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Why Brit Ruby 2013 was cancelled and why this is not ok

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Why Brit Ruby 2013 was cancelled and why this is not ok

This is my post-mortem of why the conference was cancelled - it isn't an official statement

  • It was pointed out on Twitter that the lineup so far is white males.
  • This became frenzied and shared with allegations of racism/sexism.
  • This put the sponsors in an awkward position regarding commitment to the conference.
  • This meant the venue contract couldn't be signed because of a potential lack of financial security.
  • Since the team can't be personally liable for the costs, there was a hard decision to be made.
  • That decision was: cancel.

Now. This position is a bad one to be in. But given that running a conference like this costs thousands of pounds, you'd have all done the same thing when faced with the question "Do you want to be personally financially liable?"

"Hell no"

And this is where we find ourselves.

The Brit Ruby team has put in over a year of relationship building and hard work to get to this point. Everyone involved has a day job and a life and makes no money out of organising it.

The Manchester tech community was very excited about Brit Ruby - it's a symbol of the technological power that the city (and the UK) is working hard to grow. And it's something we're very proud of. We love this city and we want to bring as many high profile speakers here to meet the local devs. It's about making friends and relationship building.

And here it is, brought down by careless words.

Yes, gender equality and racial equality are important. But the team's motives were to get the best speakers who were able to make it to Manchester. Turns out, a lot of the prominent Rubyists are white guys and all of the ones who said they'd like to come were, indeed, white guys.

Making an issue out of that is, frankly, misguided. Adding a token minority speaker is offensive to that speaker, it says "You're here because you tick a box - not because you're skilled." It doesn't matter who speaks at a conference, as long as they're capable, interesting and relevant. That's what matters: content, not style.

But kicking up a shitstorm on Twitter these days is easy. And, after a lot of high profile cases in the last few years, I don't blame companies being nervous about racial and gender issues. Nobody wants to be involved with an event if it's going to reflect badly on them regarding these issues. And some people with enough clout said a combination of words at the exact worst time to make the guarantee of financial backing shaky.

I'm sad about this. It's not right and it's not ok.

Please: think before you speak. Investigate before you judge. And look beneath the surface before you retweet.

This is awful. The accusations are a disgrace. Have considered suing for libel?

This makes me just sad.

I'm well aware that I don't know the details and all of the context, but isn't it still possible to fix this situation?

What if you'd get some people on board for this who are well respected for their engagement re diversity and have them review your process, be very open about everything on your blog, explain what went wrong (include your own mistakes, if you see any) and how you're going to fix it, re-evaluate the cfp and with the help of the community find new sponsors that back you up? Add some extra events or talks or hall-way specials to show your dedication to the issue ... I'm sure you'd be able to come up with more ideas, especially if you'd ask the community for help? Give the experiment a two weeks period, ask for help and if it can't be fixed by then finally shut it down so you don't loose money?

I feel you'd have a good chance of turning the shitstorm into a positive result, but maybe I'm wrong because I can't see the whole picture.

It's a real shame about the conference, but I'm definitely of two minds. It's bad to display minority speakers as "token" representatives, but I think the alternative is worse in the long run. I hope you guys try again—good conferences make a big difference.

@raldred As appealing as that might sound, I just don't think legal action will solve anything. Better to encourage more diversity amongst skilled Rubyists and try again next year.

It amazes me how something that some guy in San Francisco tweeted affected something in Manchester. Sigh.

Agree with Sven above and as stated on Twitter, happy to be the person that helps make that happen: speaker assistance, promotion, engagement, and sponsors.

Understand if you just pull it though, running conferences/events is a hell of an emotional & stress rollercoaster.

@piersadrian maybe you're right. But I feel angry. The whole event ruined for everyone but a few narrow minded individuals.

Oh that drama. Only in the ruby scene gender/race is a real issue ...

It is logically simple, really. It is {gender, skin color, ethnicity, whatever}-discrimination if and only if those speakers were selected to be so because of that characteristic (it's a simple definition). If not, then it should be nobody's business what their skin color is.
Nobody makes a fuss on IRC if the person who's replying to your question or teaching you something is black, white, latino, or whatever. Only the information you're being provided is judged, simply because there's no information about the person who's providing it. And that works out fine. I don't see why this should change if you have a picture of the person beside the information, or if you're watching them speak to you.

It is precisely discrimination if you do include someone solely because they are of a specific skin color or the like. And even if it isn't solely because of it, it is still discrimination (you may care less about it, however) if you take race, gender, sexual preference, etc. into account when planning your speaker lineup.

It is perfectly fine to want to encourage diversity of any characteristic you want in your developer population. It is not fine to demand a specific genetic composition of the speaker lineup, or even to require that it is "varied" (as per some definition of "varied").

It's a shame this is still an issue, and I wish you luck in further attempts.

A few years back we put on a conference and similar stuff happened to us—in the end, we politely told the trolls to go f*ck themselves and we had an amazing conference! :) http://unicornfree.com/2010/all-schnitzelconf-speakers-are-male-white-have-that-flippy-do/

I am in two minds about this too. On one hand, I feel this needs to happen more and more so Conference organizers are forced to start considering diversity from the beginning and initiate programs or reach out to more non-white-males to speak. On the other, it is sad that a conference thought it needs to cancel to get diverse set of speakers in.

JSConf.eu did an amazing job at finding speakers. I understand small conferences want 'star attractions' who will be the ones most attendees will come to see. If you have a few of those, then everyone else is anyway a token speaker, so it does not hurt to ask people who are non-white-males & not famous for their skills to give talks.

But essentially what Sven says, I think this could have been a positive outcome, but I am not sure why you felt compelled to cancel.

I wasn't going to be attending this conference because I have neither the money nor the needed documentation available currently for the various governments to allow me to travel to it. So, people can take my comment with a grain of salt.

I think it truly tragic for the community that some half assed comment by some guy in San Fransciso, as stated by kuroir, had ANY impact on something taking place half the world away. Are we really so asinine these days that we feel its OK to make racist comments (and that was purely a racist comment otherwise there would have been no need to point out the color of the people speaking), and kill something that would have done GOOD for a community?

Are we really THAT incapable, as human beings, of allowing something GOOD to happen to further education, growth, and camaraderie within our community? Who cares what the color of the people are? Who cares if its mostly men, or mostly women? NO ONE SHOULD! If the best and brightest available to speak at a conference, or at conferences, are 16yo Malaysian transvestites with the requisite skills and knowledge and not a bunch of middle aged black and white men and women, HOW and WHY should that affect a conference's ability to be pulled off for the betterment of the community? Let me guess, someone out there is just going to go out of their way to take exception to my choices for 'types' in that last sentence. Of course, because the trolls must eat, and people pushing their 'equality' agendas only care if its THEIR candidate for quality that is mentioned.

I am very thankful that the mass majority of our community seems intent on looking at the merits of people's work, the merits of their knowledge base, and the willingness of the participants when deciding on the quality and capability of speakers, developers, and other members of our community. I am also both saddened that we have members of the community intent on destroying the good attempting to be done out there, and that we have such members at all.

BritRuby, you may not be able to do it this year, but PLEASE DO try again next year. And to the sponsors out there reading this, PLEASE DO support conference arrangers regardless of the hype out there. BE SURE that there actually IS racism or purposeful inequality BEFORE you pull out. And if there isn't GET BEHIND THE PROMOTERS! Come out FOR them both in tech news, and in your own blogs/site postings. Don't allow the few idiots in our midsts to destroy the GOOD, otherwise they'll always be throwing accusations out there, JUST to screw with people. We all know how trolls work. Don't feed them!

