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 putt myself out there by sharing personal stories and potentially burning bridges. For what?

Because it’s important to me and it’s important to the people that took the time to come. It was 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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