“I am making TV look like the world looks.” –Shonda Rhimes
When Steve began to curate a list of speakers for the first Design & Content Conference (DCC), his struggle centred around creating a diverse stage. He knew that as a white, cisgender, heterosexual dude with a social circle of mostly the same, he’d need to dig deep. And he did. At least as far as his tools could reach.
Our final speaker roster was a female majority, and Steve was pleased. Proud. Our whole team was! And more women on stage is never a bad thing. But is it enough? A woman on Twitter didn’t think so. She zoomed in on the sea of white on the DCC 2015 speaker page. She’s since deleted her end of the conversation, but the gist was:
- Her: Another white speaker lineup. Just what the world needs.
- Steve: You’re right to point that out. I’d love to chat about changing this.
- Her: No thanks. Do better.
After a shitty first reaction and an overnight soak in the discomfort of being called out, Steve tackled the important work of doing better. It was a lesson in remembering that even the seemingly small choices we make can perpetuate racism, sexism, and homophobia.
“None of your faves are unproblematic. None of your friends or family are unproblematic. You are not unproblematic. There is literally no point during the process of learning about social justice type stuff and unlearning internalized bullshit and dismantling power systems at which you magically become enlightened and unproblematic. It does not exist. There is no tangible finish line, there is only endless, arduous work and it’s hard but it needs to be done.” -willowbuffy
So. Challenge accepted. With the speaker lineup for 2015 set, Steve knew our first year would be about listening, learning, and making a plan for increased inclusivity at DCC 2016. A snapshot of our attendees made it clear that our majority white stage attracted an audience of the same.
“While women are the largest group in our general population that aren’t well represented in our tech communities, they aren’t the only group. It’s important that we understand the various marginalized groups and the issues and barriers they face trying to participate in our spaces.” Ashe Dryden, Increasing Diversity at Your Conference
A couple months after DCC 2015, when the speaker lineup for 2016 was heavy on his mind, I texted Steve—while he was on the road with our daughter—a link to the essay, Same Old Script. There’s a video (embedded on page 2) that I asked him to watch and discuss with our daughter, whom we’re hoping will grow into a media-savvy maven. (Hear that, Emma?)
The video discusses the ways tropes and stereotypes continue to cling to actors despite diversity being on the rise. The problem is rooted in the ubiquitous mostly-white, male writing staff.
“As pretty much any person of color can tell you, it’s easy to tell from watching a series whether there weren’t enough people of color in the writing room.”
This Is What Happens When Writers' Rooms Aren't Diverse
This is what happens when writers' rooms aren't diverse. (Even the biggest TV shows aren't immune to these stereotypes. cc New Girl, Modern Family, The Walking Dead.) More: http://slate.me/1ZRQQVcPosted by Slate.com on Monday, October 19, 2015
After watching the video, Steve texted me back with the idea of making our “writers’ room” more diverse. He suggested we hire a panel of people to help remove the bias from our speaker selection. He wanted to find a diverse group to both grow and cull a list of speakers. He envisioned us working as a team to find voices that represent the diversity of the design and content strategy communities.
“It’s important to diversify writing staffs for shows with white-led casts, so as to counter and minimize lame one-dimensional characterizations. But equally important is populating the television landscape with shows centred around nonwhite characters and giving them diverse writers to match.” -Aisha Harris
Steve got to work on an email inviting a small, diverse group to help create and pair down a list of potential speakers. We asked for a commitment of 3-4 pre-conference meetings and offered an honorarium for their time. The resulting DCC 2016 speaker list is pretty squee-worthy.
Our 2016 speaker lineup is an important step in the right direction, but it’s not the end. There’s more learning to happen. We hope every DCC Event to follow will be more diverse and inclusive than the last.
None of these ideas are our ideas—or new even. Leaders like Ashe Dryden are doing thorough and thoughtful research on producing inclusive events. Ashe told us three years ago that our “organizing group and volunteers should be as diverse as the community [we] hope to create.”
We’re listening. Here’s to being a work in progress.