@jsz whatever.

@seanhandley There is a serious problem in the way that people are going about defending BritRuby. The tacit claim that you and others have made is that the only way to fix the substantive problem would be to add token minority/female speakers, but because that's not fair to the would be token speakers, the whole thing has just been called off. By defending this claim, it sounds very much like you are asserting that there were no female/minority speakers of note worth inviting.

I don't know what the financial status of BritRuby is, but I think that it would have been a much better idea to say "yes, this line up is very male and white, it is not because there aren't qualified speakers outside of white males, but we just kind of fucked up our lineup this year. We will endeavor to do better next year (and if people press on the subject, get more specific about what they would have you do).

Canceling the conference is quite possibly the worst outcome. It makes everyone seem like assholes and the only folks who win are the anti-ruby haters. And that's really really unfortunate.

I'm a white male. I suppose it's wrong for me to speak at any conference from this point on?

ha!

To add to what madrobby (my husband & co-Schnitzelconf conspirator) said:

People make a lot of noise on Twitter but that doesn't actually change how many tickets are sold. It's the typical loud (and annoying) minority issue. Some people are too lazy or incompetent to make something and therefore they spend their time tearing down people who do, instead.

Don't assume that bitchy tweets mean you will have difficulty selling tickets, or that allegations of sexism -- which we also endured, hilariously! -- will mean anything to your bottom line.

The facts are, women speakers are few and far between, and every one I approached turned me down because they didn't want to and/or weren't free to travel. Such is life.

We can then say the organisers where accused of preemptive racism (I understand there were 4 or 5 slots still to be determined) by one white dude from San Francisco than more than likely wasn't attending the event.

Next thing would be people complaining about the lack of Unicorns on the conferences, Then again it would be awesome to see a Unicorn giving a talk.

I'm the only one to NOT care about the color, race, idiom or any other F*ng thing and just want to learn something?
I don't care if the person is a blue guy from Avatar, if the guys are white, ok, if are black, ok, if are women, ok, if are a dog, ok, go have a life, the important think is the conference and what you learn.
The racism/sexism here come from the stupids, who see racism/sexism in everything, they have big issues.

I think it's stupid of people to accuse the organisers of not even trying, but I also don't think you guys are making a good job of explaining what you've actually tried (or if you have, I haven't seen it, I'm not a part of the ruby community and haven't been exactly in the loop on all of this).

What a crying shame... this event was set to be awesome. Thanks for the reflection, Sean.

In the most obviously sexist way possible, :+1: @amyhoy.

Other than this comment, I'm going to pretend pithy annoying people's opinons on this matter don't exist.

Seriously, this whole equality crap is… crap! One thing is when there are cases where women are not treated fairly (not good) or abused (very bad), but equality is a non-issue for most of us in the Western world. In cases where exploitation or abuse are confirmed, society should act for sure, but the reality is men and women are not equal in many ways. It's not that one is better and the other is worse is that, quite simply, we're different. I see plenty of "Women Seminars" (not very "Men Seminars" I should add) and I don't see anyone rushing those asking for "equality" or "lack of men on these". The (sad) reality is that programming is still a primarily male activity (with verrry notable and talented exceptions, like in everything)… There's a lot that needs to be done to change that but one thing can't be changed: genes! Men are more attracted to this type of activity than women (equally capable when motivated the same, I should add); women are attracted to other types of activity, and that's okay… As far as I know, women and men are still different genders, with different hormones and "wiring" (no matter how much some would like to end that :p).

Our society is getting to a point where being a majority is actually frowned upon, no matter how inclusive that majority may be. White males are in danger and so are people who believe men and women are created equal but not identical. Until there are more women in tech (if and when), why complain about "too many males"?

Next up: "machists" are actually organizing themselves to fight the unequal opportunities in colleges and business. In 30 years, "machism" will be a similar movement to the "feminism" of the 70s. Now the question is: what will be their "power"? Women go "flower power"… I vote we go with "bacon". "Bacon Power" does have a ring to it, no?

:P

The actual gender issue is a lot deeper than the guys/girls ratio at a conference: it doesn't get any better out there in any other conference. Nor at CS universities, startup accelerator classes, any IT company staff. But it sure helps if non-white-males are invited and encouraged to step up. You know, some of them (us) are innovating and experimenting with groundbreaking stuff, probably the same ratio as in white-male-hetero populations. We just don't get into the spotlight, sometimes because we don't see ourselves up there. And sometimes we just don't get invited.

My two cents: Publicly inviting your speakers, regardless of demographics, shows what you tried to build. No one is going to blame you for inviting a diverse set of speakers and having only one demographic showing up.

I'm Avdi, and I was an invited speaker to BritRuby.

That "white dude in San Francisco" organized the most inclusive and gender-diverse conference I have ever been privileged to attend (GoGaRuCo 2012) . And he did it without compromising the quality of the talks one bit - in fact, the talk selection process was completely blind. He and his co-organizers did it by, among other things, making a point of reaching out to RailsBridge, DevChix etc. when publicizing the CFP. The result was a two-day slate of speakers, 25% of them women, that frankly blew me away with its consistent quality, as well as with the fresh perspectives it brought.

To everyone complaining about the audacity of someone taking a moment to point out a monoculture on Twitter... Josh Susser has put his money where his mouth is. Have you?

@nimbupani,

I feel this needs to happen more and more so Conference organizers are forced to start considering diversity from the beginning and initiate programs or reach out to more non-white-males to speak

While we're at it, let's make sure to throw in a few over-50s, a disabled woman and a couple of homosexuals. We need to focus on diversity after-all.

Where is the line? When does it stop being a conference and start becoming just a parade of people chosen only for their irrelevant attributes? I go to conferences to see people speak. I don't care for the lines we draw to separate ourselves. I want good content, and that's all.

Why are people acting like speaker diversity and quality are mutually exclusive? Other Ruby conferences have successfully achieved both:

http://programme.scottishrubyconference.com/schedule
http://gogaruco.com/schedule.html

Let's nominate the guy for a Nobel prize, it's clear we were all wrong to begin with…

So, just so we all know, this guy was chosen as the righteous man to put diversity and order across all Ruby conferences in the world? then again he should just organise them all from now on given that it seems that everybody else is doing it completely wrong.

Oh you glorious pontificators of political correctness! The "inequality" (whatever the fuck means) in the "tech community" can be explained simply in the words of Nate Silver, who pwned all pontificating pundits this past political season: BECAUSE MATH.

Seriously, do the fucking math and quit whining. Be the change; stop being so pious...

Come to Russia, we have cookies. Also we have vodka and legal sexism.

@levifig - privileged, much?

...equality is a non-issue for most of us in the Western world.

This is news to me. It's also news to a lot of various groups in first world countries, and news enough to be addressed in US presidential debates just last month.

I see plenty of "Women Seminars" (not very "Men Seminars" I should add) and I don't see anyone rushing those asking for "equality" or "lack of men on these".

Because of privilege, if you're talking about events specifically relating to programming. When you're outnumbered and you have the majority group saying things like what you say, it's demoralizing and insulting. Grouping together and making a bigger effort on outreach makes a big difference in the long term.

The (sad) reality is that programming is still a primarily male activity (with verrry notable and talented exceptions, like in everything)… There's a lot that needs to be done to change that but one thing can't be changed: genes!

