25 Feb 2007 8 am eastern

Gender and ethnic imbalance in web design

Gender and ethnic imbalance in web design speaker conference lineups reflects a wider such imbalance in the industry as a whole. This imbalance bothers me as much as it bothers Kottke. I am glad Kottke raised the issue in his recent post, although I think it is a mistake to hold conferences accountable for deeper problems in the industry they serve. But that doesn’t for a minute get conference planners off the hook.

The problem is visible at the top because it exists at the bottom. There are barriers to entering the field and barriers to doing well in it. Some of these barriers are economic: not everyone has access to needed tools and training. We are interested in systematic and permanent change in the field, not merely the appearance of change as represented in a conference speaker lineup. Soon we will announce real steps to put these concerns into action.

Filed under: An Event Apart, Design, Diversity, industry, people, war, peace, and justice

109 Responses to “Gender and ethnic imbalance in web design”

  1. Pioneer said on

    You said: “not everyone has access to needed tools and training.” You see this as a “problem”. Who is responsible for this “problem”? Do you feel personally responsible? What, exactly, are your “concerns”. How does one put “these concerns” into “action” if one can, in fact, act on a concern rather to a solution to a perceived “problem”? What “real steps” did you have in mind? Perhaps you could elaborate in your next post. I can’t wait to read it.

    I teach at a community college. Tuition is about as cheap as college tuition gets in this country. Books, however, are a bit expensive. Student aid is available. Most, if not all of of the necessary software tools are free. There is no entrance exam; all are welcome. Yet some who would avail themselves of the opportunity to advance their education and training are too poor to do so. Could this be the cause of your perceived “gender and ethnic imbalance”? Perhaps you will formulate a solution to this problem. Perhaps you could elaborate on this solution in your next post. I can’t wait to read it.

    Some people who have access to the available funds to further their education choose not to do so. Could this be the cause of your perceived “gender and ethnic imbalance”? Perhaps you will formulate a solution to this problem. Perhaps you could elaborate on this solution in your next post. I can’t wait to read it.

    There may be be other causes of your perceived “gender and ethnic imbalance”? Perhaps you will formulate a solution to this problem. Perhaps you could elaborate on this solution in your next post. I can’t wait to read it.

  2. Daniel said on

    Web development has some of the least barriers to entry of any field. Public, free Internet terminals can provide access to the web. A zillion websites offer free tutorials on just about any topic. Developers cram message boards to answer newbie questions and post clever hacks and tricks they’ve put together.

    Anyone with a desire to learn web development just had to look and the tools are available.

    This is not a problem of equal access.

  3. eddie sutton said on

    Love your perspective on the issue, and completely agree. I’m very interested in learning more about the action that you will define, and helping in the effort! I’d like to offer two perspectives from my experience in the business.

    Individuals that tend to attract the spotlight and speaking engagements have gained notoriety from entrepreneurial endeavors. Their experience involved some degree of business risk. Generally speaking, I have found that folks in our business that reflect gender and ethnic diversity are more risk averse. Not all, but most.

    Next observation – it’s changing! My volunteer efforts with community websites have generated a huge amount of interest from folks that desire to learn about the process of creating and maintaining websites. Interesting fact, most are female! Their interest is strong and they want to learn learn learn. They become passionate about our website projects and constantly think of ideas and develop website content. It’s wonderful to see, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help them learn. Soon, these folks will become the experts and we’ll see them in the spotlight at conferences and speaking engagements.

    The issues reflect our culture, and our culture continues to change. I know things will improve from my own experience. I’m very interested in learning about more ideas to help give this culture shift a boost!

  4. Greg said on

    > There are barriers to entering the field and barriers to doing well in it.

    Are there really barriers or just a lack of interest in general?

  5. Notable web experts who are [x]: Women and non-Caucasians - The Web Standards Project said on

    [...] Between Jason Kottke and WaSP founder Jeffrey Zeldman, the buzz is building yet again on the subject of conference panel composition… specifically, the fact that most participants are white men. [...]

  6. Eric Gruber said on

    A large majority of my bosses have been women since I started my professional career in 1999.

    It seems to me that the reason there might be gender imbalance is because they’re too busy running the show. So they give the dirty work to the peons (like me).

  7. Mark said on

    I’m tending to agree more with Greg’s and Daniel’s points here. Interest in technology education in general is waning when you look at the numbers of CS and technology management majors, and I don’t see entrance barriers in Web design and development compared to other fields.

    I have been a Web developer now for eight years and did not even own a computer until I had graduated from college and worked six months (and could afford to buy it). It is easier now than ever to get aid for school, and many wonderful, affordable options are available at my local community college. The Web and entry-level technology classes are almost better than local university offerings because they’re geared towards young people and older people interested in getting their feet wet or switching careers, and have a more practical approach.

    Aside from these points, I’m not sure that a lack of diversity in conference speakers has anything to do with people entering the field anyway. Most of the attendees of these conferences, in my experience, are in the profession already or curious and able to afford it on their own. I sincerely don’t want to sound condescending here, but if that’s the case I don’t see how the speaker list at these professional conferences has an impact on the poor, sixteen year-old minority female curious about a career in the Web.

  8. TJ Downes said on

    I don’t see this being an issue at all. Possibly because you are at the upper echelon of web development this may be the case. However, from a small and medium business and non-profit development perspective, I see a high percentage of ethnicity and gender mixture.

    I would venture to say that about 40%-50% of the developers/designers I have worked with are female. About 20% of all designers/developers I have worked with are from from an ethnic background.

    To me, this is a non-issue and I feel it is wasted time, but I would be open to some hard facts to show this is actually an issue in this industry.

  9. Julie said on

    It is certainly true that anyone can learn the necessary skills to become a member of the web design community — I taught myself about markup and usability mostly from library books and web tutorials. But I can’t network with a book, and although some networking can be done online, the ability to make face-to-face connections with people is invaluable.

