diversity? The accessibility topic is a classic example of hiring people for what they know rather than what they are.

If you want diversity, then you should be agitating for equality of opportunity, not outcome. If you want a good conference, you should be agitating for good speakers, a lot of whom are men. If you don’t want either of those things, then here’s something else you don’t actually want: Diversity. Sorry if I have to be the one to break it to you.

And obviously I’m saying all this solely because I’m a male, which further means I am in the wrong.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.03.01 14:33. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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