APIStrat: An Inclusive Conversation

Read our round-up of some of the challenges, controversies, and solutions being discussed to address the lack of diversity in tech (and at tech conferences). Here’s what API Strategy and Practice Conference is going to do about it. Join our API conversation on inclusion and diversity…

While API Strategy and Practice has had a Code of Conduct aimed at encouraging fairness and a welcoming environment for all, for our Austin event we are also introducing a Diversity Statement (link when live).

API Strategy and Practice is committed to encouraging innovation and best practice in the ever-strengthening API economy. We see diversity as being a key ingredient of innovation and quality management practices in the API and broader tech sector.

Our diversity statement says in part:

To contribute to a thriving API economy, we need everybody. We believe that APIs can be a technological tool that can transform business, government and community. We believe APIs can create opportunities for everyone and can stimulate new models of business, including for those who have been underrepresented or excluded from participating fully in their communities, in business and in broader society.

To this end, we are working to ensure that at every level of conference organization, we have representation from men and women, and speakers and participants from Black, Latino and disability groups.

We are inspired by the 50/50 pledge and by the work of Women Who Code, Code2040, Black Founders, the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley, and the White House initiative to encourage LGBT tech participation.

We are also inspired by the work of API-focused tech companies like Yelp, SumAll, Salesforce, Slack and Stack Overflow.

We recognize that this can be a contentious issue at times. While on the face of it, most may argue that of course we all want equality in participation from diverse communities but often we hear that this is too hard, that quotas end up discriminating against men, or that it is just not possible because history or math.

Since 2013, tech journalist KC has been joking that the arguments against equal representation of women in conference lineups can play out as a bingo of excuses:

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But is is because of these shrugged-shouldered dismissals-to-action that we still have a situation in IT where, according to Catalyst, women make up just 5% of CEOs, 21% of boards, and a third of executive management.

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Source: Catalyst

Laura Weidman Powers of Code2040 shows similar under-representation amongst Black and Latino groups.

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Source: Elaine Marino tweeted about Laura Weidman Powers’ presentation on underrepresentation of minorities in tech.

Other research shows that, on average, women make up just 25% of speakers at tech events. This is despite the fact that evidence shows us that it is 2015. And that investments in tech startups with at least one female founder performed 63% better than all-male teams. Studies into companies across a whole of range of industries consistently show that where the management team and workforce is more diverse, earnings are higher, fraud is lower, customer satisfaction is higher and more staff enjoy their working environment.

Luckily, there is growing recognition that some of our collective biases and excuses against creating more diverse tech conferences and working environments are off the mark and holding us back from leveraging diversity as an enabler for a more just, innovative — and dynamic — future.

Rachel Thomas lists some empirical research that suggests that without a willingness to implement solutions, we can too easily fall into unconscious biases.

In a personal blog, developer and author of Build APIs You Won’t Hate, Phil Sturgeon bravely looks at his own biases and bingo usage. He came to a new conclusion to revisit the idea of quotas and to recommit to making events that he is involved with more inclusive.

Others — including female tech leaders like Lindy Stephens, Australian Managing Director of IT Consultancy ThoughtWorks - have also reversed their position on quotas. She told Business Review Weekly that she had “done a 180 degree about-turn (on the issue of quotas) – because it has worked.”

One of the loudest arguments we hear against the use of quotas to ensure equal representation of women is that some speakers may feel that they have only been invited to the stage because of their gender. Diversity policies for conferences such as API Strategy and Practice are trying to redress the balance of under-representation while still ensuring a high quality of speakers from across the API industry. It is our job to actively search out speakers who better reflect our diverse community. We are trying to rectify a systemic issue here. In the past, tech conferences have given voice to a lot of white men, which has encouraged more white men to present, while women have not necessarily seen it as a space in which they are welcome to participate. As we seek to change this, we have to seek out the best and brightest talent who may not have submitted a call for proposal to speak. It’s not about giving free talks away solely based on gender: it’s about redressing the balance by seeking out leaders in API technologies from all walks of life.

