Drama, Accountability, and a Way Forward
(No comment or statement within this post is directed at any individual within the WCEU organizing team or any particular community member within the greater community. I have purposely not named names. This is about our community, not individuals.)
In about a week I will be on a plane headed to Athens to attend WordCamp Europe. After the discourse around inclusion and diversity within the last few weeks, I’ve been asked if I’m still going. My answer is “of course I am.”
You see, there are no enemies here. I do not see anyone on the WordCamp Europe team as adversarial, and I hope they don’t see me that way either. The truth is that the organizing team and I all want what is best for WordPress. For the WordPress community. And for all of the members of that community.
I truly believe that.
Can we all (the whole community) do better going forward? Yes. Absolutely, yes.
First, let’s stop calling this drama.
To call anything within this conversation “drama” is reductive. It belittles the challenges at hand, as well as all of those involved in the discussion and who they represent. It reduces the idea of inclusion and diversity to unimportant. And it IS important.
It’s not drama. But it IS a passionate discussion. It deserves the gravity it’s due. It is a serious topic that evokes a lot of emotion for many people. It’s real. It’s challenging. But it’s not drama. So stop referring to it as that.
Underrepresented people in our community are not being dramatic when we advocate for representation and inclusion. It’s important. Acceptance is important. Belonging is important. We are important.
Second, let’s stop name calling and harmful attacks.
As has been pointed out by many people both within the WCEU organizing team and those outside of the team, my tweet was one of observation and hope and was not an attack. There were some in the community, however, from all sides, who did use harmful language, were accusatory, and sought to stir up controversy. That was not only unhelpful, it was hurtful.
I’ve read and heard that there were team members on the WCEU team who felt attacked and whose mental wellbeing was impacted from the unwarranted and unneccesary attacks. I, too, felt the need to block those who were attacking me in Twitter comments, accusing me of demonizing white men, accusing me of calling the entire WCEU team sexist, and attacking my position as a woman in the community.
I started receiving text messages from people I didn’t know, was suddenly subscribed to right-wing political newsletters, and was fearful to answer my phone. (While I have no proof that any of this was a direct result of this conversation, nonetheless the timing made it such that it induced anxiety at the thought of any potential connection.)
I, too, am a human with human emotions. And I also deserve to be heard and not attacked for any public observation.
Let’s hold ourselves accountable.
Last year I published a post here on the Post Status site about my experiences as a disabled person at WordCamp US. It was very well received and changes have been happening within our community to accommodate disabled people at WordCamps globally. I’m so happy that this result was able to come about as the result of some very frustrating experiences that I had. (Note: the WCEU team has been in conversation with me to ensure that I will have access to the whole WordCamp, for which I am grateful on behalf of myself and anyone else needing disability accommodations.)
A mere month after I published that post, I started a podcast with Kathy Zant. And I published the first episode very excitedly. But without a transcript. And I got called out publicly for advocating for disability one month and disregarding it the next. And rightfully so.
I was embarrassed. Very embarrassed. It would have been easy to say “this is a voluntary thing we’re doing” or “it’s not in the budget to pay for transcripts” or even “we don’t have time to create transcripts.” But instead I said “you’re right. I’m sorry.” I went back and generated a transcript for that episode and have included a transcript for every episode since. I still cringe to think that I published that first episode as I did initally. But the community wanted to see me do the right thing and called me out for it. And I adjusted accordingly.
It’s not easy to acknowledge mistakes like that. It’s not easy, but it IS necessary.
Let’s find a way forward.
I could spend time here postulating about how the WCEU team “might have” or “should have” responded differently. I could talk about how they “might have” or “should have” approached speaker recruiting, marketing, and announcements differently. But that would not be helpful today for many reasons: primarily that it doesn’t change where things are today. Secondarily, that I hold no authority in this matter. Anything I could offer here would be moot and only opinion.
You most likely know that I advocate and work every day to help create a more inclusive community in WordPress. Allie Nimmons and I have a podcast and public database that addresses underrepresenatation. We recently released an episode, Diverse and Inclusive Event Speaker Selection, that talks about the challenges in creating a diverse lineup, and that offers some suggestions to help do just that.
Here is my biggest suggestion for WordCamps to ensure that our events are inclusive, and that attendees “see themselves” in the speakers, organizers, and volunteers at events and that as a result everyone has a sense of equity and belonging: we need to use more of the resources within our community to consult with our organizing teams about doing a better job at inclusion.
I suggest that, if we don’t have volunteers who feel confident about the process, we use some of the sponsorship dollars we raise for our events to hire professionals to direct the team to ensure that inclusion is balanced. I don’t believe we should expect our speaker teams to understand how inclusion happens without training and assistance. And we know that inclusion doesn’t happen automatically.
WordPress is now 20. We need to truly value inclusion if we are to remain relevant to the next generations who adopt our open source software. We need to be an open source community.
At WordCamps we talk about the PacMan concept of opening our circles of discussions to include more people – to invite more people into our groups. We practice that physically. We need to practice it metaphorically, too. We need to open our conversations to include more diversity so that we end up with more diversity throughout the community.
The only way we will achieve inclusion and diversity is with intention.
I’ll see you at WCEU.
If you’ll be at WCEU, let’s chat. You can DM me on Twitter, in Post Status Slack, or email me here at Post Status. I’d love to meet up with you about this topic or anything else.
I believe in our community. And I believe in our community working and growing better together.
Thank you for these words Michelle. All of the work we put in over the past 20 years has made the WordPress community a pioneer for how open source communities can and should function.
Other communities look to us and the practices we put in place to show them a way forward. Inclusion has a network effect.
I was considering attending Sub Summit, looked at the speaker list, then said to myself ‘this isn’t an event for me.’ Other potential attendees will do the same – an inclusive speaker selection is where it can all start. More diverse attendees. More diverse speaker submission next year. More diverse volunteer groups.
Let’s be as public as we can about our commitment to inclusion.
Let’s lead the way for all Open Source communities.
I really appreciate this. I recall the WCEU organizers listing out all the efforts they made to diversify their lineup, and thinking, “You know, I really wish I had heard all this while the Call for Speakers was open, maybe more suggestions could have been made.”
We are right to expect that WordCamp organizers will make their best effort. We are right to be vocally disappointed when the results aren’t great. We are right to demand better than “this is what the applicant pool looked like.”
And yet it is also true that this problem, by which I mean “marginalization of women, people of color, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, and others” was not created by any particular group of WordCamp organizers and it is only going to get addressed through concerted community effort.
I would love to see greater coordination between organizers and the companies/groups willing to sponsor travel for underindexed speakers. I would love to see organizers promoting the availability of those programs as a way to encourage more applications.
Organizers have a lot on their plate, but there are so many community-driven efforts to address this specific issue that it doesn’t have to be all on them.