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Diversity as a Dependency

PyCon APAC 2012 - Diversity as a Dependency

Here are my notes on Anna Martelli Ravenscroft's closing keynote on "Diversity as a Dependency".

Edit: Here is the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOpdDxJzNkw

She opens her keynote with a question:

"What do you think of when you hear the word diversity?"

Someone in the audience says women, and while this causes laughter it is of course what she wanted to hear.

In most institutions that thrive to have diversity, the whole process is driven by guilt. Guilt is not a good motivator.

Small town

She shows us a study about who is most creative in Small Town. It turned out that those people who had connections to more diverse groups were the most creative and influential.


Another example is science. Science solves hard problems mostly by discovering unexpected results. Also, some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs depended on conceptual changes (like assuming a different atom model).


Interactions among individuals with different perspectives create the most innovation.

Kinds of diversity

  • needs / motivations
  • skill sets
  • perspectives

Remarkably there is no gender on this list, because it would be a wrong motivator. Python does need diversity, that is diversity in motivations, skills and perspectives.

This is especially true in open true, because people usually do it because they have an itch to be scratched, and everyone has a different itch to be scratched. Here we have different needs and motivations.

Universal Design

Lowered curbs are useful for people who are pulling luggage but they have actually been designed for people in wheelchairs. Another example is text to speech. It was designed for the blind but it can be useful to anyone who wants to drive a car and listen to his book, for example.

Community Growth

Boston Python User Group only had 1% of women in their base of members. They started to give workshops for women and increased their user base by 15%, which is obviously something that every community would want. If you want to grow your community just target a group of people that currently does not seem to recognize you.

Financial success

A study about women in business has shown that female CEOs outperform male CEOs.

Differing skill-sets

In a soccer team, everyone has a different skill set. Only the team as a whole can win. This is similar in programming. Our craft requires so many different skill sets that no single one person could ever combine them all in himself.

As a Python community we even need people who know how to organize conferences. This person would not necessarily need to be an outstanding programmer but his very special and "diverse" skill would be a great addition to the community as a whole.

Problem solving

Some of us might be individual geniuses, some of us might not, but as a group no matter what, we will have a collective intelligence that allow us to solve problems that are much bigger than us.

Interesting: Our brains are lazy. Whatever has worked in the past, will be remembered better than anything else. This means sooner or later we will kind of be doomed to try to use the same solution for all problems, first. Only diversity in the community can guarantee that fresh solutions for new hard problems will be invented.

This lazy brain problem also is the reason why we create stereotypes.

Anna gives many more lazy brain examples by quoting studies that analyse people's behavior and perception in different situation. I think the point is that even when we think that we are totally right and that we are deciding on facts and with best intentions. In all examples the problem is that we try to act conform to everyone else in the group, which can result in extremely stupid behavior. One example is an experiment where three people sit in a room that fills with smoke. When two just stay calm, the third one will most likely stay calm as well and just assume that someone else will come and help. This is called the trap of group think.

We need diversity to break the group think.

Diversity is hard

While it is good that everyone is so different, at the same time it is also the reason why it is very hard to make them all work together in harmony.

How can make it work?

  • Education
  • Facilitating communication
  • Clear process and goal-setting
  • Clear decision making (thank god that we have a BDFL in Python)

People are harder, because none of us come with docs :)

This last slide makes me think about that instructions email that Richard Stallman sends to all hosts whenever he come to speak. While it is quite amusing and displays him as quite a weirdo, it definitely is a very very precise "doc" about the person. Maybe we just could have docs for people? Put them on their GitHub profiles?

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