Beware diversity-led marketing (& three cheers for these companies doing diversity right)

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There’s an increased level of discussion on improving diversity in tech communities. Or maybe it was always there and I just started paying attention. Either way, it’s a really good thing. But in the mix there is definitely a certain amount of diversity-led marketing e.g “We need more women-in-tech! Women, sign up for this tech course here…”.  Some are more obvious than others.

What about tech conferences? Take the case of a tech conference getting some promotion off the back of free diversity tickets. Is that just diversity-led marketing and a bad thing? After all it’s great to get underrepresented folks into conferences, right? The answer is if it is done in isolation then it is probably just self-serving marketing and pr. Underrepresented folks aren’t merely props for your agenda

Diversity is complicated. It’s easy to get it wrong and end up like the conference organizers who violated their own code-of-conduct and had a speaker cancel their talk.  Or fall into the Google case of  trying to inspire teen girls to code while simultaneously systematically limiting the careers of women in your company.  Again diversity is complicated, so we all want to focus our energies on those doing it the right way.

Open source has a worse record than most when it comes to diversity.  At this year’s Eclipsecon Europe, as with every tech conference I attend, I did my own evaluation of what’s being done well and not so well. This year, I noticed a few companies who are doing something right as evidenced by the women and underrepresented minorities that are in leadership positions.

  1. IBM – IBM had a noticeably improved presence at this year’s conference. I learnt that they actively encouraged speaker proposals. If a talk is accepted, there are good company policies in place to ensure speakers can travel and attend the conferences. As a result we had four awesome women speakers from IBM, not just any speakers, but experts in their respective fields: Eclipse JDT leads Noopur Gupta and Sarika Sinha, Eclipse SWT committer Lakshmi Shanmugam and Eclipse Microprofile committer Emily Jiang.
  2. OBEOOBEO specialize in graphical modelling and are well respected in the community. Melanie Bats is one of the rockstars in the community, doing terrific and imaginitive tech talks and also recently took over as the Eclipse Planning council lead. OBEO recently promoted Melanie to CTO, which is written about beautifully here: Zero-to-CTO.
  3. BREDEX – BREDEX specialize in testing and are well represented at EclipseCon by the indefatigable Alex Schladebeck. Alex can be found leading the highly enjoyable Kahoot quiz at EclipseCon as well as heading up the Project Quality day. Doing great things in the testing world, it was great to learn that Alex has been promoted to  ‘Head of Software Quality and Test Consulting’ at BREDEX.

These three companies set a great example for the rest of us, not to mention make us better at our work as a community. Which brings me to the picture at the top of this blog post. I like to get setup really early before I do a tech talk, especially one in a huge room with a massive screen. So while getting setup, Jonah Graham of Kichwa Coders and Sarika Sinha of IBM got into a discussion about debugger protocols and threading issues. To discuss the finer points my laptop was commandeered and out came the code. It was one of those serendipitous moments and I didn’t want my pre-talk nerves to stop them. So I took a seat and took pictures while taking deep breaths. I think my talk went well anyway. That one conversation really informed our thinking on our work on the future of debuggers. And really it reminded me in a powerful way how things are always better the more different types of people you get involved. And little moments like these make it all worthwhile, and worth doing right, in the best way possible.

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