This is the most insulting thing I've read in a long time, and your parenthetical doesn't excuse it. Programming was not a primarily male activity in its past (see Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper) and as it stands right now your kind of drivel is why a lot of women are not interested in this field and why I get turned off from participating in communities. It's part of a long list of cultural atrocities that make women believe they are not welcome and unsuitable for STEM as a career. In the long run, you are going to lose many, many people - not just women or minorities - with this kind of exclusivity and blaming genetics...hypocritically I might add. More motivation and support is required to counter exactly what you're saying, so why are you saying it at all when you believe they can be capable despite their genes?

Our society is getting to a point where being a majority is actually frowned upon, no matter how inclusive that majority may be. White males are in danger and so are people who believe men and women are created equal but not identical. Until there are more women in tech (if and when), why complain about "too many males"?

A lot of people are not inclusive or are completely blind to what it takes to be inclusive because they don't see it as a problem even though it is.

But okay, keep up with the victim complex when you're not the victim here.

@joemccann exactly, I know personally less then 10 female programmers, know dozens of male programmers. Is it because I don't like knowing female programmers? no, it's because they are substantially less of them. So it's ridiculous to push this agenda to tech conferences where the problem isn't clearly due to the people selecting the speakers. The issue is somewhere else, please get the pitchforks when something truly demeaning or discriminating happens, not because you want to feel good being politically correct.

Also, the issues some of you may have in your countries do not apply to others. I can't speak for the UK myself since I've only been there once for a few days, but as a venezuelan living in Spain I do know at least how are things in my country and the one I live now, and this whole bullshit from my point of view is laughable and it saddens me that an event of supposedly intelligent people got cancelled for sheer stupidity.

"Yes, gender equality and racial equality are important. But the team's motives were to get the best speakers who were able to make it to Manchester."

The "but" in that second sentence is the whole problem here. If you're inviting speakers you have a tremendous opportunity. You can get some known quantities, who are often white men, and you can target some people who aren't on stage at every conf. If it were 5 of the 20 slots, this would have not been an issue. When you hand select 75% of your speakers and they all fit in one over-represented demographic, people are going to notice.

I'm sad that you all chose to cancel the conf. The problem here wasn't the mistake -- it was the reaction. You do a quick lottery, pick 10 of your already allocated slots, email them to apologize and put their proposals into the RFP pool. Then you blind-assess and pick 15 talks from the proposals. Problem solved.

For the record, I am a woman and a software engineer. I also help run a group with a mission to support and encourage women in Python. So, not Ruby, but similar.

The Python community, as a whole, has been welcoming and inclusive, and specifically, the board members of PyCon are fantastic. They not only stated they wanted more diversity in their speaker group, they went out and helped make it happen. Several of their board members volunteered to help our group members brainstorm talks and understand the criteria they were looking for.

They also put out a call to several women's groups (including ours) asking people to join the voting board to judge PyCon talks. They wanted as many new people from as many different backgrounds as possible, so they could get the best talks submitted.

I don't consider any of this preferential treatment (everybody's talks are judged on their merits), but we did get encouragement to try and knew our talks would be judged fairly. I don't know if you know how huge that is. Because it is.

I don't claim to know all the details of this scene, but diversity is not bad. Outreach is not bad. The existence of non-white people and non-dudes in software engineering is not bad. Canceling your conference and writing long posts decrying how somebody called you out on Twitter for something that appears to be a fair criticism...is, hmm, less than professional. It smacks of taking your toys and going home.

Well, let's just mark BritRuby as one of those conferences I don't want to go to- 5 slots for open RFPs? "selected" speakers, and they think they're the "most diverse" conferences? Ridiculous. Their sponsors seem wiser to the situation than they are. They pulled out because they know a GeekList-style train wreck when they see it. Diversity isn't just representing various people as role models (that is tokenism)- 1990s called and they want their diversity plan back. It's about different perspectives, better quality, better collaboration, better applied experiences, better teams, and a more egalitarian/meritocracy. If you think you've already got that, you're on "easy mode". Try leveling up.

@ErneX :slowclap:

The criticism of the BritRuby organisers was not one of sexism or racism, but much more subtle. It's about unconscious bias, something of which we are not aware. It maybe coincidence that all speakers are white and male because they submitted the "best" proposals, but how could you ever know?

If you think you hold no bias try taking the Harvard Bias tests (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/), you may find that even if you do not consider yourself racist or sexist you may have an unconscious bias. The only (and simple) way to prevent this is do choose proposals blind (without knowing gender/race/age).

Personally I think the criticism is legit but has been over hyped in to accusations of sexism/racism.

This can be handled by a simple change in the selection process used by the organisers. It would be very sad for everyone if this was the final outcome.

We need to support the organisers who did such an amazing job of the last conference they put on, but at the same time encourage best practices and open honest discussion. Can we fix the issue and get the sponsors back onboard?

It's sad the organizers are getting raked over the coals for their decisions organizing and then canceling the conference. Putting on a significant conference is hard, hard work. I help run a few here in the US, so I have a good understanding of the amount of work involved.

I'm particularly bummed by the responses of "You should have done x, y, and z" from folks outside who've no idea about the particular situation of the conference.

This mindset of a community-wide shark frenzy (before and after the cancellation) does nobody any good.

Everybody lost here, and that sucks.

I've been there before. Best thing you can do is take the next week off. I felt like shit for 3 days and my conference was actually a success.

The implied narrative here is nauseating — that a good conference had to be cancelled because of the PC brigade and their shrill calls for diversity. I don't buy that for a minute.

When people see a conference lineup that's exclusively white and male, they complain because they want the conference to be more inclusive, not because they're trying to shut the thing down. If a sponsor sees that people are complaining and then gets skittish, that's lamentable, but surprising to me. Plenty of conferences have announced non-diverse slates of speakers, been chastized on Twitter, and staged the conference anyway.

When people complain on Twitter, it's because they've been to (or even staged) conferences that have figured out how to be more inclusive. When I hear "we picked on merit, not on tokenism," I hear a false dilemma. Of all the talks I've seen at conferences that were delivered by women or people of color, every single one of them was a fucking awesome talk that, on its merit alone, deserved its spot among the other talks.

And every single one of those conferences could have simply not bothered, and defended it with the same words that you're using right here, @seanhandley. Instead of wandering out of their comfort zones, they could have stuck with a process that ends up drawing from the same shallow pool of speakers, and they could have called that the "meritocratic" process. What you think you heard from people on Twitter is that Brit Ruby needed to toss in a couple of token minority speakers just to satisfy some quota. What people on Twitter were saying was that you miss out on awesome talks when you don't bother to do any outreach.

Sorry for the oblique reference here, but this is what this post feels like to me. You've said, "great, this is why we can't have nice things" just because some people asked a question that was worth asking. The diversity-in-tech-conferences discussion has been going on for a long time, and smart people have disagreed over it for ages, so I wish you wouldn't dismiss the complaints as "careless words." And I especially wish you wouldn't scapegoat those who made the complaints.

@knowtheory the tacit assumption you make, however, is that the organisers 1) did not want to include non-white-male speakers 2) given a variety of options, chose to shut down the conference rather than budge in and allow someone else on board. 2) is false, as explained by the gist. The sponsor has backed out and cancelled their commitment, which essentially kills the conference -- if you don't know for sure you can pay for the thing, no conference is made. Simple as that.

