Diversity is a thing, at least I think it’s a thing. I spend a bunch of hours each week teaching people on the autism spectrum how to test software. I like to think of that as a way I help to contribute to diversity within the software testing community. I like that some sections of the test community (the IT industry in general really) are working hard to increase the number of women participating in conferences and to raise the recognition of what women bring to software development. Keep in mind that both examples are dimensions of diversity not diversity in its entirety.
When we talk about diversity I think we are probably talking about diversity and inclusion. Should we change the reference to be more specific? I mean, we really want participation as well, right? The primary goal, in my opinion, is not increasing the diversity of the crowd attending. The primary goal is to increase the diversity of those presenting at conferences. Providing opportunities for people to tell stories from many different perspectives.
When I said “diversity is a thing” I meant that in a good way. There are people aware of its importance, how it can reach out to new, otherwise excluded, or marginalised, groups of people and give them a voice and recognition. In this way, we build communities that radiate positive energy and a multitude of perspectives when it comes to problem solving and creative thinking. An analogy here is to look at basic animal behaviour. In-breeding causes a narrowing of the available gene pool. Keep the pool tight enough for long enough and once strong, healthy animals become endangered. The limited gene pool, given some time, will begin to amplify genetic imperfections. I see diversity and inclusion as one way we are able to keep the “genetic thought pool” vibrant and healthy. A way we actively guard against group think and nodding acceptance of ideas that should be challenged.
Out of a drive for greater awareness we have concepts such as the diversity charter at http://diversitycharter.org/. I’m neither anti nor pro initiatives such as these. It calls out that we should think about diversity, that’s a good thing. The charter itself is necessarily broad. You can sign the charter, display the logo on your website. Theoretically, all good stuff. Hold that thought for a moment.
“Diversity is a thing” can also be a negative. Encouraging diversity and participation takes work. It requires thinking, active decision making and being able to justify your actions. Making decisions and justifying them when questioned really shouldn’t be an issue when testers are involved. Heck we do this every day. I’d argue that within the CDT community there is an intense focus on this aspect. CDT wears critical thinking and accountability as badges of honour.
Recently, on LinkedIn I saw a statement that “we take diversity seriously”. It was above a link to Smita Mishra’s talk on diversity at the Quality Software Australia conference. No other “poster” I saw for the QSA conference mentioned the importance of diversity. I found no diversity statement on the website (although I did eventually find a link to diversitycharter.org hidden amongst the media partners). I suppose at this point I could drop in a snapshot of the LinkedIn post to the Australian Testers LinkedIn page. Instead here’s a quick summary:
My initial query was to ask what diversity actually means to the organisers of the conference. It was hard not to notice that of 21 conference speakers, only 5 were female. There were no females running any of the workshops. Diversity is wider than just male/female ratios, no argument from me on that, but when you feature that statement above a female speaker……
Two days passed, no response so I posted a follow up to LinkedIn. Of particular interest to me was that I could easily find pages of legal documents protecting the conference’s rights and interests. It was not so easy to find anything about why “we take diversity seriously”.
Mike Lyle, one of the speakers at the conference, responded to me. Thanks Mike. I appreciate you took the time but you didn’t address my questions. Actually, you couldn’t because I wanted to understand in what ways diversity is important to the conference organisers. You can’t answer the question because, as far as I’m aware, you’re not an organiser of the conference.
As a final shot at getting a response I noticed that @AussieTesters had tweeted “we take diversity seriously” (@AussieTesters has direct links to organisation of the conference). So I responded to the tweet asking if I could get an answer to my question. This resulted in me:
- being blocked from Australian Testers LinkedIn page
- blocked from @AussieTesters twitter
- blocked from Rajesh Mathur’s personal Twitter account (Raj is one of the conference organisers. It’s an account I wasn’t actually following).
