Inclusive language + Inclusive speakers

Describing the Portland tech scene to anyone who hasn’t experienced it in person is difficult. We’ve got some of the same sorts of startups you might see in San Francisco, but we also have tech companies that follow their own path. Portland also has nonprofits, a strong open source community, and a meetup scene that larger cities struggle to match. (Seriously, count the number of meetups in town just related to the Python programming language.) As a result, we’re starting to see hints of diversity: entrepreneurs from marginalized backgrounds, products built for wider user bases, and conference with diverse lineups.

While we can give ourselves a pat on the back for starting these efforts, we’re really at the beginning of what we can do to build an inclusive tech scene. We can do a lot more in Portland to make sure that everyone who wants to participate in the local tech scene has the chance to do so and we need to jump on these opportunities now.

Nicole Sanchez, the vice president of social impact at GitHub, describes the difference between diversity and inclusivity through a party metaphor: many people see diversity as ‘asking folks to come to the party’ and inclusion as ‘being asked to dance at the party.’ Sanchez says, though: “Diversity is coming to your party despite my bad experiences at other parties. Inclusion is being glad I came.”

For Portland to boast the successes of our tech scene, we need to make sure that everyone is glad to be at this particular party. We’ve started issuing the party invitations — like with Rick’s efforts here to put more diverse speakers on stage in Portland — but we’ve still got plenty of room to make sure everyone feels warm and fuzzy about participating.

Being welcoming and inclusive can take many shapes and forms, but our biggest opportunity is in the way we communicate. Every time I see another job listing asking for a JavaScript ninja (or any other extreme title), I cringe. That sort of job title means that many people will decide not to apply. Studies have shown that many potential applicants consider those words to be a subtle indicator that only white men need apply.

Using inclusive language is the next step to growing the Portland tech scene. (If you’re looking for a resource for inclusive language, I’m working on one right now.) We also need to listen carefully to what people from marginalized backgrounds ask for to be able to participate. I’ve written about childcare, dry events, and similar amenities in the context of running conferences locally, because I’ve specifically heard requests for that sort of amenity. But what your meetup, organization, or project needs to be inclusive depends entirely on who you’re inviting to your party.

All these efforts have a clear business case behind them. Diversity and inclusion are economically valuable: one study (PDF) documented that each percent increase in gender diversity led to an approximately three percent increase in sales revenues. But we shouldn’t build an inclusive tech community just because it’s good business sense. We should do it because we want to be part of a community worth joining, a community able to solve its own problems (like housing), and a community that is going to continue to grow for years to come. We may live in the ‘whitest city in America,’ but we don’t have to stay that way. With this groundwork, we can make Portland the most inclusive tech ecosystem around, and improve the city’s inclusivity along the way.

Thursday Bram is the editor of The Responsible Communication Style Guide, currently on Kickstarter. She’s an organizer of PyLadies PDX and PyDX, as well as on the Stumptown Syndicate Board.

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