Speaking About Diversity at Tech Conferences Can Be Discouraging

I just came back from the O’Reilly Fluent Conference in San Francisco this week and met some great people and got a chance to reconnect with those I already knew. I didn’t see as many talks as I would have liked to, since I was still working on my own slides and prepping (some day I’ll have them done earlier… well, probably not, let’s be real). The talks that I did see were fantastic and overall it was a great experience.

Yes, there is a “but” coming.

The talk that came before me, Accessibility in AngularJS and Beyond, was a very good talk, so the room was understandably packed, with people even sitting on the floor. And the focus on accessibility seemed like a good segue into my talk, Diversity in Tech: The Distorted Truth.

BUT as I watched everyone clear the room and not many more coming back in, I felt my heart drop. First, as I often do, I internalized it. “I’m a nobody, who wants to come see me speak?” “That’s what I get for not doing a technical talk.” “People are not going to respect me as a technical person if I keep giving these ‘soft’ talks.” Standing in front of all those empty chairs, I kept smiling and tried not show disappointment.

Note that there were other talks going on at the same time and Angular is generally a popular topic. However, I did a similar talk before and both times, the majority of the attendees to my talk were generally people who identify with being part of an underrepresented group. So I was basically preaching to the choir. Unfortunately, the “choir” can’t fix this issue on our own.

I spent a lot of time and effort putting the talk together. Losing sleep, adding to my already packed work schedule, flying in and out to the west coast in two days. I put myself out there by sharing personal stories and potentially burning bridges. For what?

I can at least take comfort knowing that I do it because it’s important to me and it’s important to the people that took the time to come. I’m able to present a different viewpoint on the topic that is not often shared. It was an attempt to spark a change instead of keeping it to myself, leaving the industry or just complaining about it. Even if it didn’t reach a wider audience as I had hoped, chatting with the attendees after the the talk reminded me of why I chose to speak on this topic.

At least I was able to let others know that they are not alone.


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