As for 1), it's not impossible that there's bias. There's no shortage of bias going around, that's for sure. But you also need to consider the simple fact that most programmers/techies are guys, so no matter how diverse you want to be, if all the people who answer your call are white guys, then you can't just pull the diverse representation from thin air. And if you do it regardless and include people who aren't white guys not because you liked their proposals best, but because they're not white guys, then you're making them token speakers and insulting them in the process, which is what Sean said. It's not because you want them to be tokens, but if you scramble and change your lineup for the express purpose of artificially introducing diversity, you have just made them so. And it's even more insulting than not including them in the first place.

That isn't to say there is absolutely nothing that could ever be done to increase the outreach, or that nothing should be done. As the other commenters point out, there are organisations and programmes to encourage the underrepresented groups to participate. And they should be considered for future BritRubies (and other confs). But saying that the selection this year was kinda fucked up without being there, or that they "chose" the worst possible outcome is dishonest. There's always a multitude of factors and groups and considerations, and you won't always be able to pay enough attention to all of them. So whilst it's okay to give constructive feedback such as "here are some ways to get some women speakers you might not know existed", it's not okay to unilaterally declare BritRuby 2013 organisers fucked up based only on the twitter storm which killed their financial support and forced their hand. What they did not do is to go out of their way to fix the reality (one of many) of who participates in the Ruby scene. But that is a very long way from fucking up.

Why does everyone here think they have a right to dictate to conference organizers on how to pick people for their conference? And how the hell is it fine to "criticize" by calling people racist or misogynistic?

And when someone points out that that is douchey, it suddenly is some sort of attack against women or diversity or equality. And then they whine because the organizers decided to not deal with this overblown bullshit and canceled their conference because they have better things to do than fencing of the trolls.

This is beyond disgusting. If this is the "community", fuck the community very much.

anyone moaning about the moaners of the cancellation is just being a moaner.

@krisleech: Apart from the point of your message, argumenting that someone is driven or may be driven by unconsciousness is not the real argument, since anyone can impute anything to anyone this way. For example I can tell that you should test yourself because you may have unconscious hate for the guy you told to test himself. That's just not a real argument.

"Turns out, a lot of the famous Rubyists are white guys and all of the ones who said they'd like to come were, indeed, white guys."

so, we don't give the guy the benefit of the doubt that he, indeed, tried to do outreach?

i personally am getting tired of the argumentations. vote with your feet/wallet people. if you feel that a particular conference has visibly not made an effort to be inclusive/diverse in its speaker line-up, then don't go to it. or boycott the sponsors. or...set up a counter-conference that proves instead that there are indeed awesome speakers of all colours, with an assortment of sexy bits, different abilities, different languages (let's talk about language bias...i've come across some awe inspiringly clever folks who simply have a hard time speaking english, which is a problem as that's the assumed de-facto language for conferences).

There is no doubt the majority of speakers will be white and male because of the maths. Adding token minorities just to be "diverse" is no answer and insulting. If you want to protect yourself from real/imagined bias make the selection process blind to the persons age/gender/race etc. Then it can not be influenced by "irrelevant attributes". You are protected by your process. Easy to say in hindsight. @seanhandley Is there any way we can support the work done by the organisers to get the sponsors back?

Unsurprisingly once again righteously context-free logical individuals claim it is ${group}ist to be cognizant of & avert the chilling effects of privilege inequalities. Silly me, I would have thought the ${group}ism was in the society (and this conference as a microcosm of it) and not in act of the bringing that into focus.

Settle this once and for all... extend an official invitation to Matz.

@madrobby:

Why does everyone here think they have a right to dictate to conference organizers
on how to pick people for their conference?

Because they're (potential) clients.

And how the hell is it fine to "criticize" by calling people racist or misogynistic?

Not fine. Such people don't see the difference between lack of something and acting against something.
They think that if you are not active supporter or promoter of some idea then you are against that idea and it's ok to offend you.

And when someone points out that that is douchey, it suddenly is some sort of attack against women or diversity or equality.

What's funny is that most of that criticism seems to be based on telepathy (invisible mind-link that confirms the assumptions about the "real" motives of person being criticized).

And then they whine because the organizers decided to not deal with this overblown bullshit

Well, for many people it's important. Many of them are potential clients.

make the selection process blind to the persons age/gender/race etc […]

+1 That's a precise solution.

@madrobby show me where anyone was called "racist" or "misogynistic". Because I was around for at least part of the conversation and its aftermath, and I haven't seen it.

Calling someone out on implicit bias and offering to help (as I and others did) is a long way from calling them racist or misogynistic. However, equating the two is a great way to set up a strawman and divert the discussion away from anything constructive.

@siefca Yes, you could make any claim of bias using the unconsciousness argument, but that does not make it invalid. It may not be true, but given the fix is so simple why not make the selection process blind and remove all doubt?

A great pity the UK is losing an event from a new team. But it in all probability, it was a case of rage quit. I hope they get the strength to try again.

does a blind selection process guarantee that the talks will actually be delivered in an entertaining, informative, authoritive, accurate way? how would i, as organiser, know if the nameless speaker is actually any good at public speaking, rather than somebody who's just blagged together a talk proposal?

The Agile Manifesto authors didn't have a single woman amongst them. Maybe it would have been better if they did, but I find it hard to argue that it wasn't good, and better for the world, that it happened at all.

Right now, almost every technology conference in the world has a dearth of female speakers. We're still in a place where women speakers are in the minority, and perhaps people who want to help improve the world aren't as familiar with women speakers as we would like. This is the context. This is reality. How do you want to make it better? I don't think cancelling good conferences, or suggesting that people who organize them are in some way bigoted, helps. Yes, blind submissions etc. help, but require some set-up that increases the social and monetary cost of the conference.

Dear organizers, I would like to help. I can't speak in depth on Ruby, but I offer to review and shepherd any female speakers you approach who seem uncertain about the worth of their their contribution (sometimes apparently we can be our own worst enemy; Linda Rising has spoken a lot about this). I speak a lot at conferences and have keynoted a few. You can reach me as @lunivore on Twitter.

To those of you suggesting that women are in some way genetically incapable of speaking on technology issues, I invite you to join in a panel session with me any time. No, please. Bring it.

@patrickhlauke:

how would i, as organiser, know if the nameless speaker is actually any good at public speaking, rather than somebody who's just blagged together a talk proposal?

Seems like you'd be taking that risk even with a non-blind selection process, unless you restrict yourself to only those you've seen give talks before.

@madrobby: Bravo, yes and thank you for saying that. Spot fucking on.

@patrickhlauke:

how would i, as organiser, know if the nameless speaker is actually any good at public speaking, rather than somebody who's just blagged together a talk proposal?

Meeep. That implies organisers would only invite speakers they know, right? I get the point though - maybe some "anonymous credentials" ("how many talks have you given at [ ] unconferences [ ] small conferences [ ] major conferences") could help ensuring the chosen speaker has at least some experience.

Seriously? I'm a little bit outside your circuit, having left the UK two years ago and being a Python person, but I must say, you guys seriously were planning to put on a conference without putting in the thought and work to diversity your lineup? In Ruby, whose community was among the first to excel in extraordinary feats of conference sexism and misogynic behaviour and is considered at the forefront of the brogrammer scourge? Where others appear to have led the way and organized impressive, fresh and new events that actually included women and minorities? In 2012, when diversity has been high-profile (male, white) speakers in the geek conference circuit who have said they won't speak at any conference with an all-white male line-up again?

That's an amazing level of naivete, and the majority of the comments here show that many of this community are still stuck in it.

I mean, I am sorry for you guys who put in I'm sure a lot of work and heartblood, but today it's simply not enough to put on an event that's all filled with awesome coding but says loud and clear that its target audience is only those who are already part of the in-group.
As a potential conference goer (or maybe even speaker) I'm disappointed each time I see another one of these and will of course make it a criterium for whether to go.

