Opinion: Moving Forward from ISTE19’s All-White Panel

Roxanne Desforges
Jul 2, 2019 · 3 min read

Backlash following an 11-person, all-white panel at ISTE 2019 blew up on Twitter this past week.

To date, there are 175 comments in this thread. Most comments answer the question in Kelly’s tweet, while others elaborate to connect the lack of diversity in conference programs to the lack of diversity in school staffing.

Diversity and inclusion is everyone’s responsibility

An important sentiment that I want to focus on is something Ken Shelton addresses with Matt Miller (@jmattmiller), the panel’s organizer.

I agree with Ken. More checks are needed and it starts with each of us. It is each panelist’s responsibility to speak up about the diversity on a panel and ensure the quality of the panel’s discussion. It cannot only be left up to conference program committees to do this work.

A panel is by definition meant to represent diverse perspectives. An authentic diverse perspective comes from different lived experiences and identities. If you’re on a homogeneous panel or program then it’s not just unethical, it’s uninteresting, and likely, ineffective. Whereas a diverse panel adds inherent value and much-needed and desired insight.

A strategic ‘no’ can send a strong message

One of the more inspiring ways I’ve seen a problematic panel be declined with purpose is when Alex Megelas wrote this:

I appreciate how some conferences have incorporated diversity criteria into the program submission form. Processes that integrate checks like these can help to improve programs and the quality of content in general. But we still need more checks.

What can EdTech do to support diversity in education

EdTech organizations have a role to play. In recognition of the work that needs to be done, the ETIN conference invited notable Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) specialist Farzana Nayani to speak at the industry conference this year. Members had the opportunity to gain insight into how they can build their teams, operations, and communications to reflect their principles and create greater value for schools as a result. When organizations live, breathe and operate according to their values they build better products and more authentic communications for their stakeholders. These efforts enable EdTech organizations to be more effective while also contributing to the systemic efforts for change needed within education and society.

Still, we can do more. For example, sponsored conference panels and paid programming should not be exempt from meeting diversity criteria. On the exhibit floor, I visited several booth presentation spaces to see all-white programs. One astounding 3-day program with 15 speakers and not a single person of color. We can’t wait for conferences to change their policies and submission processes. EdTech companies, influencers, and practitioner-presenters need to triple check themselves. These faster-acting and agile actors within our education ecosystem need to set the pace for change.

What is certain is that we will see more and more cases where a lack of diversity will be called out and publicly renounced. This is an important part of how individual people change a dominant culture together. Another way to promote diversity is for organizers, panelists, EdTech organizations, conference committees, submission processes, and the public all to take their responsibility of checking for diversity seriously. The cost of not speaking up is at its highest and climbing.

Two valuable additional resources on this issue by Ken Shelton and Matt Hiefield:

https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-06-18-going-to-a-tech-conference-make-sure-to-focus-on-what-matters

https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-03-12-it-s-time-edtech-conferences-stopped-ignoring-equity-and-race

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