Diversity Noob

I recently got an angry email from someone who wasn’t happy that there are more quotes by men on Quotes on Design than there are women. That’s my site, so it feels bad to know I’ve let someone down when all I was trying to do was help.

I need to understand diversity and equality issues more deeply and sort out my own feelings. This site may be a good vessel for that.

If I answer myself completely honestly, I feel that I do no censorship or discrimination against the authors of the quotes I publish on that site. I read the quote, if I think it’s a good quote, I publish it. The site is probably 50% user submissions and 50% me. So questions flow out of me here:

  • Is it my own selection bias from what I’m reading that turn up more male quotes? The last four books I’ve read were by women, so it doesn’t seem like it. If anything I prefer female authors in general.
  • Is it other people’s selection bias?
  • Is there less design-based writing by women so that fact trickles through to this site?
  • Do I have deep-seeded sexism that, even if I don’t think I’m being biased, I really am? And others as well?

I thought a rational thing to do was to mention this on Twitter and try and solicit more female quotes. I think I even phrased it that way too, which I got in trouble for and I’m not sure why. “Quotes by female authors”. Perhaps that’s better.

Actively soliciting quotes by gender though feels a little sexist to me. Just trying to be honest. Where I tried to exhibit no gender bias before, now I am. But is that for the best? Tab Atkins posted this weird story about this racist tree that seems to resonate here a little. Perhaps over-correcting, even if it doesn’t feel quite right, is for the best. I don’t know.

And then of course diversity and equality isn’t just about men and women. What about latino people and black people and the disabled and short people and the loads of other groups with a past of discrimination? Should I be actively soliciting quotes from these groups as well. That would be more fair, I think, although it becomes more cumbersome, wordy, and may dilute the message. Is it more effective to tackle things group by group?

I also wonder what perfection looks like in the context of Quotes on Design. Should the breakdown of quotes be perfectly representative of the diversity of Earths population? That seems cheezy to say, but perhaps thats the ideal. We can’t say perfectly representative of the tech community, because that suffers from diversity issues already and blaming trickle-down doesn’t help anything. Perhaps fixing this can cause trickle-up and help.

Mostly I just don’t know. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I hurt or help. I’ll probably just keep on keeping on and try and do tiny bits of good where I can. If it ever becomes daylight clear that something I’m doing is hurting, I’ll stop it.


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9 responses to “Diversity Noob”

  1. dj says:

    Huh? Is this an April Fool joke that got lost in the email system or something? As I’m sure that Rupert fella’ has told you many, many times — “haters gonna hate.” Leave it at that without spreading the infection around yourself. Remember back when hi-jackers used to hi-jack planes to Cuba for the attention/publicity? My guess is that you’ve got at least 2,700 things on your to-do and life-lists that are higher priority/worthwhile than all the worrying/wondering you seem to have been putting into this. You’ve become an industry opinion-leader – some even say “icon” – and wannabe’s all over the place can score a coup if they can engage with you in anything – even a specious argument or pissing contest.

    Take a breath buddy – you’re a good person – way ahead of the game in pretty much everything you do –

    Repeat after me: “I gotta keep centered,” “I gotta keep grounded,” “I shouldn’t engage more cats than I’ve got bags to put ’em in”…

    Besides, men are dying right and left all over the place with prostate cancer and you don’t see us gettin’ any ribbons! (pink or otherwise) AND who the crap made a law that all toilet seat’s home base is DOWN? The laws of the quantum universe prove otherwise.

  2. Kyle Breckenridge says:

    Unfortunately being white and male I may not be the best person to speak to sexism and racism. That being said, your point about the sheer number of groups you’re dealing with here should really be at the forefront of your thinking. If you start re-evaluating and adjusting every time someone complains, that’s all you’re going to have to do, especially as someone who is in the public eye.

    Since it is a submission based site, and you just happen to be the top submitter, if a user has a problem with the diversity on the site, the onus is really on them to fix it. User generated content can only be as diverse as it’s user base wants it to be.

    One final thing to think about, what are the chances the person complaining about this has actually made a submission themselves? There will always people who just want to complain for the sake of complaining. Don’t let them drag you down too.

  3. Rômulo Torres Zoch says:

    Hi. I am your fan @ csstricks and I just want to let you know that you look like rick, from pawn stars.
    Otherwise, thank you for that aewsome content you make available online and that helped me a lot with my job and more.

    thank you Chris, I just want to let you know, you made a real difference on my life.

  4. Joel Glovier says:

    Hey Chris,

    First of all – kudos for being sensitive to the topic, and vocal about it. It’s tough for you or I to have a say on this matter because technically we fall into the “majority” (white males). So unless our responses are in line with the perceived correct answer, we too will be marginalized as just beneficiaries of the bias.

