VR: Speak up or we’ll all be left out

Christina Heller, CEO of VR Playhouse (at podium) and Nonny De la Peña, CEO of Emblematic Group (at far right) are among the panelists speaking on VRDC 2016’s session Women Lead VR: Executives Discuss Content Creation and Diversity [Photo by Trish Tunney]

I’ve got to speak up before it gets out of hand. (And I hope I am not too late.)

As virtual reality grows as a medium and influencers begin to emerge, I can see the exclusion of women and people of color beginning to creep into this young, vibrant community.

We can’t let that happen… again.

I can honestly tell you that I wouldn’t be able to do VR today without the help and mentorship from this diverse community.

I wouldn’t be here without the help from Christina Heller, who let me go to her house so she could teach me the basics in 360-filmmaking. (Thank you.)

We all wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the work done by Nonny de la Peña, rightly earning her the title of “Godmother of VR.”

I was there at USC Annenberg when colleagues dismissed de la Peña and her immersive work. I, too, had my doubts and I am truly grateful she ignored the haters and proved us all wrong. (We all thank you!)

Women leadership in this field was a recent cover story for New York Magazine: In Virtual Reality, Women Run the World

Don’t get me wrong, men have helped me out too, like Thomas Wallner who was gracious enough with his lunch time during SXSW to build on what Heller had started and guide me on what gear to buy, and what “best practices” he’d started to figure out at the time.

There are so many people in this great community that have been proactive in helping each other grow together.

If you have been a part of this community, you know how diverse and inclusionary it has been — unlike other emerging technologies.

So you too have to speak up before it gets out of hand.

I originally wrote this post in mid-October just as VR 20/20 Summit kicked off it’s one-day event and of the 58 people listed to speak, only 15 of them are women. Scroll through the page and you’ll see that the vast majority of the speakers are white men.

Look, I wasn’t trying to bash the great work these men have done. Nor was I trying to bash the organizers of the summit (which has an advisory board of 9, with only one woman).

But I needed to speak up.

Yet… I didn’t.

After some tweets and writing this post, I decided to shelve it. Maybe I was being too sensitive. Maybe being too harsh.

I was wrong.

Today I decided to post this because next week VRX 2016 is happening in San Francisco.

Of the 96 speakers listed on their site, only 10 of them are women.

Ten.

That’s pretty appalling.

I have to speak up.

We all have to speak up.

This is the time in our growing industry that we’re all exchanging knowledge at VR conferences around the world, and whether we like it or not, those invited to speak will be made “VR influencers” shaping and defining this new community.

We all have to be in the game if we want to shape and define it, let alone change it.

It can’t be stressed enough: diversity is good for business.

You can’t have VR go mainstream by excluding half of the population. When there are countless diverse, active participants in every aspect of this industry — from content creation to hardware development to business to design to gaming to marketing and so much more.

If you aren’t having diverse speakers represented in your event, you’re coming up short.

And (I’m sorry but) I’m not buying the bullsh*t excuse that you can’t find diverse speakers.

There is not one but TWO Women in VR groups on each side of the pond and both have created a directory, making it easier to find qualified speakers.

http://bit.ly/womeninvrlist and http://bit.ly/wivrlist

They formed these groups early to proactively combat the recurring of exclusion. And, because of their early efforts,we’re going to be better for it.

But emailing them asking for help isn’t enough.

It is NOT their job to diversify your conference.

It is YOUR job to follow through to actually bring and include women and other communities into your event.

Here’s another tip: To help you keep diversity and inclusion in mind, make sure you have a diverse advisory board. Or staff.

This isn’t a new problem.

It seems like with every emerging technology there’s a moment that leads to influencers to be white male and everyone else left to stay in the audience.

And this problem isn’t limited to one industry.

Some of us remember sessions like the SXSW 2010 panel on the future of news (#newsfuture) that feature all five white male speakers. (The future of journalism includes women and people of color. Just take a look at my classroom and you get a sense of what is the real future.)

Or, not so long ago, the now incredibly diverse ONA conference lacked inclusion, which lead to the creation of the Diversity Journalism Project (http://diversify.journalismwith.me/) and initial 2013 Google Spreadsheet http://bit.ly/eJiONZ.

And speaking up worked.

At this last ONA16 conference, there were more women speakers than men. (We were pretty diverse in the VR Journalism sessions too!)

So, I am speaking up now.

And you should too.

It you’re invited to speak on a panel, ask the organizers what their gender and diversity breakdown is for the invited speakers.

It you’re on a panel, talk to your other panelists and make sure it represents the entire community.

If your panel is about to start and you just realized you are all dudes, take a moment to acknowledge the error.

And as we all proactively build this new medium together, take a moment and see if people of color and different sexual orientations are in the mix.

Don’t limit it to that, either.

Think about the diversity of geography or resources. Think about diversity of age and industry backgrounds.

If you believe in VR, you believe that VR will impact nearly every industry and potentially every aspect of lives — not just male ones.

We are all better when we acknowledge and include the existing diversity of our community.

So, please, speak up.

🔑Major key🔑 If you haven’t, listen and learn from this great VRDC 2016 panel: http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1023658/Women-Lead-VR-Executives-Discuss