And then the gentlemen from the privileged set will point and say "look, no women! no wonder we can't find any". Let me tell you, I'm sick and tired of people who fail to make even the slightest bit of effort to look beyond the confines of their own little world. There is no PC brigade: there's a bunch of non-white, non-male, maybe otherwise marginal people in the field who are getting tired of continually being at best ignored, at worst used as jokey cartoons on Powerpoint slides. You seriously don't know any women techies? The only reason this is possible is that you're stewing so comfortably in your own little pot of soup that you are completely unawares of what's out there, how people work ans use your chosen programming language differently from you. If you've never been friends with a female tech professional, you need better friends, and if you aren't aware of several great women in the tech world, you need a better education.

And from this follows the second reason why you were heading for a big fail: If you don't diversify, you stagnate. You probably already do.

To conclude, I hope this is fixable. I hope some people are serious and professional and earnest enough to grit their teeth and say to themselves, "we've made a mistake here: we've misunderstood what a conference is for; but we can learn." On the other hand, looking at the OP and the comment, it looks like white guys on the defence.

Was the conference really canceled over something that petty? I could see if they denied access to a certain gender or sex but I really don't think that's the case. A lot of it deals with willingness/comfort in participating, the percentages of 'said' groups in the field and location.

Sure people have a long way to go as far as equality is concerned but i'm not sure this is the way to go about it.

How would a Ruby conference be different if it was 50% non-white and 50% white vs. 100% white. Are they implying that non-white developers are inherently different from white developers? This is a Ruby conference, not a public policy or cultural conference...

It's sad that the organizers felt it was necessary to cancel their first conference. It's a loss for the community, both the local delevopers and for the Ruby community generally.

The conference had labeled itself "one of Europe's… most diverse Ruby conferences", the speaker lineup didn't support that statement, BritRuby pulled it when questioned about their basis for claiming it. The subsequent discussion was largely centered on helping the organizers sort out how to meet the goals they were stating: more proposers, outstanding proposers, European proposers, and becoming "one of Europe's most diverse Ruby conferences".

We need to have these discussions publicly. BritRuby's mistake was not making public requests for recruitment help, whether last week or any time in the last 8 months or so.

It was not too late yesterday to make that request: "Yeah, we're struggling with that. Can you help us improve it, or suggest ways?" Ironically, Josh would've been one of the most useful people in the Ruby community that they could've asked.

I see a lot Gravatars that look like they belong to white males, and so I'll chime in as a member of an underrepresented minority: Asians. While there are a lot of us at UC Berkeley and your usual mega tech firms, I find it disturbing that Asians are relatively rare in the Ruby community, and I think I know why.

The imbalance, you see, results from the pervasive culture of racism against the yellow man. It seems like everywhere I turn, my contributions are unacknowledged, or worse, ignored. Once I submitted a pull request to a well-known project (name omitted), only to be told by the maintainer to "learn English" and "go back to China". Such is the extent of the vitriol directed at me and my cohort. I applaud those brave souls who stood up to the Brit Ruby organizing committee and pointed out their blatantly sexist and racist biases. Not.

Now that I have your attention, and in case you didn't realize that I'm full of shit, the above story is completely made up. In fact, my experience has been quite the opposite: So long as I submitted well-formatted patches that clearly explained the issues and their fixes, the maintainers gladly accepted them. Since they likely lead busy lives, I doubt they even knew or cared about my skin color. Ditto for others forking and starring my stuff. It may be a stretch (women can call me out on this one), but I think if I were female, they wouldn't be able to tell from just my words either.

IMHO, the reason for underrepresentation is much more banal and comes down to cultural preferences. I can't speak for women, but I do know something about the Asian mindset, which favors a stable, high-paying job, a fulfilling family life, and conformity to social norms. A sense of volunteerism, a huge ego, and eccentricity, three components conducive of success in open source, just don't figure into this picture as prominently. It's not necessarily a bad thing, just different. Also, the imbalance means I won't actively proselytize my lifestyle to other Asians; those that wish to contribute to open source will do so on their own initiative.

If you can accept my two observations about non-discrimination and cultural differences, perhaps it's not such a bad thing that all of Brit Ruby's speaker lineup happened to be white and male: Nearly every person on that list has earned the privilege to speak, and platforms like GitHub have made it possible for anyone to attain that privilege. Those that remain convinced about pervasive discrimination are welcome to take the James Tiptree, Jr. approach and publish under a pseudonym as a grand social experiment. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some pull requests to merge.

P.S. - Speaking of experiments, if you believe that > 81% of the Ruby community is white and male, then the P-value of a randomly sampled, 15-person speaker lineup being all white and male is 5%, which is the confidence threshold for many scientific experiments. In other words, it's still reasonable to dismiss the all white and male lineup as a statistical fluke and not the result of bias, conscious or unconscious. For comparison, the Higgs Boson was discovered at a P-value of < 0.0001% (smaller P-value means more stringent tests). Statistics is powerful. Use it.

Here are 688 women and non-white males in tech (mostly front-end, Ruby and Python folk) https://twitter.com/estellevw/diverse-programmers-1 https://twitter.com/estellevw/diverse-programmers-2
If you look for 10 seconds, you'll find awesome potential speakers of differing genders, ages, ethnicities and abilities.

If you select speakers from the list of people you follow on Twitter, and your Twitter follow list has no diversity, neither will your conference. Follow people outside of your comfort zone. Ask people to speak at your conference who are outside of your conference zone. And don't insult those of us who are outside of your comfort zone by insinuating that we were only invited because of our non-conforming gender, age, ethnicity, or other difference.

To the conference organizers: selecting a panel with a dearth of diversity was a lamentable mistake. Not accepting Josh Susser's mild critique in stride and engaging in this passive-aggressive display of butthurt is where you really erred. If you agree with his critique, you had an opportunity to ask for advice for next time from someone with experience and interest.

To those of you bravely standing up for the rights of the privileged majority: congratulations. You're actively demonstrating why active engagement on diversity is really fucking important.

It seems as if Ruby has far worse problems with diversity than other communities, and I wonder why that is.

Adding a token minority speaker is offensive to that speaker, it says "You're here because you tick a box - not because you're skilled."
This was the best!

As someone who just recently started learning Ruby... The people crying about the lineup being all white and racist, makes me think this community is rubbish. It sounds to me like the community is racist.

To answer your initial question: I would indeed take the risk of being financially liable. I have done it in the past to the tune of thousands of dollars for events I believe in.

The rest, though, I don't get. Could you please point out the allegations of racism and sexism? Or the Twitter frenzy?

As far as I can tell from rummaging on Twitter, all that happened is: you guys didn't really think about diversity (which is not uncommon), got called out (which is happily starting to become common), and then freaked out (all too common, alas). It's not too late to calm down and sort out the problems, especially given the offers of help I've seen.

If you're as passionate as you say, I think you'll come to realize that this is entirely salvageable. As long as you're willing to admit that a 100%-white-guy roster is not optimal, you'll find ways to solve the problem. And by "the problem" I mean not just your conference, but the leftovers from millennia of systematic oppression that we all are trying to sort out.

In Ruby, whose community was among the first to excel in extraordinary feats of conference sexism and misogynic behaviour and is considered at the forefront of the brogrammer scourge?

