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Welcoming Diversity is too Passive

I don’t mean for this post to sound overly critical of either Scholars Lab or Speaking in Code, their recent call for applications which links to their mention on diversity and how it is welcome, something that is always heartening to hear.1

Yet, this sort of thing reflects something that is a larger problem and one reason why gaps in gender, race, ability, etc., continue despite the increasing awareness of the problem and the efforts like Speaking in Code to explicitly let marginalized people know that we can participate and are encouraged to apply.

The problem is that a single post on a webpage, or a tweeted link, or whatever else simply isn’t enough. In part because before there are internet filtre bubbles to worry about there were (and still are) social bubbles that segregate along various lines of identity. A recent article highlighted how social networks drive Black unemployment noting just how common it is for people to leverage their social contacts into employment and how this is one of the causes for a Black unemployment rate that is higher than the average (in the US).

What social filtre bubbles mean – for something like Speaking in Code and their efforts to encourage marginalized people to participate with what appears to be little effort for proactive outreach – is that the message is most likely only to reach those who do not actually need to hear it (e.g., the marginalized groups they hope will apply).

These types of social filtre bubbles are more prevalent than a lot of people who don’t belong to one marginalized group, or another, usually think. I wish I could count the times that I would show up to a party organized by white friend, only to be the only person of colour there. And the truly sad thing about this, is that I used to live (and currently do live) in some of the most diverse cities in North America (namely, Vancouver and Toronto).

Outreach is critically important in efforts to diversify, since those seeking to diversify need to not only make explicit mentions and welcomes on their pages/calls, but also need to contact members of the communities they wish to participate. Otherwise, they run the risk of putting that call out there, bouncing it around their non-target audience, having the event: only to notice that, yet again, there is a troubling lack of diversity. And then repeating this over and over again (perhaps despairing that they aren’t succeeding and not knowing why).

Achieving some level of desired diversity requires a plan and action. It requires outreach. It requires intentional decisions to significantly change how your organization or group has been functioning (since, they are already proven to either discourage marginalized participation or outright exclude it).