    Many of us who are trying to get our foot in the door could never afford the expenses involved in just getting to a conference. I would say that one effective strategy for facilitating a change in the gender and ethnic imbalance from the ground up would be to offer conference scholarships to promising professionals — and not just students — who need financial help to get there.

    It may be difficult for any one set of conference organizers to do this alone, but it seems very possible that a fund to which anyone could donate could be set up for this purpose. People willing to participate on the board could create a list of conferences that scholarship applicants could choose from.

    If the fund grew in time, other types of scholarships could be offered — for instance, an expenses-paid trip to shadow a great designer for a few days, or even an internship with a living stipend.

  10. The Nested Float » Diversity in Web Design said on

    [...] So if I’m not saying anything new on the subject, why am I posting? Well, I was so trickled and intrigued by Jeffrey Zeldman’s brief and somewhat cryptic response that I felt compelled to push as many people to his post as I could. [...]

  11. Meri said on

    I have some thoughts on this whole area, if there’s interest:
    http://blog.meriwilliams.com/2007/02/25/conference-diversity-the-permathread-returns/

  12. & Web, Etc. » Blog Archive » Zeldman Speaks said on

    [...] Zeldman voices his thoughts on gender divirsity. The message is that conferences are small bananas and we have a bigger problem. Which echos my main point: that we might have a bigger problem. I’m not sure there is one, but it’s something we as an industry must confront anyway. [...]

  13. Digital Web Magazine - News - Beyond the A-List, Diversity in the Web Community said on

    [...] Not to dilute the main issue at hand, but I think Jeffrey Zeldman is spot on here in his post Gender and Ethnic Imbalance in Web Design. I think the speaker diversity problem is really just a symptom of larger and still growing problem within the web industry. What is the main problem? It is the web industry’s continual focus on the same circle of professionals regardless of gender or ethnicity, or even eye color (thanks Tantek). I go to only a small fraction of conferences available to me in my geographical area and what do I see? The same handful of speakers giving darn near the same talk about the exact same damn thing that could have been read on the speaker’s blog about a year ago. Nothing new, few new faces, fewer new ideas, rarely anything new to learn. I feel like nearly every conference I go to is playing the same damn broken record. [...]

  14. todd said on

    Tools & training are only part of what it takes for a great web design.

  15. Victor Lombardi said on

    Amen. To those that think any disadvantaged teenager can merely go to a free terminal at the library in their copious free time and understand the language, conventions, and social behavior required to learn the basics is over-simplifying the situation.

    I have a concrete plan to provide classes to the disadvantaged. I’m just not sure how to identify people in this situation who have the interest or inclination.

  16. Hamm On Wry » Blog Archive » Post Gender Presentations said on

    [...] [UPDATE] I see that Zeldman has joined the fray with more on his blog, but I disagree that it’s a fundamental part of the conference planner’s concerns. He thinks it’s important to include women, I think it’s more important to not exclude women, and those, truly, are completely different tasks. Oh, and I still think I’m right. [...]

  17. Mark said on

    I’ve got to chime in on both sides:

    There are few barriers to entry; I’ve learned about most of the tools I use on a daily basis as a web developer online, for free.

    That said, the fundamentals I studied as a CS minor in college absolutely made me better-prepared to be a solid developer.

  18. Mafe Maria • Beyond Gender Diversity said on

    [...] What I meant to say with this is that I choose to attend a web conference precisely because I see those big and admired names on the list of speakers. And once I hear from them, I usually get something new to take back with me. But I also value hearing from accomplished and interesting people who may not have gotten their spot on our hall of fame yet, because the greatest marginal impact comes from them. I think that here, just like in similar arguments, “diversity” gets lost in politics. I like to see that Jeffrey Zeldman is not satisfied with the status quo. A true leader never is. [...]

  19. Jason Friesen {dot} ca » Blog Archive » Diversity Wars said on

    [...] And the renowned Anil Dash weighed in (twice, and Mr Zeldman posted (cautiously as usual), and all those posts were commented on extensively all over the blogosphere. And Eric ended up taking the scathing reactions pretty personally. [...]

  20. Carolynn said on

    Hello, I have two X chromosomes, I’m a web professional and I’d like to comment.

    I don’t believe there are barriers to entry. The problem is, I think, that most women I know, no matter what their profession are generalists. For myself, I can code CSS, ActionScript, PHP, and can build a serviceable database in MySQL (or Access — YUCK!). I can do a little bit of ASP if I absolutely have to — and JavaScript too.

    I can also take an email/banner/promotional landing page from concept, to copy, to design to final implementation.

    I am not a great designer or coder (I might be a really good copy writer). But I can do it all, and I am successful–you might not know my name, but I do well financially. How would I lead a seminar on “doing it all”?

  21. Lydia said on

    well said, Jeffrey

  22. Warshaw said on

    I learned everything I know about web design from online tutorials and a few books, but I’m not naive enough to think that this would work for everyone.

    First, I learned these things on my own computer, in my own home, sitting in my comfortable leather recliner. When you can mingle learning time with leisure time, you tend to invest more time in learning than you would if you had to go to the library and sit in a stiff chair. Of course, not everyone can make it to library hours, either. And in my small town, the library has three computers which are typically occupied by teenagers trying to sneak porn past the librarians.

    Second, not every person is well-suited to learning things like this without guidance, which leads me to a larger criticism of educational programs that don’t offer some sort of web development path, or at least a web development concentration in a larger major.

    While I can’t speak for female interest in the field, I can say that I knew plenty of children of diverse ethnic backgrounds when I was in high school, and a great deal of them were filled with untapped potential: good writers, artists, and rhetorical speakers, whether they knew it or not. I’d be willing to bet that if these talented people had an opportunity to make a living using what comes natural to them, then they would be very interested.

