Zeldman [speaks out](http://www.zeldman.com/2007/02/25/gender-and-ethnic-imbalance-in-web-design/) regarding his opinion on gender balance in web design, at least as far as conference speakers are concerned, agreeing in essence with Jason Kottke. Jason has made an [informal analysis](http://www.kottke.org/07/02/gender-diversity-at-web-conferences) of gender balance in recent conferences, the results of which he apparently feels is an accurate indicator of how seriously conference organizers take the issue.
This type of thing pisses me off. First of all, what is the actual problem here? Are women being pushed aside? Are conference organizers actually discriminating against women here? And I do mean discriminate: choosing a man instead of a women to speak *because* he is a man and she is a woman. I just don’t believe that’s the issue.
Is the issue that some people *feel* that there is an imbalance, that there *should be* a balance, and wish to force that balance on everyone? Because, conference organizers: if you don’t start balancing your speaker lists right now, you’re going to get labeled by the elite non-discriminatory community (uhhh, the Rainbow-Boy-Girl club?).
Now, don’t get me wrong, Zeldman is my *hero*, and I respect and value his opinion, as I’m sure he would respect mine. He didn’t even say much on the subject yet; I’m interested in his further clarification. And I haven’t a thing against Kottke. However, although Kottke’s list of percentages of gender differences in conference speakers appears sound, he utilizes too little data, which is dangerous and confuses the issue. This is important, because now his informal study is being cited.
Here’s the problem. Both of these gentleman allude to the concept of balance in the number of female/male speakers in conferences. Okay, fine. But what is “balance”, and who decides this? I don’t know about you, but if you make websites for a living, look around your workplace. How many women are there? Exactly. Balance, in my opinion, would reflect the actual landscape of the subject being covered, and that’s not 50/50 here. The problem is when we assume that the percentages in Kottke’s report reflect that something is wrong in the first place, without defining what right and wrong really are. And let’s look at some real data about how many women are actually tripping over each other to become web developers.
I’ve never seen an indication that women are less dedicated or ambitious than men, and a good percentage of my clients are women. That’s right, in case anyone is wondering “where the women are”, they’re often telling me what to do, and paying me for it. If any of the women I know wanted to get into web design, they’d probably achieve it more quickly than I did. And the same resources are available to them.
And what about speaking? Not everyone who works in web design wants to speak. So imposing a “balance” on speaker lists (when that balance is probably there naturally), will only be a disservice to qualified female and male speakers alike. Are there self-respecting female experts out there who’d rather be invited to speak based on the conference organizer’s desire to please the politically correct and achieve a balanced speaker list, or rather based on their knowledge, experience, and plain old hard work? Do you think [BlogHer](http://www.blogher.org/) really want to get men on board (oh, yes, balance means balance, or does it?)?
If the goal is to treat women and men equally, and as long as you’re not deliberately choosing men over women, let’s give women the same respect we give men: hire a woman because she fits the bill, not the numbers.
I ask you this: Where are all the half Puerto Rican, curly-haired American expatriate male speakers without trendy facial hair?
More on this subject, ad nauseum? Here’s a well-balanced list with both sides of the story: the right side, and the wrong side. Since we hold the seemingly politically incorrect view, I, Eric and Tantek (Turkish. Oops! Nothing to do with gender!) and many others are, of course, automatically wrong.
Isn’t life simple?
The two cents of:
– [Anil Dash](http://www.dashes.com/anil/2007/02/23/the_old_boys_cl)
– [Jenifer Hanen](http://www.blackphoebe.com/msjen/archives/2007/02/on_conferences.html)
– [Tantek Çelik](http://tantek.com/log/2007/02.html)
– [Eric Meyer](http://meyerweb.com/eric/thoughts/2007/02/23/diverse-it-gets/)
– [Shelley Powers](http://burningbird.net/diversity/diversity-isnt-importantand-neither-is-standards-nor-accessibility/)
– [Tim O'Reilly](http://www.dashes.com/anil/2007/02/23/the_essentials_#comment-144598) (Anil posts about an imaginary conference in which discrimination against *male* speakers is apparently tolerated and encouraged, unless the men have developed the new [Flickr](http://www.flickr.com). Tim posts in the comments.)
– [Dave Shea](http://mezzoblue.com/archives/2007/02/24/homogeneity/) Dave’s post includes a few more links than I have listed here.
Enjoy the madness!