    That being said, I agree that it seems intentionally sweeping the other way just for the sake of diversity seems disingenuous also. As you pointed out, then if we insist on equal representation for male/female, what about races, and other ways people identify themselves? Heck, at that point what’s to prevent us from calling foul by the mere fact that all your quotes are design related? Shouldn’t you be giving all topics an equal chance to be quoted?

    Of course that sounds silly – and I realize there is a broad difference between the starting point of the conversation which is legit, and that last broad conclusion, which is just silly. But that’s my point: this whole conversation deals with shades of gray, not just black and white.

  5. Paul d'Aoust says:

    I think that perfection is simply not possible in situations like this, because there’s no way to determine when you’ve reached perfection. There are always ways in which you could adjust the sliders to get a slightly different mix of representations — should it be proportional to the size of the groups represented in the design community? should it be divided equally among all groups? And then you get equality advocates who are bothered by any sort of special treatment. Those are all incompatible options. Which one is the perfect one? Who knows?!

    I do think that maybe sometimes the scales should be temporarily unbalanced (I hear people making a point of saying ‘sisters and brothers’ or ‘women and men’ lately) and that’s probably good, just to even out the playing field. So it might be good to have that in the back of your mind — you could intentionally choose a few more quotes from female designers if you want. But it sounds like you’re naturally a fair and honest person, so I wouldn’t get obsessed about it. Sounds like you’re on the right path already.

  6. Andy says:

    Man, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like, “EFF you, if you don’t like what I have to say.” I’ve spent the majority of my life saying, “I’m sorry.” ” I;m sorry.” “I’m sorry.” Well, the majority of the time sorry’s were appropriate. I effed up and probly should have been kicked in the nuggets, but sometimes it was just the feeling of guilt from offending someone i was really trying to help. So now, I apologize when necessary, but the rest of the time, I’m if you don’t like it, next time do it your effin self. Common sense tells me you are a decent guy, I’ve been overwhelmed by the quality of your Linda.com theming series and let me tell you, it warrants a great deal of respect. Those videos have changed my whole workflow. I wanted to thank you directly. Keep up the good work, and if you know your intentions, eff the haters my friend. Never think of them again.

  7. k says:

    Hello Chris!

    I, like many, I stumbled on your site through css-tricks. This was also my first time on your site, so please excuse if I’m a little nervous. But I thought — I can maybe help! Or at least throw some thoughts at you. Css-tricks has been a massive resource to me, so, anything I can do in return? I’m on that! I apologize for the wall of text, but this is one of those things that requires a lot of typing and a lot of reading.

    Notes: I consider myself a feminist, and I’m speaking from an American perspective.


    I think the person who was angry has misdirected their anger. Women don’t exist, let alone write, as much in many technical arenas. This is for a variety of reasons — absolutely none of which have a damn thing to do with you.

    The best response to that person is to just suggest they submit more quotes themselves or that they suggest blogs you can peruse for the thoughts of women designers. Be forewarned, it’s a common thread to receive, “it’s not my job to educate you, you go out and search.” I’m sorry if that happens to you, and if it hurts your feelings at all (I hope not!) just try to brush it off, because it’s seriously not personal. It’s almost scripted (not kidding — http://www.derailingfordummies.com/derail-using-education).

    I personally don’t find that attitude helpful. I’m not one for coddling someone or wasting my time with someone who clearly does not want to learn, but I’m also not one for being brutal toward someone who doesn’t understand — especially if they have good intent and want to learn. I can understand that a lot of women have had very different experiences than me, though, and I can’t *fault* anyone for not wanting to educate another — it’s a personal choice, after all. Just not the one I make.

    I’m glad you got thought fodder out of this, but I hope this situation doesn’t translate to any serious uncertainty on your part, either.

    > Is it my own selection bias from what I’m reading that turn up more male quotes? The last four books I’ve read were by women, so it doesn’t seem like it. If anything I prefer female authors in general.
    > Is it other people’s selection bias?
    > Do I have deep-seeded sexism that, even if I don’t think I’m being biased, I really am? And others as well?

    Yeah, probably — yours and everyone else’s. It’s a subconscious bias, something that was ingrained in you and me and everyone else. Sexism and racism and all the rest of the fun biases are still very much evident in society and culture — individuals live in that soup of culture, some bias flavor is going to seep in. It’s also a chicken/egg thing — Hollywood makes movies featuring strong men and meek/passive women. Society feeds off that, providing more strong men and passive women for Hollywood to say, “but look! It’s the way things really are! We only create accurate portrayals!”

    People also can’t just flip a switch and Suddenly Not Sexist. It takes time, practice, and — even when you think you’re there, you’ll still say or think something that’s just off-kilter. Me, too! I’m also of the opinion that one is made sexist or racist by mere participation in society.

    If that was at all jarring, it’s really helpful to think of it in terms of active and passive racism (sexism, ableism, etc.) — active racists are the people who make it abundantly clear they hate non-whites. You don’t have to guess whether someone is an active racist; they’ll let you know. The passive racist may consider themselves extremely progressive and “non-racist” — but is still a racist simply by virtue of existing within society as it is. I don’t actually have to do anything as a white woman to enjoy the benefits of being white — I’m white, I get them automatically, without anyone bestowing them on me. I can’t refuse them, either — they’re abstract and not an “offer” or anything that can be avoided.

    You noted yourself as a “noob” so this may be helpful: http://ted.coe.wayne.edu/ele3600/mcintosh.html That’s a list of privileges bestowed on white people just by virtue of being white. It was written in 1989, so it’s a little outdated in places — but it’s still very accurate in others. For example, one of the ones that resonated with me on first reading it in college: “I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to ‘the person in charge,’ I will be facing a person of my race.”

    It doesn’t matter in individual situations what the race of “the person in charge” is, but — when a minority, repeatedly through the course of their lives, encounters someone of a different race in authority, and never or rarely encounters their own race — that’s a subconscious statement to them, “‘your kind’ are not good enough to be here.” It’s not stated outright and in a way that is immediately obvious, but really — that’s what the tally of all those interactions is.

    Some prefer the term “microaggression” for the type of “passively *-ist occurrence” I’m talking about. From Wikipedia, a good explanation of the damage that comes from these microaggressions: “People have expressed several ways in which they feel harmed by racial microaggressions, such as implied messages that may make them feel demeaned. Implied messages can range from example like, “You do not belong,” “You are abnormal,” “You are intellectually inferior,” “You cannot be trusted,” and, “You are all the same.” Recipients of these messages have also reported feeling other negative consequences, including powerlessness, invisibility, pressure to comply, loss of integrity, and pressure to represent one’s group.”

    I think, actually, microaggression is the more common term — but I like active racist/passive racist (or active sexist/passive sexist) for descriptors of people and their behaviors a little better, personally.

    > Is there less design-based writing by women so that fact trickles through to this site?

    Probably, yeah. There are less women in technical industries. It’s not woman-barren (hello!), but, like — this is anecdotal evidence — I was one of two women in a programming course in community college. Most of the “big voices” I follow are masculine. In real life, men will sometimes literally not listen to a thing I have to say, because I’m a woman speaking on something technical (this last attitude is VERY rare and usually encountered in stodgy old fogies, but it’s incredibly demeaning and frustrating to be ignored solely on a basis of what I have between my legs). It’s getting better, but it’s not equalized yet. I personally don’t think it will be okay until a boy can be in sewing classes like a girl can be in programming classes.

    I think part of this can be attributed to a general anxiety and passivity. It’s generally more difficult for a woman to put herself out there than it is for a man, since we’re essentially trained toward passivity. This exists where women try to seek raises, too. Of course, bold women and meek men exist, so it’s hardly universal — but one can see where society tells girls to be passive, no? Wear dresses, play nicely, use tea sets, play with dolls. Boys, in contrast, are rewarded for their boldness — get dirty, tear around, “boys will be boys.”

    And — don’t get me wrong, both sides have strong negatives, hence why sexism is generally more nebulous and less clear-cut than racism.

    > I thought a rational thing to do was to mention this on Twitter and try and solicit more female quotes. I think I even phrased it that way too, which I got in trouble for and I’m not sure why. “Quotes by female authors”. Perhaps that’s better.

    Without seeing the tweets and conversations itself, I can guess with reasonable accuracy: part of this is just and only the word “female.” To some the use of the word “female” is derogative in almost any context (most arguments I’ve heard in this direction exclude scientific explanations).

    I disagree, personally, and think it requires a specific context and use to be derogatory. E.g., I’ve heard men say, “I’m going to get that female” when looking to flirt or “I love it when a female dresses nicely” when describing behavior of their ideal partner. They’d never, ever, ever refer to a man as a male, nor would they refer to female family/friends as “females” — but they choose this word specifically to refer to a woman they’re romantically interested in. Using that scientific word almost dehumanizes the woman in that context. It just makes it impersonal and — I am sorry to use this word — “creepy.”

    I think the “safest” word to use is women or woman — but that’s also seriously awkward in some places, too. Grammatically, it just doesn’t work or “sounds wrong” — women scientists, for instance. To me, that sounds more blunt and derogatory than female scientists? Same for women writers.

