Increase Your Diversity, Grow Your Community

We’ve hosted 4 large offline events and a bunch more workshops.

Each time, we issue a call for speakers. We receive on average around 50 to 60 applicants. 90% of them are white men.

We could argue ‘well, the process was open to everyone’ and have a speaking line-up that is 90% white men. This assumes everyone had an equal opportunity and it just magically turned out 90% of those that put themselves forward were white men.

But it’s not even close to a fair process.

It’s a process designed for men used to putting themselves forward to speak at events. If you don’t see people like you putting themselves forward you’re less likely to do it too (this is true for almost any action).

White men see white men speaking at events all the time. Unsurprisingly, they feel they too could (and should) speak at these events. More so, we’re very likely to talk to people like ourselves. Hence, white men are more likely to talk to white men – who will often refer white men (or give advice) to get future speaking roles and perpetuate the cycle. This is a cycle that cuts out a huge swathe of prospective speakers.

Among the most effective ways to grow any social group today is to increase the diversity of that group.

If we leave diversity to chance we attract an initial group of similar people who recruit people like themselves and (unconsciously or otherwise) cut off a huge % of prospective members.

You’re far less likely to take an action if you have no examples of others like you taking the action.

Don’t confuse what’s common with what’s fair. Common is usually a process run and managed by the very people it benefits the most. Our call for speaker process benefits people with an ingrained nature to put themselves forward, get advice from others like them, hype up their own achievements etc…

It’s incredibly easy to think you’re doing everything right and end up doing wrong. ProductHunt recently announced a speaking lineup for its AMA events. This September features 3 women and 28 men. That’s not a good image.

As social leaders, we need to be forever pushing to push our groups slightly ahead of the diversity curve. The more inclusive you make the group, the more people you attract to join your group. Right now, most of us are accidentally excluding huge chunks of potential members for no reason.

We do this in a variety of ways. Some might include:

  • Recruit diverse groups of people to help run and manage areas of the group. If you want a more diverse speaker line-up, have a diverse group that selects the speaker line-up.
  • Increase the diversity of images on your site. Avoid having all images being of the same sex, gender, race, age?
  • Avoid consistent use of words/expressions/metaphors (e.g. sports metaphors) that are heavily slanted in favour of specific groups.
  • Create higher-status opportunities within the group and seek out members of under-represented groups to fill them.

This isn’t just a moral obligation (it is), it’s a very practical tactic to get more members to join and participate in our groups. We’ve been lazy to not do it thus far. We would be crazy never to do it.


  1. Richard Millington says:

    agree with @Bas_van_Leeuwen, these look much better when it displays the entire article.

  2. Bas van Leeuwen says:

    … so now I feel obliged to comment on this post :sweat_smile:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Rich, most of the issues we see are a result of a pipeline issue. I loved the way Rand Fishkin described it:

    When we recognised [that we picked mostly men, because we picked from people we’ve seen speak before], and consciously forced ourselves to dig deeper and intentionally list women speakers (as well as bloggers, writers, social sharers, and others in the field who’d impressed us), we noticed that there were plenty of great candidates of both genders. So many, in fact, that we couldn’t possibly invite all the ones we’d listed even if we doubled the number of speaker spots.

  3. Richard Millington says:

    I actually didn’t see that post from Rand first. Almost looks like I copied every point of that. Heh.

    He said it much better though. Moz do really good work here.

    I couldn’t agree more.

  4. Graham Perrin says:

    Panel 3 - Engaging Online by Design and Exclusion | Free Listening on SoundCloud (41:06)

    From the main Design and Exclusion page:

    To become more inclusive, we need to develop a better understanding of exclusion. In this free online event, brought to you by Automattic, Mash-Up Americans, and MIT Center for Civic Media, design and technology experts will come together to discuss the products we build and the people and groups they sometimes exclude. …

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