MIMA Summit: Notes From the “Closing the Gap” Session

Last year, Nancy and I hosted a conversation about women in Interactive (I can’t remember what we called it. I just remember the original title, “WTF: Where the Females?” which they revised to something more innocuous).

Last Monday, Dave Schroeder (@flashbelt) and I hosted a discussion at this year’s MIMA Summit titled, Closing the Gap: A Discussion About Diversity. This year’s conversation was, quite rightly, expanded to cover issues beyond just gender. It was designed to be a group discussion, but in preparation Dave and I put together an outline. (You know, just in case everyone got all Minnesotan and didn’t ask any questions.)

It was a great session. I would have loved it if the crowd would have been standing room only, but we at least filled all the seats (especially considering that we were up against sessions like @scottmonty from Ford). And, frankly, I wasn’t entirely surprised — there are plenty of people who’d rather talk about something else, plenty of people who feel like there is no lack of diversity or that — if there is — it’s not really a problem (seriously, I had someone say that to me the other day). Those who did show up brought some great insights.

So, here’s our outline along with some notes and commentary. (Shout out to @whitneytaylor for being our volunteer note-taker and to @ivan_nunez for being our Twitterhost!) Also, was great to meet @jaredlukes, @carlos_abler, @melshirley and @kdfindley in person! (There were lots of other people there, too — if you’d like a mention, drop me a line. I didn’t get to talk to everyone one-on-one!)


  • How many people know about Geek Girls Guide? About Flashbelt? Have been to Flashbelt?
    • Most people in the group had heard about the Flashbelt thing (which you can read about here, here and here.) Carlos Abler made a fantastic point during the course of the discussion, that shocking events help you realize what other people are feeling. They help you learn empathy by looking at how and why a person — or a group of people — felt a certain way. He also said that events help you take a postion on an issue, opening up conversation, rather than just starting the conversation out of the blue, which can be harder. Amen, Carlos! This is a great point. For me, the absolute best thing that came out of the Flashbelt situation was the conversations it has opened up.
  • Who’s here today? Developers? Marketers? Designers? IAs? Facebookers? Twitterers?
    • There was a good mix of job titles in the crowd: developers, designers, project managers, IAs — we ran the gamut.
  • How long have you been in the industry? 0-5, 5-10, 10+
    • Again, a good mix of people with a broad range of experience.
  • How many people consider their workplaces:   1. very diverse    2. sort of diverse     3. not diverse
    • Most people considered their workplace “sort of” or “not” diverse. Not surprising, since we’re talking about an industry that lacks diversity and we’re in Minnesota (which, according to 2007 government stats is 89% white).
  • Let’s talk ballpark stats
    • We talked about how hard it is to get overall stats for the interactive industry as a whole. Most stats focus on the dearth of female developers. Other parts of our industry, like designers, writers, information architects, etc. may be more diverse but it’s hard to know.
    • Dave found a fan-freaking-tastic set of stats from A List Apart which shows the industry as overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly white. While most of the respondents were developers, there are many other job titles represented in this survey.


  • What do we mean when we talk about diversity? Race, Gender, Age, Disabled?
    • One conversation that came up around diversity was age. One point being that this can be — like advertising — a “young man’s game.” Meaning, the hours and demands can be crazy. Someone brought up the salary issue (women right now make about 78 cents to every dollar earned by a men) and that, in this economy, both young people and women can be seen as desirable beacuse they are willing to work for less. Someone wondered what the industry will do with the “baby boom” of developers that hit an age and don’t want that lifestyle anymore?
  • Why is it important?
  • How does it affect your work, the quality of your work, the quality of your work life?
    • One person mentioned that a diverse team can lead to richer work.
    • We asked everyone why they came. One person pointed out that ours was the only session talking about the people working in Interactive rather than the products or technology. I think this is a great point, and one I’d like to bring up to the folks over at MIMA. Future Summits should include more conversation about the culture of our industry.
    • Somebody else brought up that we work in an irreverent industry. One point that I made is that, while I think issues of diversity and equality are incredibly important, I would hate to see our industry become overly politically correct-ified. If that makes any sense. I love working in an industry that is not formal or stuffy; so, how do we maintain that culture AND be inclusive? I think it’s a happy medium that is difficult, but possible, to find.


