They asked me if I enjoyed the conference… I exuberantly replied “Oh, YES!”, without even thinking much about why….
But my reasons came flooding out anyway:
This 3 day conference (1 day workshop and 2 days of speakers and use cases), was the only conference I’ve ever attended where 99% of the content was directly applicable to me and my job. I was able to take something from every speaker without having to struggle to find value. It was all served up to me as if designed for my needs. Every other conference I’ve been to has had a small nugget of value, but never really provided direct impact to me and my focus. Traditionally most of the conferences around content tend to focus on the professional writer and their struggles, while maybe only touching on content strategy as a side-session or breakout, and only even touching on support focused content if I were VERY lucky. Most of the time the talks were so in the weeds around tooling and process of the professional writer that I always felt like a complete outsider.
And then it struck me: this is what representation feels like.
Let’s make no doubts that I, as a white middle aged heterosexual male see the irony of this discovery at a software conference attended by 95% white or white-presenting people. Traditionally, these types of conferences are the worst when it comes to inclusionary focuses. But I did get some small indicators that the tide is shifting, if only in this one in particular. I’d wager that about 60% of the attendees were women in considerable positions of authority in their companies. Likewise, there were a few touchpoint discussions of addressing gender-biases in content creation. Not enough to warrant further comment, but enough to indicate there’s much bigger future discussions to be had and progress to be made.
My exuberant and effusive reply was a direct result of being seen, being represented in a space I’d traditionally expected very little value. I had to dial it back a bit, but that feeling stayed with me for quite some time after returning home. Sitting with the feeling and looking for ways to describe it, I quickly saw how anyone in under represented or fully un-represented segments could feel when seeing themselves in movies, as conference speakers, as leaders, as aspirational figures. It really struck home to me the importance of representation. I’d been aware of it previously, but directly feeling it in my very small focus and sense brought that impact to a much more visceral understanding.
I like to think I’m relatively progressive and open to cultural shifts, especially when those shift can positively impact society. But, I wasn’t prepared to feel it applicable to me and to be able to translate that feeling into a deeper sense of understanding. Now, it is my hope that using my specific privilege and skills, I can can channel that understanding and continue to help drive the change for others to see representation of their own grow.
(Is it coincidence that I am posting this during Pride Month? Well, it wasn’t planned that way, but perhaps the month has me thinking of the challenges so many of my friends face daily that it kind of crept into my own realm… or, perhaps, it is indeed just serendipity.)