  23. The Haystack / Gender diversity idiocy in web design said on

    [...] Zeldman speaks out regarding his opinion on gender balance in web design, at least as far as conference speakers are concerned, agreeing in essence with Jason Kottke. Jason has made an informal analysis of gender balance in recent conferences, the results of which he apparently feels is an accurate indicator of how seriously conference organizers take the issue. [...]

  24. Seth Aldridge said on

    I look at this two ways, and to start I have not attended a conference so my answers is purely speculation. If qualified women are getting turned down for men just because there women, of course that is bad, on the same note, to have a woman speaker just to keep an equal balance doesn’t make much sense either. I personally don’t know a ton of women in the industry, but the ones I do know are all at the top. Most of the forums I’ve seen are male dominate. So if the ration is Men 70% women 30% then the ratio would be balanced if you look at an overall view.

    Again, I’m not even sure that is right…it’s early where I am :)

  25. Greg said on

    > I’ve got to chime in on both sides: There are few barriers to entry; I’ve learned about most of the tools I use on a daily basis as a web developer online, for free.

    Where are the barriers then?

  26. February 2007 | WDNews.net said on

    [...] Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The …: Gender and ethnic imbalance in web design [...]

  27. Noise Between Stations said on

    [...] Lately this has become a hotter topic in the blogosphere — with Kottke sparking a thread and Zeldman, Nick, Mike, and Anil supporting this point of view. [...]

  28. Victor Lombardi said on
  29. George said on

    “Gender and ethnic imbalance in web design speaker conference lineups reflects a wider such imbalance in the industry as a whole.” This sentence is one of the worst sentences I have read recently. “Reflects a wider such imbalance?” This whole paragraph leaves me wondering if you want more hispanic women web designers or fewer, or if on the other hand you want the number of web design speakers who are men to be the same as the number of web designers who are men.

    This is leaving aside the essential problem with a line of thinking that led — for a time — to virtually every advertisement for academic positions to sport the added rubric “Women and minorities are encouraged to apply.” Is that the semantic (im)balance which troubles you?

  30. Mike said on

    I see a lot of women in graphic design in general, but definitely fewer in the narrower field of DWWS. As far as the conferences go, however, I think women might be less eager to speak in some instances than their male counterparts – so I think the actual numbers don’t reflect the true percentage of very talented females in the field.

  31. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    This sentence is one of the worst sentences I have read recently.

    Funny, because that sentence is not such a good sentence.

  32. Divya said on

    My clients are suprised to discover that I am a woman and some of the people who couldnt hire me have commended me on being “one of the few women” doing this in a “men-only” industry.

    One of the “barriers” I think is the perception. So many of my clients and friends mistake me for a “web developer” who “programs” – and most of the time come back to me with a “feature request” that requires programming.

    I got into web design because I loved designing websites (I knew only DWWS and learnt the hard way later). I have learnt a lot from people irrespective of their background or gender – but the question is, would it have been even more to learn and share if we had more diversity?

    I think gender and ethnic diversity play a huge part in design (look at the crafts of ethnic groups that designers have absorbed – wouldnt have happened without diversity).

  33. Allen Ayres said on

    I don’t believe there’s a problem, unless there’s evidence we are actually excluding women and minorities. The barriers to entrance are minimal and talent is talent. Now if we are just wanting to *promote* women and minorities as web conference speakers, then by all means do so.

    I believe it’s a question of interest – the overwhelming majority of web developers are geeky white males – IR1. :) What *are* the stats comparing the percentages of conference attendee gender/ethnicity to conference speaker gender/ethnicity?

  34. Lauchlin MacGregor said on

    I’m not sure how many barriers are in place. The only ones I’ve encountered are my own. I’m sure there are some there. Either way, I believe an industry such as this requires free thinking…forward thinking and constant re-evaluation and I applaud that you are looking into ways to help anyone learn about and enter the web design field.

  35. Allen Ayres said on

    Another thought – I run a support site for forum owners (website owners/developers by extension) and it would be difficult to find 1 out of 100 of the 13k or so members to be female. My site may be narrowly focused, but I think the comparisons across the net wouldn’t be too far off.

  36. Emily said on

    I find it fascinating when men say that there is no barrier to entry in a field in which they are the dominant sex in said field.

    I mean, feel free to say it, and certainly there is a reasonable chance that you know more about it than I do, but it sure sounds like “Gee, those women just don’t WANT to be a part of our club, so it’s not OUR fault” to me.

  37. Greg Maletic said on

    Gender and ethnic imbalance in web design speaker conference lineups reflects a wider such imbalance in the industry as a whole. This imbalance bothers me as much as it bothers Kottke.

    It bothers you? Why? This would only bother me to the extent that I perceived barriers to entry in this field that are gender-based, and I don’t see that.

  38. DDA said on

    I completely disagree; I know a number of women who were programmers and some who did web design. Most of them decided to take time off to raise children and didn’t return whereas the guys kept on going.

    This is the usual confusion that if something isn’t 50/50, discrimination *must* be the cause; that is just as prejudiced a viewpoint as any other discussed here.

    Or, to put it another way, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.”

  39. Erik said on

    Usually I agree with Jeffery, not this time. Maybe it’s because I am a the supposed majority here. I don’t agree with the whole barrier to entry argument. *IF* you have talent and desire, web design or development has to have one of the lowest barriers imaginable. Talent and drive is all you need. You don’t have to go to school, you don’t have to to buy books, you can get open-source equivalents to almost all of the “High End” software, there are tutorials everywhere. Really? What barrier? You can buy a computer for one semesters worth of books. I would say there is a higher barrier of entry to work at In-N-Out Burger. You have to live next to one to work there. Let’s not create issues for the sake of creating issues.

  40. Greg Maletic said on

    I find it fascinating when men say that there is no barrier to entry in a field in which they are the dominant sex in said field.

