Affirmative action is bootstrapping. We’d love to eventually have an organic, natural balance of gender represenation in all roles, but in the meantime, we may need to force the balance. That’s affirmative action.
If you run a conference, you could choose to bootstrap your selection process in this way. However, explicitly setting aside speaker spots for women is bound to start a heated debate about whether affirmative action is fair, and whether it achieves its goals.
Whether you feel affirmative action is unfair or not, the fact is some people percieve it as unfair. There is an alternative: to actively encourage women to submit conference proposals, especially to conferences that have blind selection processes.
The above is from a new site called We Are All Awesome! The site is an initiative to achieve equal gender representation at conferences by aggressively encouraging women to submit themselves to be speakers. The point of the above quote is that begging and waiting for presumably-male organizers to create this balance hasn’t worked and isn’t going to, partly because people are suspicious and critical of the speaker selection process.
Something about equating affirmative action to bootstrapping doesn’t quite sit right with me. I’d like to believe that attaching a polarizing concept – affirmative action – to a concept that conservatives/privileged white males so strongly identify with – bootstrapping – will produce this ooh aah effect. Not gonna happen.
I don’t want to argue semantics, though. Given the systemic inequality, there’s certainly something to be said for taking a different or additional tack towards changing the system with the goal of creating a new normal. I’d call this not Affirmative Action, but an affirmative action of a different stripe. It is indeed a positive step taken to increase the representation of women in an area from which they have been historically excluded, but without any hints of preferential treatment. The change doesn’t come at the point of speaker selection. It comes before that, at the pool of speakers.
Ladies, get over your impostor syndrome and get out there.