Thanks, ElectronConf. Photo by Tina Hartung.
Image by Tina Hartung

Thanks, ElectronConf

Over the weekend, my usual sources for industry news exploded in response to the postponement of the first ElectronConf because the panel of speakers did not “reflect the standards to which we hold ourselves.”

First: thank you. Thank you to ElectronConf and to GitHub for self-reflection and recognition that something is wrong. We need more leading members of our industry to stand up for diversity. At Apsis Labs, we don’t develop for or with Electron, but Noah and myself will be attending ElectronConf (whenever it does take place) to show support for taking an active role in increasing the diversity of our community. I hope others will do the same.

Second, to members of the tech community who consider this move as being itself prejudiced: you embarrass me. It is shameful that you have gall to stand up and say that the way things are is the way things should remain, and that taking affirmative action to increase the diversity of tech is wrong.

Right now, one of the most upvoted comments on Hacker News says:

It is really worth considering that this conference used a blind review process. Subsequently, there is zero chance that the reviewer’s decisions were influenced by racism or sexism. (thrownaway114)

The next one down:

Isn’t it a slap in the face of speakers that took time to send in their proposals for presentations? “Your talk is great but your ethnicity or gender just isn’t quite right” (macspoofing)

And below that:

This may be an unpopular opinion but I still don’t understand why diversity even matters here - shouldn’t it be the merit of the ideas and the presentation skills of the speakers? (tjpnz)

I’d like to say thank you to the commenters who took on these misguided positions in direct response, but their rise to the top speaks of a silent majority who agree with these deeply problematic sentiments.

Apsis Labs is hardly a diverse company – something about which I feel routinely embarrassed – consisting of 6, middle-class, cisgendered, straight white men1. When Noah and I started, we didn’t set out to hire 6 clones of ourselves: it just happened.

We plumbed our networks, found the best-qualified candidates, and hired them. We did our best to bring no conscious bias to our process, actively sought out minority applicants (limited as they were), but we still ended up here. It’s easy to make a lot of excuses: we can’t control who applies (true), as a small business we can’t make explicit diversity hires (false), with 4 employees it’s not our job to promote diversity in tech (offensive and false)… the list goes on. The truth is, in our hires to date, we haven’t had the courage to take a stand on creating a diverse work environment.

What we failed to recognize – and what the people at ElectronConf are attempting to address – is that it takes action, not just good intentions and an absence of prejudice, to address inequities in social structures.2 When we seek applicants, they come to us pre-filtered by a system of oppression and segregation that starts at birth. We can’t open our doors and expect a representative cross-section of the population, because the path to our doors is already treacherous.3

At Apsis, we’re hiring again, and we’re doing our best to avoid the same problems we’ve faced before. We may succeed, we may not, and adding a small amount of diversity to our team will do little to ease my public shame, and even less towards solving an industry-wide problem. But as Edmund Burke said:

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

So thank you, ElectronConf, for doing the little you can.

  1. There’s nothing wrong with being any or all of these things. I am, and have enjoyed being, a reasonably well privileged white man for my entire life, and I have no problem with my self identity. But my experience also comes with a responsibility to recognize that I am neither unique nor representative. It’s part of my job to be aware that my 1/8th Japanese heritage makes me the closest thing to diversity at our company. Awareness of my privilege is a small price to pay for the privilege itself, and that awareness is neither a dismissal nor condemnation of the experience of white men everywhere. 

  2. This can be an embarrassingly difficult concept to learn through conversation, and for visual or algorithmic learners, is perhaps best illustrated by The Parable of the Polygons by the always-incredible vi hart and nicky case

  3. This same point is made eloquently by Jon Stewart in this video linked on reddit by u/zetchri: