Our first diversity report
We’re calling on other civic technology organizations to join us.
Over the last few years major technology companies including Facebook, Apple, and AT&T have begun publishing an annual “diversity report” that includes the proportion of their employees who are women and people of color. The reports have become an important part of holding the technology industry accountable to ending workplace discrimination and, in turn, to creating technology that benefits all people.
The civic technology community —those of us using technology to address problems in the civic space — has long been concerned about whether our services are helping everyone equitably. And we have the same history of workplace discrimination and harassment as other parts of the technology industry. Yet we’ve done little of significance to hold ourselves accountable to overcoming these problems. There are some examples of public accountability, including:
- BetaNYC posts report-backs after events including gender demographics of attendees
…and that’s everything I’m aware of. (Know of another example? I’ll update this post.)
Instead we have think-pieces and drive-by’s. Earlier this year Civicist published Can Racial Equity Unlock Civic Tech’s Superpowers by Mariana Ruiz Firmat, co-founder and director of Kairos. The post raised important questions about racial equity in work like ours and called out GovTrack by name as an example of a civic technology organization “likely perpetuat[ing] barriers for those who are already marginalized.” Citing a mySociety report on civic tech user demographics that made sweeping and unsubstantiated generalizations, the post claimed that users of websites including ours “tend to be white, college-educated men over 45.” But the data didn’t show that, at least not the data about GovTrack users.
What does a diversity report mean for civic technology?
Today we’re publishing our first diversity report, including information about both our staff and our users. And we call on other organizations in the civic technology community to do the same.
We’re following the technology industry’s format of looking within, but we’re adding to that demographic information about who we serve — our website’s users.
We’re also including multiple baselines. First, we’ll include the population at large and the voting-age population. And while those are important, the population at large is explicitly not our target audience — see below. Second, we’ll also include a comparison to a next-best alternative to our service. With a budget little more than a rounding error, we simply aren’t going to make any real dent on deep societal issues like racial equity. But we should at least be moving the needle in the right direction when compared to alternatives.
GovTrack in 2017
GovTrack has no full time staff. We have four part-time team members. Our team members are 75% men, 100% white, and somewhat evenly distributed in age between approximately 25 and 50. Our management consists of one person who is a white, 35 year old cis man.
GovTrack serves a wide audience. By the numbers, most of our visitors are members of the general public looking for information about their representative and senators in Congress or bills on issues they care about. We also serve students and teachers at all levels, journalists, and legislative professionals including lobbyists and other advocates who can’t afford subscription services, federal/state/local agencies, small businesses, and congressional staff.
Looking back: The mySociety study, which was done in partnership with us in the summer of 2015, found that our users were 48% women, 52% men (statistically even) and that they tended to be older and more educated. Racial diversity was not reported because we didn’t ask our users about that.
Here is the latest information we have about the demographics of our users.
Using Quantcast (see report), over the last 30 days we had approximately 700,000 unique visitors. Those visitors were:
- 55% women
- 76% white (the U.S. voting-age population is about 70% white)
- 75% college educated
Here’s the full data (these are screen grabs from Quantcast). The right-hand column compares the composition of our users to the U.S. average. Blue bars indicate over-representation of a group. The over-represented groups are women, people aged 18–34, those with income more than $50,000, college educated people, and Asian and Hispanic people.
The numbers fluctuate from week to week.
Here’s information from our Facebook page, which shows our “fans” are 59% women:
If GovTrack did not exist, where would our users go for the same information? There are several other sites, but the most interesting comparison that has data on Quantcast to compare to is Politico.com, the leading news source for federal politics. Quantcast reports Politico’s users are 73% men (28 percentage points higher), 82% college educated (7 percentage points higher), and 80% white (4 percentage points higher).
(Congress.gov, the nearest site to ours in functionality, does not have data on Quantcast.)
The demographic data about our users shows that we’re strong in some areas and have more work to do in others. Our users tend toward being women and younger than 35. People of color are not proportionally represented when compared to the U.S. voting age population, especially black people. But when compared to a (roughly) comparable information source (Politico), we’re at least hopefully moving the political information space in the right direction. As for our staff, we could do a lot better.
Our mission is to bring useful information about the United States Congress to as wide an audience as possible. Our theory of change is that by adding explanations to information about the U.S. Congress and tools to help our users efficiently explore it, we lower the barrier to entry into the political space and that this disproportionately helps those who need the most help.
We won’t be done until we help those who are in the most need of the sort of help we can provide. So, we’ll never be done and there are always ways we can do better — and we look forward to doing them.
We also hope that other civic technology organizations publish similar information about their work and that we can all take a look together next year at the numbers and see whether or not we’ve been committed to making our teams and our services more representative of and accessible and helpful to those we are serving.
This post was written by GovTrack founder Joshua Tauberer.