Saturday, September 02, 2006

The silver lining can be raised consciousness

My last post was about a current blogtroversy over a local conference with a heavily lopsided speaking roster. To the tune of 52 men and 1 women.

The conference organizer has gamely engaged on every battlefield, including writing his own plaintive post About a Chap. I'll let you read it without much comment, except to say that I'm not sure he does himself much good positioning his event as a bunch of friends sitting around having fun...not when early bird pricing just ended and now the cost to attend is a non-trivial $595. Dude, maybe you should have had an Office2.0Camp, not a conference.

He's asked for suggestions and more than one blogger has responded with suggestions. Perhaps the King of Suggestions is the Head Lemur who not only provided an initial list, but took it a step further and started doing some specific pre-season trading to improve the stats of the team. But the next step is definitely Ismael's...Tara, the Head Lemur, I and others have given him healthy lists...most of those women probably don't even realize their names are being bandied about. It's up to him now to research what they do and figure out where, if anywhere, some of them would fit. That's what conference organizers who are charging $595 a pop do.

But what's the bigger picture? What good might any of this brouhaha do? Well, maybe, hopefully it has something to do with this comment exchange I had on my last post:
Commenter (Vinnie): "Blogging and other social networking tools are such a wonderful gift to us - they should transcend so many historical barriers. I love the fact that I get emails from my blog readers in Argentina and India and Israel. If we can break that barrier, shame on us all if we cannot communicate more locally across sexual, racial lines..."

Me: "Your last paragraph says it all. We have an amazing opportunity with today's technological tools to reach across social lines of all sorts. When I think of the size of my personal network today vs. 10 years ago, it boggles the mind. But, it's still probably a conscious decision that drives us to expand our reach across lines that we don't cross in meatspace. Public debates like this one can raise our consciousness if we're willing to let them."

Here are some steps, and I hasten to clarify: this is not directed at Ismael. This could apply to many many people, situations, evidenced by the number of times I've blogged on similar issues over the last 2 years.

First: Diversity of population results in diversity of perspective and experience and imagination. I believe this is so, and I believe it matters. (And as Vinnie points out...there is more than gender diversity that ultimately matters.)

Second: If you don't believe it matters, just say so. Which means:

a. Please dial back the arrogance of thinking that a simple, single call for speakers on your blog is the equivalent of a test of the emergency broadcast system reaching every netizen.
b. Please stop billing your event as the very best and brightest speakers/thinkers on a subject, when they're really just the ones who are in your circle of friends or in their circle of friends. Please charge accordingly ;)
c. Please consider the subtle 'xx'-ism at play when you assume that proactively seeking speakers of color, or queer speakers or speakers over the age of 40 will result in a degradation of the quality of your event. Either you're saying that NO competent, qualified speakers from those groups exist, or you're saying you're unmotivated to find them...which is it?

Third: if you DO believe it matters too then:

a. Have some diversity on your planning or advisory team
b. Be completely open and up front that you want, no require a diverse population at your event.
c. Make sure that a significant number of your speakers are people you discovered while planning the event.
d. Make sure a significant number of your speakers are people who are not on the speaker circuit...take risks on fresh voices.

Fourth: You still have to live with the consequences. You won't make everyone happy. You still might not have enough of something. Some newbie speakers may turn out not to be polished, hell, some might turn out not to be cut out for public speaking after all. Live with it.

People often ask me what I would say if they planned a BlogHim. I always say this: "If you believe in it and are passionate about it...then do it and be willing to take the heat for it."

We take the heat for BlogHer...from various corners...and it doesn't change our big-picture belief in it. The heat can, however, change various ways we execute on that belief.

If you believe that diversity of population results in diversity of perspective and experience and imagination, and that that matters...then say so. Be that voice that says so. And act.

If you don't believe it...then say so too.

But I keep coming back to Susan Getgood who sees value in the continuing conversation about it, even when it's uncomfortable.

Value in being conscious. That's the silver lining, I hope, for everyone in this conversation.

Elisa, thanks for the kind words.

I truly believe, the only way to solve a problem is to talk about it. Ignoring things doesn't make them go away, whether it is a personal problem or a societal one. We often wish it would, but as my grandmother used to say, if wishes were horses than beggars might ride.

And it is hard being a squeaky wheel. But I will continue to be one, as I know you will. I think this quote says it far better than I ever could:

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when?"
Rabbi Hillel
Jewish scholar & theologian (30 BC - 9 AD)
You are welcome Susan. I've really admired many of your posts lately on the general subject of the web, women and consciousness.

Thanks for your sounds pieces of advice. I will do my best to incorporate them into the current event, and future ones I am involved with.

Best regards
Elisa, just an odd, humorous note: I did a double-take, no, a triple-take when I read this:

"the subtle 'xx'-ism at play when you assume"

XX-ism... I thought, is she making a chromosomal note? If so, then why XX and not XY? The context straightened me out, you're talking about [fill-in-the-blank]-ism.

My misunderstanding was kinda funny, in light of the larger set of circumstances.
Heh. Susan, that *is* funny.
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