    It isn’t exactly fair to say that it’s only men saying that there isn’t a barrier here…I haven’t heard a credible barrier cited by anyone, regardless of sex.

    I mean, feel free to say it, and certainly there is a reasonable chance that you know more about it than I do, but it sure sounds like “Gee, those women just don’t WANT to be a part of our club, so it’s not OUR fault” to me.

    Who knows what the reasons are…but if women don’t want to be a part of the club, is it the fault of men? Your answer implies that it is, though I’m not sure why.

  41. Michael said on

    Where are the barriers then?

    if women don’t want to be a part of the club, is it the fault of men?

    The imbalance itself can be a barrier. People will self-select themselves, either consciously or subconsciously, out of situations (careers, workplaces, colleges, restaurants) where they feel they don’t belong.

    “Web nerdery,” as John Gruber called it, definitely has a culture. Maybe it’s better to say that it is a subculture. I don’t think that it is helpful to think of it as anyone’s fault, but subcultures by their nature tend to exclude.

    Say you walk into a restaurant and everybody is wearing a tweed jacket and a bow tie. You are in jeans and a T-shirt. Your first impression may be, “I am definitely in the wrong place,” so you leave and find a place where everybody else is wearing jeans and a T-shirt, a place where you feel comfortable.

    Did anybody ask you to leave? No. Was there a sign at the door that said “Bow Tie Required”? No. In fact, several people in the restaurant may have thought, “Finally, someone not wearing a tweed jacket and a bow tie. We need some variety around here.” These barriers can be subtle, unintentional and very difficult to overcome.

    I look forward to reading about what Jeffrey has in mind.

  42. Stephen said on

    Why the goal to attain exactly a 50-50 split between males and females in every single profession on the planet? If there were an artificial barrier to women in the field, there’s a problem. If it’s just that, proportionately, fewer are interested in working in the field, what’s the problem?

    Fewer women in law, for instance, was a problem because it translated into lower income, less political influence, and less access to running for public office, so fixing that was important. But web design? Salary and prestige-wise, it’s on a level with waitressing.

  43. Anonymous said on

    Actually, I think that DOES get conference planners off the hook.

    By all means, bring down these supposed barriers to entry. But don’t try to invent a problem where there isn’t one.

  44. Lucian said on

    I agree with Stephen that there while we ought to strive for equal access, we need not be upset if participants weren’t homogenous throughout all aspects of human endeavour.

    It is true that white men are over-representated in the web design industry, but I’d hardly call them dominant. Any woman with the necessary skills could pretty much waltz in and kick our behinds up and down the block. Everytime I visit Veerle’s blog I weep and wish I had her talent.

    The web conference speaker lineups are pretty representative of the web design industry. Do correct me if I’m wrong, I live 15 time zones away. It’s almost like complaining the recent NBA All-Star game didn’t have enough white men.

  45. Andale said on

    I suspect the “majority” of those who don’t believe there is a lack of ethnic and gender representation don’t get out much – look outside your windows boys. This lack of represenation is systemic – “in the US of A”.

    Wouldn’t it be fascinating to place photos (of the posters) next to all those who are weighing in on this “debate” that want proof there is inequity in opportunity and representation – in the web industry.

    The “everyone has an equal opportunity” arguement is equivalent to the level of denial that racism is not an issue in our country.

    Believe it or not white males are not smarter or more motivated…they simply happen to be white and male. It our current society that combination skin tone and gender is celebrated and not suspect. Rumor has it that there also exists a salary disparity based on gender and color. But that’s another topic.

  46. Warshaw said on

    The “everyone has an equal opportunity” argument is equivalent to the level of denial that racism is not an issue in our country.

    No, actually, it isn’t. I’m with Zeldman (and probably you, too) that it would be nice to put some education out there to color the pool with some diverse talent, but this is simply a stretching rhetorical statement. On the one hand, it is vague–you reduce it to “equal opportunity,” which registers in most minds as something broader than web design. On the other hand, you’re drawing an unfair line between two things. A denial of the existence of racism is ridiculous because television, the web, and (in many cases) personal experience should tell someone that racism is still prevalent. A claim about diversity in IT, however, is not so easily refuted, and you’ve done little to offer conclusive proof. You’ve only littered your post with more rhetorical statements: “look outside your windows, boys”; “white males are not smarter or more motivated”; you even pepper the post with an allusion to salary disparities, though you try to wash your hands of it at the end.

    The statements that you make are void of any kind of evidence to your claims, and they put the burden of proof on those you are criticizing to substantiate your claims. “Look outside your windows, boys” is less of a call for proof, anyway; it’s more of an insult, and insults won’t change any person’s mind, particularly if they are used in place of cold hard facts.

  47. Emily said on

    It isn’t exactly fair to say that it’s only men saying that there isn’t a barrier here…I haven’t heard a credible barrier cited by anyone, regardless of sex.

    Ah, but I didn’t say it was only men. I find it fascinating when men say it at all, whether or not there are women saying it too.

    And I think the analogy given about the restaurant is a pretty accurate one. You may not see the barriers that I unconsciously recognize and accomodate for because they are so natural to you and don’t seem like barriers to you.

    Who knows what the reasons are…but if women don’t want to be a part of the club, is it the fault of men? Your answer implies that it is, though I’m not sure why.

    What are the reasons that women weren’t getting involved in scientific fields? Or law fields? Or medicine to become doctors? It was because they weren’t allowed, either in perception or in reality.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s the fault of men. Men are the ones who have the keys to the club, and I feel like they would do well to make big efforts to get women involved. It’s irrelevant if men caused it; they’re (among) the ones who can reach out and change it.

    Why the goal to attain exactly a 50-50 split between males and females in every single profession on the planet? If there were an artificial barrier to women in the field, there’s a problem. If it’s just that, proportionately, fewer are interested in working in the field, what’s the problem?