    It depends on the individual. If you make someone angry with one word, you can change it, but you’re bound to make someone else angry with that new exchanged word, too. I find those kinds of semantics debates interesting the first few times, but after the eight billionth, it gets old. No one has settled on the best word or words to use. So, like you said, unless they have a really compelling argument as to why you shouldn’t do something, whatever to them. That you hadn’t even understood why these people thought the use of the word “female” was wrong tells me no one made anything near a compelling argument.

    There’s no dictionary of politically correct words. It’s easy to scrub obviously awful words from our vocabulary, but there’s also a lot of innocuous-seeming words and phrases, and they appear everywhere. It gets absolutely dizzying trying to be completely non-offensive and is, in my opinion, an impossible pursuit.

    > Actively soliciting quotes by gender though feels a little sexist to me. Just trying to be honest. Where I tried to exhibit no gender bias before, now I am. But is that for the best?

    I personally… think so? Where there is inequality, strive to fix it in whatever way you can. I don’t think you should go crazy and try to muddy the waters of Design Quotes by striving for perfect equality, but you can try to make that equality better. You could announce things like Women’s History Month or Black History Month and ask for submissions of relevant designers. Awesome, right? Nope, someone is going to yell: “we shouldn’t be celebrating women only in one particular month, but all months.”

    While I agree with that sentiment as the ideal we’re striving for — at this juncture in time, it’s more important that highlighting the minority group is happening at all. It’s a step in the right direction. The absolute best step? No.

    But — if you just suddenly started highlighting society’s many slivers equally without mentioning what you’re doing, chances are it’d probably be so subtle most wouldn’t notice, too. A feminist or anti-racist writer might notice, yeah, but not the average person — and the average person is more important to reach, I think. At this particular juncture, where there still exists organizations outright dedicated to oppression (KKK, etc.) — hell yes, I’ll take whatever promotion in the opposite direction I can get, and hell yes, it’s best outright stated.

    But, honestly, from a completely practical perspective — it will probably be far easier if you avoid any sort of diversity-based activities on Design Quotes or other sites. Is it the most moral, ethical thing to do? No, I don’t think so. Yet, bringing them in complicates everything and usually isn’t the point of the business, but if I talk any more about this we’re going to get into capitalism as a whole and yeah no I stop now.


    Basically, I think — especially on the internet — it boils down to being unable to please everyone. That you’re trying to be a good person and you’re going about it without being a jackass is enough for me. Will that satisfy everyone? Nope. Is that your problem? Nope. I can just read your last paragraph, the gist of your thoughts through this post — and I know you’re doing alright.

    I don’t like the internet as a forum for discussion of bias issues. Too often and too easily, things get mired into an us-versus-them mentality. A lot of people seem like they seriously just like to argue, but a lot of people are also coming at one another from totally different places, with totally different terminologies, and when one side is unwilling to acquiesce and the other is unwilling to educate — well, yeah. It winds up being a circular, useless discussion.

    I would strongly suggest avoiding publishing thoughts on feminism, racism, or other biases, unless you do so under a separated pseudonym. You’ll get one of two things in your commenting crowd: people who are coming from the feminist side pissed off that you’ve done something “wrong” or people who are coming from the non-feminist side pissed off that you’re adhering to the “feminist agenda.”

    So… to finish off this ramble, I like what you’re doing, I think you’re doing right, and I think you should keep doing it! Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Enjoy your day!


    @DJ: You should know that the “pink ribbon” — Susan G. Komen — isn’t a great organization, and we’d probably be better off without them. They sue others who use the pink ribbon or otherwise try to “encroach” upon them and their trademarks. IMO, a truly charitable organization would care far less about trademarking and far more about — you know — putting money toward researching cancer!

  8. Geoff says:

    Actively selecting someone based on gender is sexist. When you hear “sexist” though, I’d say most of the time it was because someone was selected and something bad happened, e.g., “Oh I don’t have a quote from X, because she’s a woman.”

    That’s obviously sexist because that’s how most references to the word happen.

    But the opposite is very true, and I’d say worse.

    Saying, “Oh, I quoted X on my site! She’s a woman.” That feels wrong because it is wrong.

    The basis on why someone is quoted should lie in THE QUOTE, and not in their loins. And taking a stance of “Oh, I’m going to try to include more women in these quotes because I feel they aren’t represented enough in tech” is the same as saying “Women aren’t good enough, so in order to be quoted alongside men I use a weighted system so they appear more often.”

    Again, their worth is based on their gender and not what they said.

    The fact that you didn’t notice that more men were quoted than women is proof that you weren’t being sexist. So my advice is to keep on keepin’ on.

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