So what can we do as individuals  in our own lives to encourage and foster more diversity around us?

  • Mentor (be one, get one)
    • Encourage people in your organization to get involved with mentorship programs, especially in mentoring kids or young professionals outside of our usual networks. @melshirley talked about how her company (a mentoring company) matches executives with kids they would otherwise not encounter. 
    • So, how can we expand outside of our usual networks to reach out to kids (or other adults) that would benefit from our expertise? How could we open the door for a person who otherwise may not know much about the industry.
    • More outreach and introduction to the industry as a whole, for the younger generations (in schools). @KDFindley made a wonderful observation about how more of us should be getting into the schools; it’s unlikely that guidance counselors are even aware of the careers that we have.
    • Carlos stated this as “Create an empowerment model for kids rather than fixing broken adults.” Another person in the group wondered if shifting the talk to empowering kids brushing off the issue now and hope they will fix it tomorrow?
  • Raise boys and girls the same (don’t reinforce stigmas or misconceptions intentionally or accidentally)
  • Subtle environmental things – jokes, holidays, heroes, villains
    • This is a personal peeve of mine. I’ve been known to make my friends and family really uncomfortable if I hear them make a joke that I think is insulting I will say, “That’s not funny.” and walk away. (Wow, I’m making myself sound like a lot of fun at parties, aren’t I?) Most of what we encounter in our daily lives are not “shocking events” but small things that we may not even be conscious of. We should all start being more conscious.
  • Get involved with local programs, start programs, start a blog, become a resource
  • How can you push a diverse culture upwards towards your employers? (encourage corporate sponsorship of something – start something – interns)
    • “Everyone wants this issue to resolve on its own, or not at all. Know where you’re at and live it.” said Dave.
    • “Acknowledge that other cultures and groups have different ways of doing things. Our attitude should be, ‘Here are the tools, do it on your terms.'” Ivan talked about his experience as a person who speaks both English and Spanish and how he’s had people respond to his Spanish tweets with, “English, please.”
    • Dave made a great point, which is that we can’t force the 50/50 thing, but we can work to remove all barriers to entry so that a more fair representation (by gender, race, etc.) would be possible.
  • How do we make working more flexible, we have the technology?
    • This was my point, and one I believe in quite strongly. We are still a new industry, and the access and expertise we have with technology means that we shouldn’t feel constrained to fit into these old business models. As an example, most of the points at which women tend to drop out of the workforce could be mitigated by a more flexible workplace. As a personal example, when I had my second child (which is a point at which many women stop working because of the additional responsibilites of a second child, along with the daycare costs which can sometimes exceed their salary), I presented a plan to my company to institute a Babies at Work program. My son came to work with me several days a week up until he was 6 months old. When I went back to work with my daughter, I worked from home one day a week for the first 6 months. We have the technology! Let’s start using it to create the inclusive, flexible workplaces of the future. There is ROI there, I swear it.


Minnesota High Tech Association –  http://www.mhta.org/
Minnesota Computers for Schools – http://www.mncfs.org/
Minnesota MentorNet: A Statewide E-Mentoring Partnership – http://www.mentornet.net/
The Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) AmeriCorps – http://wip.technologypower.org/about/
SeniorNet  –  http://www.seniornet.org/jsnet/
Center for Children and Technology – http://cct.edc.org/
Internal Drive Summer Computer Camps for Kids – http://www.internaldrive.com/
Digital Media Academy – http://digitalmediaacademy.org/
Finding Ada Lovelace –  http://findingada.com/
Girls in Tech  – http://girlsintech.net/
Minnesota Women in Marketing and Communications – http://www.mnwc.org

If you have more thoughts on the session or resources to add, we’d love to hear them!

Thanks for coming. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being you.