January 28-29, I attended the Institute on Governance’s Digital Governance Forum in Ottawa and it’s a good thing I did because the event had a lot of great things but there was one big thing it didn’t have: diversity. Let’s just say, I was one of seven specs of pepper in a sea of salty participants (OK, maybe a little over 100 grains isn’t a sea but you get my point). However, compared to the speakers, the participants looked like the United Nations as, of the more than 30 speakers, not one was non-white.

And that was just cultural diversity. Several speakers and participants noted the lack of young people and there were scant, if any references, from the stage or the floor, to the potential impact of these crucial, global issues on people with disabilities, gay people, or aboriginal people (there were lots of women attending, and some speaking, but the podium was heavy on testosterone).

I asked one of the organisers why all the speakers were white and he said it came down to availability. Really? Not one brown person qualified to speak on digital governance was available for a conference that was months in the planning? I then asked how his team had chosen speakers and he said they discussed it among themselves. Finally, I asked how they got out of their own bubble since they’re all white…

Now let me be clear: I’m not implying the organisers purposely chose all white folks. In fact, I’d be happy if that was the answer because then the solution would be easy: replace them. No, the reasons are more complex – and systemic. It’s about how the networks we use to do things, whether finding a good movie to see or finding speakers for a conference, are often too homogeneous. It’s about staff being too homogeneous – and too busy – to take the time needed to find out how to get outside their networks (and let diverse groups know about their events far in advance). And it’s about how social networks are making this all worse, not better.

However, it’s also about underrepresented groups advocating for themselves, getting the word out to their communities about learning opportunities so people can attend, and letting organizers know they have great people who can speak on a variety of issues.

Smart organisations don’t pursue diversity out of guilt. They do it because they know it’s crucial to achieving their objectives faster than their competitors. Just ask the Montreal Canadians. 😉

So here are 3 ways you can help narrow the digital divide – and help your organisation’s bottom line in the process:

1) Diversify your networks – and your perspective. At conferences, seek out folks who look, walk and talk different than you and connect with them. Set up Google Alerts for things the dominant ways of thinking in your field (i.e if you’re conservative, have things with progressive points of view sent to you daily and vice versa).

2) Diversify your organization – when hiring, seek out great people who look, walk and talk different than you – and hire them.

3) Diversify your outreach – get the word out to underrepresented groups about your events and job offerings via the online channels they frequent (start by simply Googling the name of the group and your city).

I did my part. After the conference, I congratulated the organisers on a great event then sent them the name of a brown friend of mine, a Harvard lecturer on globalization, social change and technology, as a possible speaker.

 

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