Not only is this untrue - http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_incidents - but such judgments cannot be fairly applied to an entire, international community. Does it make any sense to tar "the Python community" because PyCon 2012 Ireland seemingly had no female speakers either? http://python.ie/pycon/2012/

I know it's still trendy to make up nonsense about the bizarro "Ruby community" that stalks one's imagination, but c'mon.. you're on the trailing edge of this meme that's way staler than Gangnam Style.

"Since the team can't be personally liable for the costs, there was a hard decision to be made." And then a couple lines down you say "Do you want to be personally financially liable?" The answer is obviously in the bullet point. Something else is obviously going on here, and it has little to do with 'personal liability' and more to do with someone not thinking things through and presenting themselves when challenged.

I know it's still trendy to make up nonsense about the bizarro "Ruby community" that stalks one's imagination, but c'mon.. you're on >the trailing edge of this meme that's way staler than Gangnam Style.

The difficulty here is that you're saying that it's not true in the context of the "Ruby community" circling its wagons in defense of exclusionary behavior.

I was quite heavily involved in the Unix/Usenix community decades ago and am quite heavily involved with the networking/IETF community today, and I have to say that this (Ruby) is absolutely the only instance I've seen of people arguing in favor of not trying to be more open/welcoming to underrepresented communities. Even if you're not concerned about social justice, etc. there are arguments to be made about expanding the user base. I guess I'm glad that things are going so well for you that you don't need to worry about that. I guess I'll continue to work in Python/Django.

[peterc]

Not only is this untrue - http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline_of_incidents -

I'm not sure what you're trying to prove by linking to this list. I didn't intend to say that there was no sexism in the tech community at large before Ruby came along. This would be ludicrous. However, I believe there's a single one among the women in web-related technologies () of my acquaintances that I haven't had, some time since the late 2000, a conversation with about the worrying backsliding or lack of progress on diversity we perceive in our field. The salient events include the "girlfriend daycare" episode and of course the biggie, the Golden Gate Ruby Conference incident and the many often extremely ugly discussions that followed. You're a person who is on the board of several Ruby-related conferences and involved in in other community-building initiatives: I can't believe that you are unawares that Ruby specifically has acquired a particularly unappetising reputation, and my personal experiences in the UK don't go very far to contradict it (nonwithstanding the good friends I have who use the language). If the reputation is undeserved or unfair, all the more easy to steer your part of the community away. Seeing you on the *other side of this argument, however, gives me a pause.

but such judgments cannot be fairly applied to an entire, international community. Does it make any sense to tar "the Python community" because PyCon 2012 Ireland seemingly had no female speakers either? http://python.ie/pycon/2012/

I would be somewhat sensitive to the argument about not tarring everyone with the same brush if many of the commenters in this very thread didn't prove right here that they don't grok why diversity is important. The organisers trot out the old chestnut about going by merit only; others even cry "tokenism"(**). If PyCon Ireland 2012 didn't manage to diversify their roster that is a problem, too. I am not familiar with them but would expect them to have thoughts and activities in place that might help improve the situation in the future, not to become all defensive about what cannot really be defended.

() I'm actually a scientist in a heavily computational field these days, but counted myself as a web/internet tech sort of person during the second half of the 2000s, mostly in the UK.
(*
) If it's really necessary to say this again: No one likes tokenism. No one approves of organizers who find a black lesbian who dabbles in Ruby as a nice little cherry on the conference pie. What they're expected to do is to bloody go out and find the impressive and inspiring people who belong to groups who keep getting overlooked. There's no lack of competent people who do interesting things worthy of a conference.

Hi,

It's a shame that this has been cancelled. It feels like an overreaction to comments on the internet. I've over-reacted to things in the past too & regretted it.

I've worked with the organisers, and whilst they're young and niave in some aspects, they're very enthusiastic and passionate about doing good things, and are to be commended for organising what looked to be a great event. Manchester - despite being the birthplace of the modern computer, has been a bit of a backwater for awhile, but is fast on its way to becoming a top 5 startup destination in Europe, and has a wealth of local user groups, which are mostly run by passionate individuals for free, and several respected Computer Science/Software Engineering courses at the 3 local universities.

I say all this despite not being able to afford to go, but I would of if I could have. I paid for the precursor conference - MagRails.

At worst the only guilty thing here is not being deliberately fully inclusive. A very hard task. It really doesn't sound like anyone has been deliberately excluded.

I really hope that some sort of sense can prevail, and if indeed a sponsor has pulled out, another can be found. Sounds like some speakers were yet to be announced, so perhaps some of them were actually quality speakers who also happend to be women working in technology / ruby / rails.

Really. Un-announce the cancellation. Find another sponsor. Announce the rest of the speakers - picked on a quality basis, and move on, to what can still be a quality conference and one that the Manchester technology scene will value.

Perhaps all the publicity will actually lead to increased ticket sales & an even larger venue?

this is disgusting. next time please make sure to enroll at lease one black bald blind fat lesbian jew analphabet on wheelchair to pass the $@#!*^ sponsor criteria

@alterisian Glad you mentioned that; wasn't sure what role not being in London played. I wonder whether the chattering of the cultural elite tends to fade as you get further from Shoreditch. But as we see, the true community is not local.

Damn. Rails Core Team are racists & sexists! They are all white guys!

Do you realize how pathetic it sounds? Jesus.

@aalterisian says "I've worked with the organisers, and whilst they're young and niave in some aspects, they're very enthusiastic and passionate about doing good things, and are to be commended for organising what looked to be a great event. "

+1 I've never organised a conference but I imagine its seriously hard work (especially on top of a day job). I would have been equally niave and not even thought about making the selection process blind. Its only in hindsight that it is clear why this is needed.

I'm still stunned. Reading up on this unbelievable development. I was under the impression we were past minority quotas. I have also never met any community which cares less about race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, heritage or wealth.

The team apparently picked speakers by content and by who actually applied. Which is a 100% correct decision. But now a "vocal minority" is not ok with that - and sponsors and organizers caved in a day?

Sady, IT isn't very diverse, never has been. Most of us know this, we went to universities with mostly white males in our classes, work with male white colleagues. But this a societal problem. Why must a conference, which everyone agrees even made the right decisions, be the public example of the bad state IT diversity is in?

All this does is make people think is "Why couldn't you get some quota minority speakers". And that is not something people should be taking away from this argument!

The lack is woman speakers in their lineup wasn't the worst part. The worst was whoever on the organizers replied to Susser calling them out with

We're working on it. ;-)

Unfortunately the vagaries of twitter searching are preventing me from finding a permalink to that tweet.

That statement exposes the mentality of the organizers and is, to me, the single point at which it became clear that diversity was a bullet point for the organizers and not a fundamental part of their conference philosophy. The trite (even by twitter standards) reply further hinted at mollification rather than correction. It seemed to say: "Yeah sure, like that's a real problem that we need to deal with."

Got an all male lineup of speakers? Fine, own it; I'm sure it would've been a great conference. But don't downplay diversity as if it weren't a legitimate concern. As Josh Susser put it in his reply to the tweet:

@BritRuby I don't think adding diversity at the end works. You have to start with it as one of your goals. Who wants to be the token female?

To clarify my point: lack of diversity is forgivable -- just admit that you didn't focus on it. Flippantly disregarding diversity is not.

Even if you're not concerned about social justice, etc. there are arguments to be made about expanding the user base. I guess I'm glad that things are going so well for you that you don't need to worry about that.