    This question surprises me, but I suppose it shouldn’t. Why would proportionally fewer women be interested in working in a field? Why wouldn’t fields have the same distribution as the population?

    “If there were an artificial barrier” implies that you somehow can tell that there isn’t. How does that work?

  48. Mrs. Zeldman said on

    Two surveys that I know about, one by AIGA AIGA and the other by the IA Institute, don’t look at gender and ethnicity.

    It would be fascinating to look at the data collected in these surveys, but to find out where women compare with men, and where minorities compare with non-minorities.

    In addition to finding out if white men make more money for the same work, I want to know:

    o who gets better perks like vacation time and health insurance?
    o are there areas in the field that have become “ghettos” for women?
    o are some people better positioned to take the entrepreneurial risks like working for a startup?
    o is there a relationship between career longevity/job security and race/gender?

    I also have to chime in on the barriers thread. Barriers are invisible to the people who have the money, connections and social standing to zip right through them. Privileged people are rarely in a position to understand the landscape of the non-privileged.

    But all of this is academic w/o data.

  49. Derek K. Miller said on

    Dori Smith has been talking about this issue for a long time, and I think her post from 2005, which talks more generally about computing fields, makes a point, specifically about a recruiter trying to hire people at Google:

    “They had a guy there whose title was ‘Technical Recruiter.’ He talked a lot about how cool it was to work at Google, and all the benefits, etc. And he looked straight at me (I was sitting near the front) and made a point about how they were trying to hire more women. So I raised my hand and said, ‘If you want more women, try describing the company in a way that doesn’t make it sound like it’s hell on earth.'”

    I’m a white guy who might have been able to make a living as a developer of some sort — I’m certainly geeky enough in many respects. But I didn’t go into it when the opportunity arose, because I’m not young and single and I was the main one taking care of our kids when they were younger, and I wanted more of a life. It seemed to me that the opportunities in development — web development, software development, and so on — required not having a life. So I became a writer and editor instead. I ended up being peripherally involved in web design again later.

    Now that may be fine. But if standards-based web design and software development are fields that need the skills of a broad range of people, then those of us involved in the field need to look at whether the culture we have built and help maintain is conducive to that. And if it’s not, we need to decide if that’s something worth changing.

  50. Show 68: Tagtastic :: Boagworld said on

    [...] This week the web design blogosphere has been dominated by discussions about the lack of women speakers at conferences. Jeffrey Zeldman, Eric Meyer, Jeremy Keith, Tantek… the list goes on and on. Frankly, I find the debate less than helpful. It is interesting to note that all of the women I have seen post on the subject have seemed very defensive almost as if they are under attack for not speaking more! [...]

  51. Hitting many, many fans (notmyself.com) said on

    [...] Jeffrey Zeldman agrees it’s a problem on the bottom end of less women in the field. [...]

  52. Robert C. said on

    Mrs. Zeldman: I wouldn’t be surprised at all if white men were paid more than blacks and women across the board.

    Personally, I tend to attribute most of the success of whites over blacks to class privilege, rather than racism. There are proportionally more wealthy whites than blacks. That money gap tends to give the wealthier people better education, which leads to better skills, which leads to better jobs. Racism is a factor in this country, but class can be a more damning factor.

    Women, on the other hand, tend to have shorter career longevity. They also tend to get paid less than men. One reason for that is sexism. Another reason is that a proportion of women have children and either interrupt or give up their careers.

    Now, maybe the dominance of males in web design is nefarious. But to me it seems more likely that the numbers of white men in the field is the result of a generation of nerdy white teenagers who fooled around on computers for fun. Ten years ago it was much less “cool” to work with computers than it is today. It was also much more likely for white households to have computers in the 90’s–one reason minorities might be underrepresented in the field.

    Women should join the field, if they want to. Discrimination should be stopped. The conference planners that Kottke pointed out weren’t doing anything wrong, though–except not enacting their own affirmative action. Maybe they should intentionally overrepresent women (and discriminate against men) when planning conferences. But they shouldn’t be scolded just because they don’t do so.

  53. Nathan said on

    I know at my former art college, the female to male ratio was around 55%/45% in favor of female. The Graphic Design program was even more so, around 65% / 35%.

    So the idea that the problem lies at the “bottom” is not evident. Of course this is anecdotal data from one college, but it wouldn’t be difficult to audit all major design majors at full fine art institutions. Remember, many “web designers” graduated from Illustration, GD, ID, Architecture, etc.

    One simple analysis of convention speakers is ridiculous, and even more so the outcry that something is wrong. I do think there is an issue here, and that is that for all our field’s vaunted research and analysis abilities — such a sensitive topic of gender and racial equality is being discussed at such a rudimentariy level.

    But alas, we only have so much time to post a blog entry right? “Freshness and timeliness and blogginess and webtwodotoh-iness” really helps us forget to dive under the surface.

    boo.

  54. Anil Dash: The Old Boys Club is for Losers said on

    [...] As I wrote over on Zeldman’s blog, I’m a white guy who never got into web or software development for the same reason many women and non-whites don’t — I wanted a life. I ended up being peripherally involved in web design in some other ways through the back door of being a writer and editor. [...]

  55. Adrienne said on

    All of this might have something to do with the lack of tenured females/people of color teaching within CS departments. It’s pretty hard to feel like a “member” of the “club” when there’s hardly anyone to talk to about the unique experience of being the sole female developer on a team of 50.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education just published an interesting article about the declining numbers of female CS students in American universities.

  56. Mrs. Zeldman said on

    Robert C, are class privilege and racism not the same? What is the difference?

  57. Warshaw said on

    What I think Robert C. failed to connect is that the under-privileged classes are where they are because of racism. Why do minorities generally have less money? Because they aren’t given the opportunity to make more.