I find this reaction somewhat strange. I can guess at why the response took the form it did due to some history, but this should not have been the reaction to the question I asked. It is a fair question. It should have been easy to answer as well. Diversity can be modelled in so many ways that a thoughtful response should be pretty simple. If the conference, through its organisers, really believe that “diversity is important to us” then stating why should be pretty matter of fact. In fact the chance to get your views out there should be a welcome opportunity. A chance to show that you thought about the issues, how you feel about them and talk about how you incorporated this into the conference program. Being unable or unwilling to do this gives me the impression that diversity might not be as important to this conference as they are suggesting.
Beyond this though, the reaction to block a fair and reasonable question, to simply dodge it in the simplest way possible, smacks of double standards.
In 2016 a couple of Melbourne based testers started up a test conference called Tconf. The conference stood out mostly because it was incredibly affordable and had a decent number of tracks. The tracks being offered were only of passing interest to me at the time. I let it roll in favour of spending my dollars on other things. I didn’t think much more of it until a blog post written by Colin Cherry (https://itesting.com.au/2016/10/21/diversity-still-a-dream-in-software-testing/). Colin wrote about Tconf having no women speakers and the lack of consideration about the importance of diversity. It was a pretty “full on” blog. I agree with the diversity message, not so much with the way it was delivered. It is what it is. Colins blog received a number of comments, some supporting, some questioning. There was one particular response supporting Colin, which now stands out as particularly interesting. Note that the bolding is mine. I have bolded the sections which Raj picked out of a response to Colin’s blog. The non-bold text are Raj’s responses.
Not sure I understand the point you’re trying to prove with your boycott.
– Nick, I just spoke to Colin to understand his viewpoint. The point that he is trying to prove with his boycott is that he cares about diversity and that he is disturbed with the fact that the event in question has completely ignored this important aspect.
The event does seem a little lean on the diversity side, at least in terms of the speakers, but I hadn’t even noticed until you mentioned it. Maybe I’m a bad person.
– A little lean? Sure?
Perhaps the talks put forward by these males were of such high quality they couldn’t turn any of them down.
– Perhaps most of the speakers ‘are’ the organisers and mates. If that is the case then who is going to really make a call about the quality of talks?
Perhaps there was a shortage and the organizers simply went with the speakers they had available at their disposal.
– Perhaps there was never a call for papers and the organisers decided to deliver talks without even considering the diversity aspects of the programme.
Can’t we just live and let live here?
– Absolutely. We would love to do so. In order to live we do have to care about others’ living as well. Like talking about abolishing poverty doesn’t abolish it, ignoring or hiding behind ignorance about diversity doesn’t help in improving diversity.
Neither Colin nor I have anything against the individuals who are speaking at this event. I have met many of them and they are all good people. I would want to give benefit of doubt to people who have organised this event but we should know that they are not new to organising events. Colin has raised an important point here and has reminded all of us about something we forget about or don’t care about. We must be thankful to him.
There’s much in the above response that interests me now. Especially, and I quote from above
“……..ignoring or hiding behind ignorance about diversity doesn’t help in improving diversity.”
That statement has a very hollow ring to it in the light of recent actions from QSA. I think if you are willing to question others then you should also be prepared to be questioned. If you make statements about the importance of something, be prepared to answer questions. Claims without evidence don’t count. If, as a community we are serious about diversity we need to be accountable for demonstrating our commitment to it. Linking to a broad charter about diversity is not diversity, it’s just a link to someone else’s words about their desires.
I believe in the value of diversity. As I noted at the start of this blog, I spend quite a bit of time (all of it unpaid) to help support neurodiversity within testing. I value what diversity, in its many forms, can contribute to the testing community. I’m glad that I know a lot of people that also share a genuine interest in growing diversity in testing and more broadly in IT. This is a subject that deserves thought and careful consideration. Linking to a charter is nice but a charter is a guide, it is not a set of actions. Much in the same way that businesses hitch themselves to the “Agile” tag. That doesn’t make you Agile, your actions are what matters. Diversity is the same. A link to a charter without being able to explain how you implement the sentiments of the charter makes diversity a throwaway concept. Diversity is far too important to allow this to happen to it. If you are serious about diversity then make it clear the ways in which you support it, what is it that your conference (or business) does that meets dimensions of diversity. Walking away from a conversation does nothing to strengthen diversity.