I noted that someone's assertion that the "Ruby community" is one that "excel[s] in extraordinary feats of conference sexism and misogynic behaviour and is considered at the forefront of the brogrammer scourge" is unfair to the larger, diverse group of Rubyists, most of whom are not involved in these incidents, not sexist, and not "brogrammers."

Yes, we need to be more diverse, yes, we need to encourage people and yes, we must foster a helpful and inclusive atmosphere. I can't figure for a moment how you inferred from my observation that tarring the whole community with the same brush is a crude rhetorical device means I'm not concerned about these matters. I said and implied nothing of the sort.

As an outside observer who has spoken at (non-Ruby) conferences, I think the lack of diversity is a common thing. In theory, you shouldn't know who submits in the CFP, so it's impossible to "enforce" diversity. (I'd be offended if I had to check a gender/race box just to submit a talk) That said, most conferences tend to give preference to the "rock stars": that's what drives attendance. As such, this reduces potential diversity (total sessions - "rock star" sessions) unless the rock stars are already a diverse crowd (typically not the case).

@avdi

I agree with you and have heard Josh talk about this a lot on the Rogues podcast. FWIW I think the guys had a (perhaps unstated) desire to get the Rogues across to Europe because they admire what you all do so much. None of you are women, however, so there is unfortunately a prebuilt bias there. I worked with these guys on the Magrails conference that was the precursor of Britruby last year and I know that they all care very deeply about the community and helping it develop. I do wonder if you would get accused of tokenism if you made a woman a regular Rogue? It's an interesting question, and I hope the ill informed keep away from it.

We don't yet have a history of running things like Ruby Bridge in UK and Europe that help to spread the community wider, and, if I remember correctly Josh himself commented that these kinds of events are the reason that SF can find a broader range of speakers. At the moment it's a problem for us that we are all acutely aware of and I think that Josh has a far more nuanced and sympathetic view than 140 character twitter storm would allow.

I've worked in some big teams in the UK and none of them had women in developer roles. Magrails was Agile and Rails so we did have a broader demographic of attendees and speakers because the remit was wider, but still 80-90% white male. Women in developer roles are hard to find anywhere. When I worked for Oracle years ago there was a reasonable number of them, but they aren't there in the Ruby community and I believe that the number of women working as developers is falling, possibly because of the false perceptions that some people have already trotted out above this comment :).

The sad fact is we need programmes like Ruby Bridge and they don't exist yet - maybe some constructive criticism and offers of help would have been better? I'm more than happy to organise some Ruby Bridge style events here in the UK, as long as I can get enough help.

Actually beginning to wonder about this - https://plus.google.com/115091715679003832601/posts/XeQZa8hdPEU I'm beginning to wonder if there was an overreaction?

I noted that someone's assertion that the "Ruby community" is one that "excel[s] in extraordinary feats of conference sexism and misogynic behaviour and is considered at the forefront of the brogrammer scourge" is unfair to the larger, diverse group of Rubyists, most of whom are not involved in these incidents, not sexist, and not "brogrammers."

What's remarkable to me is that it appears from the discussion here that the majority of people who care enough about this problem to comment do, in fact, think that putting on the best possible conference means excluding women and people of color from panels. Ditto the conference organizers, who de facto form part of the community leadership. My experience over lo, these many decades has been that communities are responsive to the examples set by their leadership. I would never say that the Unix community was without its problems but you'd certainly never have heard the people with a lot of profile defending a lack of diversity or lack of effort to improve diversity, and I continue to be surprised that the situation in techie land has deteriorated over the years rather than improved.

I tend to think that if you (peterc) were that concerned about the problem, you'd probably be figuring out how to fix it rather than arguing that it's not that bad.

Conferences should be about having quality talks and not concerned with having to have gender/ethnic diversity within these talks. I don't go to a conference because there are a few Female speakers or people of different Ethnicities. I go to a conference because I will learn something.

I agree there needs to be more diversity, but it shouldn't have a chokehold on something such as a conference. That's when we hit the extremes of something and that's when things become problematic.

[adamjleonard]

Conferences should be about having quality talks and not concerned with having to have gender/ethnic diversity within these talks.

It bothers me that so many people here here and over a number of blogs seem to be convinced that the two goals contradict each other. The pool of potential outstanding speakers is always much larger than any conference's line-up. A good program committee is aware that relying on their existing networks will privilege those similar to themselves. Their selections may well be individually excellent, but taken in the aggregate nothing more than yet another example of glossing over the those whose work and expertise is overlooked, yet again.

And do we have to argue the point that at roughly equal quality of individual speakers, a diverse conference is better than one that offers a monoculture of speakers all from the same in-group? (For starters, speaking as a potential conference goer, of course I'd be attracted much more to the former rather than the latter.)

Last, I do have to wonder how a pertinent observation in a Tweet about a problem, from someone who is respected in the community for having contributed to solving that very problem, could possibly bring down a conference in less than 24h.

I don't go to a conference because there are a few Female speakers or people of different Ethnicities.

Correct. You don't have to think about that at all, in fact, because you have the abundant privilege necessary to not be concerned with whether a conference fairly represents members of marginalized genders and ethnicities.

what @brianstanwyck x 100

Britruby was in the wrong and instead of fixing the problem they took their ball and went home. What a joke.

@carsomyr wrote:

Speaking of experiments, if you believe that > 81% of the Ruby community is white and male, then the P-value of a randomly sampled, 15-person speaker lineup being all white and male is 5%, which is the confidence threshold for many scientific experiments.

Well, a p-value isn't the same as confidence. Confidence is a value you decide on and use to compare errors in testing.

Anyway, ok, statistics! If you take it as a randomly sampled Bernoulli trial then you get something less than 5%. Normally, you would do something like flip a coin 15 times, what is the likelihood of getting 15 heads in a row? Well, before we look at that, I must mention that this is an unfair coin that happens to fall on heads far more often, say 80% of the time. (under assumption that 20% of the tech world are women) This is an assumption based off of Taubee studies and corroborated by other conferences that achieve speaker lineups with this distribution. We do not need any more information to make an analysis.

The probability of picking 2 men in a set of 2 is 8/10 * 8/10 * the number of combinations that contain 2 men (1) or 64/100 or 64%. The probability of picking 1 man and 1 woman is 8/10 * 2/10 * 2 (the number of combinations: man is picked and then a woman, a woman is picked and then a man) or 32%. The probability of picking 2 women is 2/10 * 2/10 * 1 or 4%. Ok. Easy one out of the way. As you can tell, it is very likely that 2 men are picked.

You may think that since the community is predominately male that this result is obvious. You may follow-up that it is obvious in the BritRuby case as well. This is a fallacy. It is simply because the number of selections is small, but as it increases, it becomes more and more unlikely. We can generalize the probability function; with n speakers, the p-value for x women is:

p(x women) = (8/10) * (n-x) * (2/10) * x * n! / (x! * (n-x)!)