    Another problem that people don’t talk about is that, within certain groups, there are stigmas about certain activities. I knew too many black guys in high school who were smarter than I was and purposely performed worse than I did in class, because being smart was often uncool. Granted, this cultural attitude could be the result of years of discrimination and making minorities believe that the roles they inhabit are their natural ones, but pointing to that won’t solve the problem as it stands. I can’t suggest a solution to this, because I can’t think of one, but it seems to me that the solution is tied into convincing people that they don’t have to either get lucky or accept the fate of their parents.

    The barriers can be taken down, but I think that there will be a period where we see no improvement, because there will need to be time for people to realize that there is no longer anything preventing them from stepping up. I wonder if we aren’t in such a period now, where a lot of the barriers have been taken down and people are still believing the old press.

    I think the best thing any employer/conference organizer can do is to not discriminate. Overcompensation always leads to other problems, and I think that recruiting people into a field for the sole reason that they occupy an under-represented demographic is overcompensation. I don’t think that effort should be spent on trying to introduce people to the desire. That’s borderline offensive, because you’re telling people that whatever they’re doing isn’t good enough and that they should help populate a field that needs their diversity.

    Put it in plain language, and it doesn’t sound so good: “Hi. You’re African-American (because that’s what you would say, being uncertain how to address this person that you typically don’t interact with). We don’t have enough African-Americans in our field. Would you like to learn about web-design?”

    If you’d like to give women and minorities the opportunity to get interested in web-design, the best way to do it, if you ask me, is to introduce it as a vocational program in high schools. It would be free to them, and if they wanted to take the class, they could sign up for it. Let them get interested on their own, and I guarantee that you’ll see an increase in your desired diversity. Don’t go searching the earth and singling people out (like they’ve always been singled out) and try to be their crusader.

  58. Todd said on

    I feel that one of the main problems here is influence and environment. As an African-American web developer, my influence in computing in general came only because my environment changed. Going to a mostly Caucasian school in the NYC suburbs, the availability of computers and good teachers were high. With most African-Americans living in the bleaker parts of major cities, going to public schools that are underfunded, with crammed classroom and stressed out teachers, the possibility of a young person to want to get into developing gets pretty slim.

    My father wanted us out of NYC so that we could get a better education and live a better life. Some aren’t so fortunate.

    There isn’t really fairness or equity in schools or the workplace, and for obvious reasons.

  59. Victor Lombardi said on

    But all of this is academic w/o data.

    Donna offers some from the IA Summit:

    …we ran a blind review process – reviewers saw no identifying information. The final selection was made by a mixed-gender team – we didn’t select straight from review scores. But we also didn’t take any special measures to be gender-diverse (and didn’t have information on any other type of diversity)…

    * 33% of speakers proposed are women
    * 32% of speakers accepted are women

  60. Idea Grapes » If there weren’t blacks, Jews and gays… said on

    [...] 起先是看了Jason Kottke在西方的部落格圈引起軒然大波的那篇:Gender diversity at web conferences。Kottke把去年下半年度和今年的網路研討會中,主講者的性別比例做了一番整理,點出了缺乏女性講者的現象。接著陸陸續續,網頁設計界的長輩如Jeffrey Zeldman和Eric Meyer等,也發表了他們的看法。Zeldman的文章標題還把種族也點了出來;另外Eric Meyer則因為說了他在規劃研討會時,並不將diversity考慮進來,而遭到一些蠻嚴厲的批評,最激烈的應該是這篇Diversity isn’t important…and neither are standards or accessibility。雖然Shelley Powers的文章過於情緒化,但我蠻贊同她的一開始說的:a more diverse conference, field, profession is a better one. 再則是星期四晚上才閒閒地在YouTube上面晃到Ellen DeGeneres所主持的79屆奧斯卡片段,她也提到了diversity這個字,並說了那句經典的「沒有黑人、猶太人、同性戀,就沒有奧斯卡」: “What a wonderful night, such diversity in the room,” said Ellen DeGeneres, serving as Oscar host for the first time, “in a year when there’s been so many negative things said about people’s race, religion and sexual orientation. [...]

  61. Everything Is Design said on

    [...] Pretty good discussion being brought up on Victor Lombardi’s Noise Between Stations, Zeldman, Anil Dash, Josh Porter’s Bokardo, Kottke, Disambiguity, about the relative dearth of diversity in our workplace but given the country’s climate towards race, ethnicity, immigration, gender, sexuality, class, faith — all the social stratification mechanisms — and most people’s tendency to dismiss out of hand, and a general failure to either explain or dig into the issues, much less do anything about them, I fear it will be shortlived. [...]

  62. Daniel said on

    “Anyone with a desire to learn web development just had to look and the tools are available.

    This is not a problem of equal access.”

    —-

    I suppose if folks in the hood simply mugged someone like Daniel, they’d probably have a shiny new PowerBook to learn as much as there is to learn from this vast ether. Or, at the very least, trade in food-stamps for select cuts – sell them door-to-door, in the hopes that you too can someday own your very own machine.

    Trickle-down economics, at its finest.

  63. .net podcast episode 4 | news | splintered - freelance creativity and design said on

    [...] .net podcast episode 4 last week i had the pleasure of taking part in a discussion with paul boag, andy clarke, gary marshall and dan oliver for episode 4 of the .net podcast.The topicsWe couldn’t shut the panel up this week so we only managed to make it through three topics… but it’s all about quality not quantity, right?Web Accessibility in disarray?Mike Davies this week posted a disturbing look at the current state of web accessibility. Patrick Lauke clarifies what Mike was getting at and we try and fix web accessibility in twenty minutes flat.Diversity in the web design communityThis week’s hot topic has been without a doubt the subject of diversity in the web design community and in particular why more women aren’t speaking at web design conferences. Everybody from Eric Meyer to Jeffrey Zeldman has waded into the debate, so we felt that the five of us (as five opinionated men) were perfectly placed to comment on the subject.Usability stifles creativityLast up the panel discusses Lisa Herrod’s latest blog post on the Sitepoint website where she asks the question: does usability stifle creativity.a full transcript will be available once i’m back from SXSW… [...]

