Next week kicks off the latest version of ZendCon in Las Vegas. Though I had, for a time, expected to be there … I won’t be. You should know why.
I really enjoy speaking in public. It’s been a regular part of my career for the past decade, and it gives me ample opportunity to connect with and learn from the communities I care so deeply about.
I tend to submit multiple talks to multiple events per year. On average, I think I’ve spoken at 4-5 conferences per year for the past 6 years – in one “season” I presented in some form at 14 events during the period of the year. This gives me a lot of time on stage, but even more time connection with members of the community.
It’s opened my eyes to quite a few things; one in particular is the lack of diversity (or at least the representation thereof) at many events. We have a wildly diverse community, but a fairly homogenous lineup of “experts” presenting on stage.
Representation matters. I got involved in tech because people I related to were standing on stage telling me that I could. I want everyone to have that opportunity. To have that experience. More often than not, this means I need to step aside and encourage someone else to stand in the limelight. That’s humbling, but perfectly OK with me.
And it’s why I won’t be in Vegas next week …
My original acceptance email was lost to the aether, but eventually the organizing team was able to make contact and confirmed that yes, I was invited to speak. They’d selected both a workshop on security and a shorter talk about promise-driven architecture in PHP.
I was ecstatic!
ZendCon is one of the larger PHP events every year. Better yet, it’s a super short flight from Portland – there aren’t very many high-profile events I can attend to spend time with my community in my neck of the woods. I immediately accepted the invitation and flagged my calendar so I could schedule my time away from the office.
But then … my conscience got to me.
Don’t get me wrong, the speakers’ lineup for this event looks to bring in solid experts who will be presenting great content. However, it’s also the speakers’ lineup that led me to withdraw from the event.
At the time I was asked to speak, there were 37 other speakers listed on the website. This group of individuals consisted of:
- 4 women
- 2 (apparent) people of color
For those who don’t want to do the math, this meant the speakers group was 89% male and 95% white. Adding my name to that list did nothing to make those numbers better.
My presence as a speaker at ZendCon would have actively diminished the value of the event. I refuse to be another white, male face among a speaker list comprised overwhelmingly of white men. This is not reflective of our community, and my ignoring that feeling and speaking anyway would be a betrayal of that community.
I hold no animosity towards the organizers of or speakers at ZendCon. However, I will not participate in your event until you address this discouraging lack of representation.
I’ve taken fairly strong stances towards many things. I will not participate in events that lack a code of conduct. I will not abide racists, sexists, ageists, ableists, or similar.
I will not participate in events that fail to address serious issues regarding diversity, representation, or inclusion in our community. It’s one thing to say “well, people didn’t apply …” It’s another thing entirely to actively encourage members of the community to engage.
Said another way – if members of particular subcommunities are not organically responding to your CfP in volumes that would make a diverse speakers’ panel easy, you have far deeper problems with your event than you realize and it’s likely something I will not engage with in the first place.
As I’ve said on many topics recently: we can do better. We must do better. Those to whom we leave our projects, businesses, industry, profession behind deserve that we do better. Everything we do today is paving the way for generations to come – I am committed to doing everything in my power to ensure that the future of our community recognizes, respects, and values diversity.
Right now, that means calling out an inclusivity issue and refusing to be a part of the event that’s done little to solve it. In my white, male, cisgendered privilege, one of the strongest statements I can make is to not participate. If that makes room for one more person who doesn’t reflect “me” to the world, it’s a net positive.