In other words, it is fundamental to our conference organizing that everybody who is speaking on stage deserves to be there on merit. The conference team may have worked harder to contact some speakers, but there is no compromise in quality in our final program.

That’s at the core of why we at API Strategy and Practice have set ourselves an internal goal of trying to reach parity in speakers across the whole program, and wherever possible, within each session track as well. We believe that if we do that this year, it will be easier to encourage more diversity next year, and each year following that until the API economy provides opportunities for everyone to participate and contribute leadership.

We are approaching the API conversation around inclusion and diversity in a way that addresses the problem that 50/50 Pledge Founder Sandi MacPherson described to The Guardian last month. She said: “The issue is not that we’ll end up with people on the stage who shouldn’t be there, it’s literally just that the connection between event organizers and speakers isn’t there.”

While gender inequity is a glaringly obvious problem in the tech industry, our diversity statement also seeks to make sure others who are underrepresented at tech events and in our community are welcomed and encouraged to speak.

PanAmerican World journalist Clarisa Herrera, for example, recently wrote about the glaring lack of Latin Americans in management positions at tech companies, with only about 3-5% in management roles, according to Herrera’s research. She shares that there are a range of new initiatives emerging including accelerators and incubators, the Latino Startup Alliance, leadership summits and others focused on addressing this imbalance.

David Peter shares his insights in Model View Culture into how people who are deaf are prevented from fully participating in tech conferences and even in utilizing online resources, where video podcasts may not be transcribed and where open source library video tutorials are uncaptioned. Peter spent thirteen years working with an audiologist so he could learn how to speak and hear with non-deaf people. The onus is always on the deaf person to communicate better with non-deaf people. He points out that people with disabilities are less likely to be employed and earn less money, and that he has “never met another person who is deaf at a hearing tech conference” and as a result has stopped attending tech meetups.

So here are some of the steps we have already taken to implement the Diversity Statement and build those new connections:

  • We have equal representation in our Program Committee of men and women and we encourage all of our Program Committee members to help us reach out to new networks and contacts
  • We are seeking equal representation of men and women as Session Chairs, and we are encouraging these leaders to help us identify new voices in the API developer and business community
  • We are actively reaching out to women, Black, Latino and LGBT communities, and people with disabilities to invite them to talk and participate
  • We are working with sponsors to create a subsidy program to help speakers from diverse backgrounds attend.

Now, we are asking for your support and help. You can:

  • Promote APIStrat to your diverse networks and encourage innovative thinkers of all walks of life to consider attending.
  • If you have presenting skills, we invite you to help mentor our first-time speakers and others who would like to be in contact with a seasoned presenter who can provide some feedback over email or skype.
  • If you host a tech meetup, we would love to talk about co-hosting a meetup with you in the leadup to API Strategy and Practice so that our first-time speakers can practice their presentation with an interested and welcoming audience.
  • If you have the organizational capacity, we invite you to help sponsor our travel subsidy and scholarship program to make sure a more diverse speaker lineup can attend.
  • If you are presenting at our conference (or at others), please make captions available on your presentation slides to help those with different hearing capacities.
  • Get informed. Read articles like Sofia Woods’ recent article ”10 Things Men Can Do to Support Women at Conferences”, Jasmine Brett Singer’s article for the HuffPost ”Championing Change from Inside Silicon Valley”, and the various references linked throughout this article.

We recognize that diversity amongst our speakers and audience should be the norm, and shouldn’t need singling out as a particular strategy. But the tech scene — and broader society — just isn’t there yet.

So we hope that the API Strategy and Practice Diversity Statement plays a small role in making sure that everyone knows they are not just welcome but encouraged to participate. That you all have an opportunity to share your insights and be heard for your ideas, and not judged or disregarded because of how you look or act, how much experience you have, or how you live your life. We hope that our Diversity Statement means that whoever you are, you will feel confident that you can approach anyone, introduce yourself, and share in a conversation about how to innovate in, and be a part of, the API economy.