  64. Holly said on

    I’m a 39 year old woman with a Webmaster’s Certification from a Community College (as well as a B.S. in Marine Biology and an M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from TX A&M). I’m currently fusing my two fields, biological sciences with computer technology in my work.

    There were close to half the class females in my Webmaster cert classes. This field is fine. People will do what they want these days. Men and women don’t have to be the same in everything. There are differences in the sexes. That’s ok.

    There are sooo many more important things to worry about…like how many minority kids think they are too dumb for college. Now, THAT is a tragedy. All kids can go to college if they so choose. Let’s focus on that problem.

  65. shopping said on

    I have to agree with most of the comments already posted in cautioning against any sort of knee-jerk reaction to what is perceived — and may actually be — a lack of gender and ethnic diversity in the field. There are many many possible explanations, and some have been suggested here. For my own part, I’m a university English professor, and we have a thriving “humanities computer” emphasis in my department. Among other things, we’ve invented an XML mark-up system that has been a huge boon for teaching freshman composition and is already being adopted by several other universities in the area. Almost all of those who helped in its design were women. My office mate and colleague has taken this same mark-up and applied it to the study of poetry with startling results — her work to be published soon (she‘s also African American). In fact, the vast majority of humanities computing folks in my department are women. Which makes me wonder if perhaps women are drawn to technology and computing, but tend to prefer a very specific, practical niche in which to work. I make no evaluations about WHY this might be, only suggest it as a possibility.

  66. Dirk Karl Maßat said on

    First, I learned these things on my own computer, in my own home, sitting in my comfortable leather recliner. When you can mingle learning time with leisure time, you tend to invest more time in learning than you would if you had to go to the library and sit in a stiff chair. Of course, not everyone can make it to library hours, either. And in my small town, the library has three computers which are typically occupied by teenagers trying to sneak porn past the librarians.

    Second, not every person is well-suited to learning things like this without guidance, which leads me to a larger criticism of educational programs that don’t offer some sort of web development path, or at least a web development concentration in a larger major.

  67. Luise Zellmack said on

    I think there are further causes of your perceived “gender and ethnic imbalance”? I think you have to formulate a solution to this problem. Perhaps you could elaborate on this solution in your next post. I am interesting of reading the next post

  68. oil painting portrait artists said on

    If there is any imbalance, is there any way that we can pinpoint the cause of this? I work as a part time instructor in an institution teaching Computer subjects to students. I noticed that 1 out of 10 enrolls in Computer Engineering subjects or any other computer-related courses. With this ratio, we can predict that 10 years from now there will be more men working in the field of IT than women. Perhaps this is one result of men being techie by nature and women being beyond that.

  69. Jimmy said on

    It is true that white men are over-representated in the web design industry, but I’d hardly call them dominant. Any woman with the necessary skills could pretty much waltz in and kick our behinds up and down the block. Everytime I visit Veerle’s blog I weep and wish I had her talent.

  70. Projekty domow said on

    That said, the fundamentals I studied as a CS minor in college absolutely made me better-prepared to be a solid developer.

  71. Custom web design studio said on

    I think this field has many feemale professionals. It is an art. Many women like creative work, they like it by their nature. Don’t make a problem where there isn’t one.

  72. Tomasz Gorski said on

    Individuals that tend to attract the spotlight and speaking engagements have gained notoriety from entrepreneurial endeavors. Their experience involved some degree of business risk. Generally speaking, I have found that folks in our business that reflect gender and ethnic diversity are more risk averse. Not all, but most. Best Regards

  73. Katalog said on

    So I became a writer and editor instead. I ended up being peripherally involved in web design again later.

  74. Meteko said on

    I believe there are always imbalance in the industry that are pre-dominated by man. Man are born to be better in techical aspect while woman tends to be better in details. So it is not surpisingly that man are far better the web designing then woman.

  75. Crystal Red Shrimp Lover said on

    Meteko,

    I bet to be differ, in my country, women can design then men. I have a team of 10 web designer, 8 of them are women and the team leader is a lady.

  76. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Has everyone seen the findings from the 2007 web design survey at A List Apart? It sheds interesting light on the percentage of women employed in our field, perceptions of bias, evidence of bias, and more.

  77. Bahamut said on

    Hmmmm, quite and interesting survey i can say. Over 33,000 responses were gathered.

  78. Zuti said on

    What imbalance… come on guys.. we arent in the 40´ again, thank god.

  79. Hurtownie said on

    Hi
    I’m sure there are some there. Either way, I believe an industry such as this requires free thinking…

  80. visualization said on

    I am affraid I do not understand what you mean, Meteko

  81. Agencja Interaktywna Imbue said on

    We’re from Poland too ;) “mieszkania..” – your aunt is web designer :D?? How old’s she?

  82. Kabarety said on

    Great article Jeffrey, thank you.

  83. naturyzm said on

    Good article , thank You

  84. WebPl said on

    To most people the process of building a web site remains somewhat of a mystery. This confusion probably stems from the fact that there is a cornucopia of web sites on the Internet. Even with wide variety of sites, every single one can be divided into two sections: front-end and back-end.

    The front-end is the first thing that it is designed. It encompasses the look and feel of a web site. This is probably the most established part of the web site production process. Design has been around since Guttenberg printed his first bible. Much of what has been used in print media (especially art magazines) has transferred to the web.