I wrote more here with some code: http://blog.davewilkinsonii.com/posts/conference_diversity

Now, take a look at how this curve evens out. As the number of speakers increases, the probability of not selecting any women goes down sharply. This is because as n increases, the distribution, like most, will eventually model the population. If 20% of women are able to be picked, then it is likely that 20% of the speaker lineup will be women. 20% of 15 is 3. Let's use our function:

15 men and  0 women =  3.5%  <-- Observed
14 men and  1 women = 13.1%
13 men and  2 women = 23.0%
12 men and  3 women = 25.0%  <-- Expected (Against number of CS degree awardees)
11 men and  4 women = 18.7%
10 men and  5 women = 10.3%
9  men and  6 women =  4.2%
8  men and  7 women =  1.3%  <-- Ideal (Against world population)
7  men and  8 women = ~0.3%
6  men and  9 women = ~0.0%

Just as we thought. We can easily use these numbers to get the p-values for a range:

=0  women:  3.5%  <-- Observed
>0  women: 96.5%
>1  women: 83.4%
>2  women: 60.4%  <-- Expected (Against number of CS degree awardees)
>3  women: 35.4%  <-- It is more likely to have more than the expected number
>4  women: 16.7%      than to have exactly no women represented.
>5  women:  6.4%
>6  women:  2.2%  <-- Ideal (Against world population)
>7  women:  0.9%
>8  women: ~0.0%
=0  men:   ~0.0%

Ahh. So, the probability of having 15 men and 0 women is 3.5% given 20% of the tech world are women. A rather unlikely outcome. What is more interesting is that the probability of having more than 3 women is 35.4%. Therefore, a conference with a selection process that is blind to gender is 10 times more likely to over-represent women than to not represent women at all.

Since no women have been represented, then we can suggest one of two things:

  1. The selection process has an implicit gender bias. (and we may have to insist on race bias as well)
  2. Women are greatly unqualified to speak relative to men, and this factor lowers the percentage chance of choosing a woman due to lack of merit.

We don't want to say 1, because we would like to think we are better than this as a whole, and we do not want to blame somebody that has spent so much time and effort putting something together. We don't want to say 2, because it's preposterous due to a myriad of studies and common sense, but people still undoubtedly do, and have done so above. Because women indeed speak at other conferences in a reasonable percentage, I'm afraid the first is more likely, BritRuby's selection process was greatly and gravely flawed, and we are indeed better than this.

It's sad we doom ourselves sometimes with going over the top. just crazy

The reason for cancelling this conference, the only UK one, is totally ridiculous. Maybe I can say they didn't have enough gay people and complain about that? I wouldn't though, as I don't give a rats ass what colour or creed the speakers are. I am secure enough to know that the organisers would not exclude anyone on this basis.

If we start cancelling things for ridiculous witch-hunts like this then we might as well cancel every conference because the speakers aren't poor/gay/blue/smokers/black/morris dancers/music lovers/insert stupid thing here

This crap has gone too far. I have fought for equality all my life, but this is simply stupid, and the people who are justifying it just have a chip on their shoulder (just as I would have if I complained they didn't have people like me on the speaker list).

Oh, and I'm a cat by the way. A purple cat with one leg and no money - and I'm mad as hell about this!

I’ve refrained from chiming in here because I already wrote my initial thoughts about the BritRuby deal on my blog, but I want to encourage people to avoid the following phrases:

  • lynch mob
  • witch hunt
  • "internet shit storm"
  • "PC brigade"

No one picked up weapons and marched on the doors of the BritRuby organizers to kill them. No one accused them of witchcraft and suggested they be burned at the stake. There were only a small handful of people tweeting about this issue before BR was suddenly cancelled, and most of that was civil and attempts to offer help with diversity. No accusations of racism or sexism had been made, only factual observations that revealed a bias that was not accounted for.

And lastly, it is downright unhelpful to blame some kind of “Politically Correct Brigade” for the actions of people on the other end. BritRuby decided to cancel, no one had a gun to their heads, no sponsors had actually pulled out (or, as it appears so far, even just threatened to do so). The ruby community simply said, we don’t think it is cool that you chose to showcase nothing but more white men in your conference. That’s not being politically correct so much as expressing a value being shared by an increasingly large portion of the community. People immediately offered help to BritRuby, but those offers were ignored and then they decided to cancel it—and those two critical actions that led to this much bigger debate were both choices the BritRuby team made on their own.

It's interesting how frequently the same arguments come up whenever someone notices that a professional events or conference has turned into a white-dudes-parade. As a heterosexual middle-class white dude who grew up Protestant in the US, I'm usually one of the last to notice -- coincidentally, most of the speakers at tech conferences look like me, and I don't notice it. It's just the norm.

But just because I'm used to it and it's comfortable for me doesn't mean it should be the default or that it's a good thing. Attempting to get a broader mix of speaker perspectives represented doesn't have to be some sort of draconian Big Brother process, either.

Over in the the OSS community I'm a part of, we've had similar complaints when speakers at our international events were primarily Americans. It wasn't an intentional effort to exclude non-Americans, just something that happened when most of the submissions came from a crowd of regular speakers in the US and the folks doing the selection picked speakers they knew and trusted. Realizing what had happened didn't mean falling on a sword and weeping, "We're xenophobes!" It just meant acknowledging that the process and the approach we'd taken resulted in a lineup that didn't represent our community and didn't serve attendees as well as it could. Correcting it wasn't about setting "quotas," but we did have to deliberately reach out to more people outside the circle of "regulars" that looked, sounded, and thought like us.

SXSW, more recently, has been deliberately reaching out to folks who aren't from the usual east and west coast tech scenes -- they want to ensure that there's a diverse mix of speakers because that makes for an interesting and engaging event.

I think gender skew in a list of speakers is very similar - it doesn't mean that there's some kind of sexist conspiracy! But when conference after conference has a parade of Dudes Like Me at the podium, it means that somehow, the way that most conferences are approaching the process results in a more homogenous mix of perspectives than it could. It means that we're not getting the kinds of perspectives and insights that we could, and that's a net loss for everyone.

Recognizing that, pointing it out, and expressing disappointment with the pervasiveness of it isn't a witch hunt. It's not a demand for quotas. It's not a "lynch mob." The response to the disappointment and the complaints about it doesn't have to be defensiveness, anger, or -- depressingly -- a cancelled conference. Nobody forced this to happen, and it's really sad that what could've been a conversation about ways to make an event richer and more interesting turned into... well, this.

This is stupid. I will consider sponsoring the entire event depending on cost. Please contact me via GitHub and we can talk.

@seanhandley I am saddened to hear that. I hope that will not deter you from tying again. Contact me if you need advice on getting diverse speakers or on responding to bullies online.

Lots and lots of frustration voiced above by people who object to being forced to implement diversity measures for moral or political reasons. As an independent person, I understand that attitude. I object to others judging me, given their moral compass.

What I didn't see discussed above was whether or not diversity matters for the advancement of Ruby. I think that's the important question for the Ruby community. If the general agreement is that is a worthy goal (for pragmatic, not political or moral reasons), then considering how increasing awareness and building a more well rounded participation level can take place.

If the Ruby community does not see diversity as an important factor in improving the outcomes of the project, then it should be easy enough to develop a general statement that describes this position that can be used on conference material to help explain selection processes.

It's easy to rant, whether it's on Twitter, or in a Gist, but sometimes that just further exasperates the problem by failing to get at pragmatic solutions.

Who would wanna talk about such crappy language? ;] It's obvious that there's nothing to talk about right?

Isn't this a form of reversed racism? So if one of those "minority representatives" show up in the future, he or she or it would be there to make up the numbers rather than to serve the original purpose?

Well said Sean, that is absolutely patently ridiculous. What idiocy - the fools making the accusations are the racists and sexists, if we are all equal then what exactly are they drawing attention to? PC makes me sick, its not progressive, its dangerously regressive and its getting worse.

@dmilith - I don't have any respect for Ruby either, but please don't troll.

I would suggest, in all seriousness, that the subsequent Brit Ruby conferences invite a group of Indian Hijras as speakers. Whereas inviting merely for the sake of diversity would be offensive to most minorities, Hijras are different and roles like this one are natural to them. It would make them extremely happy.

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