Guest editorial: Growing an inclusive tech community

[Editor: This is a guest editorial from Thursday Bram.]

James Damore is scheduled to speak at Portland State University in February. I don’t think you should attend. I could give you a dozen reasons why I’m not interested in Damore’s opinions on diversity, but plenty of people have already written that article. The fact we really need to talk about is that a speaker like Damore isn’t exceptional in the Portland tech community. Damore will fly in and fly out and we’ll still be working on our local issues.

We don’t need to borrow trouble by arguing with talking heads dropping in for the day. We’ve got plenty of work we already know we need to do locally.

So what do we need to do instead?

Today, we need to speak louder than a few angry voices who cannot yet grasp diversity’s benefits. We need to support the PSU students, professors and community members who value diversity and make space for it.

PSU’s ACM chapter has organized an event for February 17th, bringing in members of companies with Portland offices to practice interviewing with students as an alternative to other events happening on their campus. They can always use support, like speakers and catering.

We also need to make clear our lack of support for events like those that PSU’s Freethinkers group is organizing. Our silence on these issues can only look like acceptance of whatever opinions fill the void. Don’t just tweet at the event venue, either. Talk about your discomfort — and keep talking the next time some out-of-town speaker with an agenda comes to town.

Tomorrow, we need to talk within our own community about who speaks on our stages. We need to seek out opportunities to bring diverse opinions into the spotlight. We need to do better than that one diversity panel that shows up at every conference. We need technical talks by speakers who happen to be diverse, nominees for local awards who happen to be diverse, and organizations led by executives who happen to be diverse.

Those are big changes, each with their own hurdles. But growing an inclusive tech community is guaranteed to make Portland that more welcoming and innovative. The work is worth it. (Seriously. McKinsey has data showing that diverse companies out do their competitors dramatically.) We just need to put in the time and resources.

Thursday Bram has written about technology and startups for publications ranging from CNET to Entrepreneur Magazine. She’s also the editor of The Responsible Communication Style Guide.