    Most well thought out web sites start off with sketches on paper. We like using the big huge box of crayons, the one with the crayon sharpener built in. Most of the colors in the “big box” are pleasing to the eye and are web friendly. If you use begin paying attention to sites you’ll notice that only a few colors are actually used, 256 to be exact. Only about 100 of those won’t give you a headache when you look at them. On request we will give these early designs to a client that wants to control the look and feel of their site. The site, of course, never ends up looking like the early designs. The same idea and concept is there but because of restrictions colors and whole images are lost.

  85. Kunstforum said on

    There are many useful informations in this article. Thanks and greetings from Thuringia!

  86. tapety na pulpit said on

    My office mate and colleague has taken this same mark-up and applied it to the study of poetry with startling results — her work to be published soon (she‘s also African American). In fact, the vast majority of humanities computing folks in my department are women. Which makes me wonder if perhaps women are drawn to technology and computing, but tend to prefer a very specific, practical niche in which to work. I make no evaluations about WHY this might be, only suggest it as a possibility.

  87. wesele ślub wielkopolska said on

    I think the biggest barrier of ethnic imbalance is the cost of access to the web in different countries. There are many tutorials and free programs. If someone would like to engage in web design there are means of teaching in the web. Some universities give access to use programs for free too.

  88. Śmieszne Filmiki said on

    Hello,
    my name is Śmieszne. I’m not sure how many barriers are in place. The only ones I’ve encountered are my own. I’m sure there are some there. Either way, I believe an industry such as this requires free thinking…forward thinking and constant re-evaluation and I applaud that you are looking into ways to help anyone learn about and enter the web design field.
    Śmieszne Filmiki

  89. Strony Internetowe said on

    It is true that anyone can learn the necessary skills to become a member of the web design community but this doesn’t mean that this person will represent his skills in a proper way…

  90. adum said on

    There were close to half the class females in my Webmaster cert classes. This field is fine. People will do what they want these days. Men and women don’t have to be the same in everything. There are differences in the sexes. That’s ok.

    There are sooo many more important things to worry about…like how many minority kids think they are too dumb for college. Now, THAT is a tragedy. All kids can go to college if they so choose. Let’s focus on that problem.

  91. darmowe gry said on

    I have been a Web developer now for eight years and did not even own a computer until I had graduated from college and worked six months (and could afford to buy it). It is easier now than ever to get aid for school, and many wonderful, affordable options are available at my local community college. The Web and entry-level technology classes are almost better than local university offerings because they’re geared towards young people and older people interested in getting their feet wet or switching careers, and have a more practical approach.

    Aside from these points, I’m not sure that a lack of diversity in conference speakers has anything to do with people entering the field anyway. Most of the attendees of these conferences, in my experience, are in the profession already or curious and able to afford it on their own. I sincerely don’t want to sound condescending here, but if that’s the case I don’t see how the speaker list at these professional conferences has an impact on the poor, sixteen year-old minority female curious about a career in the Web.

  92. Przewozy Autokarowe said on

    Very good article. But there is too much comment spam. The spammers never sleep it seems.

  93. Jack said on

    I don’ see an imbalance in web design. But maybe this is more a cultural question.

  94. Obozy Rejsy said on

    I don’t see entrance barriers in Web design and development compared to other fields.

  95. Londynek said on

    Thank you! Very nice and interesting article.

  96. Londyneczek said on

    thank you

  97. Danita said on

    Great article. I’m a black woman in the field and I’ve never met another black female web designer in person, and have seen maybe 3-4 online in passing. I think the gender imbalance just reflects general trends in what males and females take an interest in career-wise, I’m not sure if it’s really a problem that needs to be solved per se.

    I do think that overall this is an issue of interest more than access, even if you take into account lower incomes and disparate technology access. I know a lot of teenagers who manage to get on MySpace everyday hell or high water – if they had a passion for web design they would be able to find ways to hone their skills as well. I have however met a good number of young black males who treat graphic and web design as hobbies. Sometimes they will be enterprising enough to treat it like a business and start making money. Entrepreneurship itself has inherent risks that not everyone is meant for and takes a good deal of self-education and motivation to make it work. The current nature of web design requires a person to be incredibly proactive to get started, be successful, and to stay relevant. It’s still not mainstreamed enough in education to make it a solid career option for many young people, although that has been changing. A lot of non-white guys I know are content to keep web design as a casual side gig. There are a couple young guys I advise once in a while, they have been hooked up with a youth entrepreneurial program and their business has been thriving since then.

    Personally, I’ve been used to the demographic imbalance in web design and IT since college and don’t think about it too much. The only thing that I experience regularly is that people tend to underestimate my skill level, but that sentiment usually ends up working in my favor. Overall I agree with commenter Śmieszne Filmiki that the biggest barriers for me in web design have been the ones in own my head.

  98. wettersms said on

    Thanks for very interesting article. btw. I really enjoyed reading all of your posts. It’s interesting to read ideas, and observations from someone else’s point of view… makes you think more. So please keep up the great work. Greetings.

  99. Genewa 2008 said on

    Where can I find a program/site that will give me the information about my site?

  100. Web designer said on

    Actually there in no imbalance in web design, there is imbalance in people who create it.

  101. Tomek said on

    I like to see that Jeffrey Zeldman is not satisfied with the status quo.

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  103. Części Honda said on

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  104. zaklady bukmacherskie said on

    It’s good that someone wants to talk about this task.
    Regards
    zaklady bukmacherskie

  105. küvet said on

    see entrance barriers in Web design and development compared to other fields.

  106. Mielno said on

    Thanks – I’ts very interested blog. I’ll be back soon. Greetings from Mielno – bye

  107. online shopping said on

    That’s ridiculous. If certain genders or races aren’t interested in the business, why should everyone else be blamed for that imbalance? There isn’t an imbalance because of racist or sexist problems – there may only be imbalance because only a certain demographic seems interested in the business. It’s not as if only one demographic has been more advantaged when it comes to technology (well, especially in Europe or America).

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