This is my third completely reworked draft of this post because it’s an important topic that potentially deeply affects many people and I want so desperately to get it right.
I attended the Community Leadership Summit this weekend, which is a sort of pre-conference event for community, open source, and developer relations professionals ahead of the OSCON (open source convention) conference in Portland, Oregon. It was fantastic to see how prominent the topic of “diversity and inclusion” was throughout the sessions, whether they were explicitly about diversity and inclusion or not. The reality is that this topic permeates everything when your work is primarily focused on people.
When Craig Cmehil approached me to take up the banner for a broader inclusion effort throughout the community, he started by asking me where I stand on diversity initiatives. I shared with him a post that I had written last International Women’s Day that might help lay the foundation of my thoughts on the subject. Ultimately, we need to do more and we need to take on tangible, meaningful initiatives to help make the world a safer, more welcoming place to exist in for marginalized groups.
What Are Diversity and Inclusion?
There is plenty of research available that shows how women, people of color, and other marginalized groups face an uphill battle when it comes to, well, life in this world. Whether it’s workplace discrimination (hiring, promotions, compensation, harassment, etc.), money lending discrimination, socioeconomic conditions (i.e. communities of color that experience lower financial support for schools, overcrowding, poor housing conditions, etc. which translate into higher drug use and crime rates), violence and discrimination from police, the public, and other government agencies, xenophobia, or just everyday microaggressions, we have a society that doesn’t work for a lot of people.
In the context of the SAP community, diversity and inclusion mean creating a psychologically safe place for all people to participate.
Why Does This Matter For Our Community?
Over the past two years, we’ve had a lot of discussions about critical community health topics, such as engagement rates, moderation policies, and diversity of community participation (i.e. who is participating, how much, where do they come from, what is their background, what percentage of our users are contributing and how?). Managing the blogging program has made me aware of many topic experts who do not feel empowered to share their knowledge right now because they are afraid to make a mistake and get blasted by others in the community. This fear of bullying doesn’t serve anyone and reduces the health and value of the community for everyone. It’s so bad that some people don’t feel like they have a right to post something or it’s not their place to report an abusive post. Instead, they defer to a small group of vocal experts in the hopes that they will do the right thing. This deference distills our community down to a very small subset of perspectives. It puts a massive burden on those vocal experts to make decisions that represent everyone and makes the community a scary place for everyone else. It does not represent a community mindset and we all deserve better.
We are strong because of our members. The more we empower our members to speak and share, the stronger we will be together. Our content will be cleaner and more valuable. People will learn more and get answers and gain knowledge faster. There will be more diverse perspectives that help build better solutions together. Bottom line: we cannot continue as we are today.
How Do We Move Forward?
One thing that pleasantly surprised me about the Summit was the interest and willingness of men, particularly those who present as cisgender, white men, to get involved and make things better for marginalized groups. One of the most poignant moments of the entire weekend for me was to watch this man, Scott Hanselman, first speak passionately on the topic of diversity and inclusion and then proceed to publicly step down from his position in leadership at the OSCON conference to make room for a more diverse leadership team. He commented that there is a difference between an “ally” (someone who will “tweet [their support] and take off”) and an “accomplice” (someone who will “go to jail” with/for you). He’s right. We need more accomplices.
This must be a conversation that involves everyone for one reason: we cannot do it alone. We need strong accomplices who currently hold the power to be willing to not only reach out and give others a hand up but are also willing to move out of the way to make room.
The first step for us is to create an environment that welcomes more voices into the conversation. We will speak to and for each other, not only with empathy but also with conviction. We will better empower all our members to speak up if they see something wrong, to share their thoughts in a place where anyone can safely agree or disagree without fear of personal harm, and to get more involved, whether by their own initiative or by actively reaching out to invite them to participate.
For some people, inclusion doesn’t just mean opening the door. Sometimes it means walking out into the hall and personally inviting them in.
And by “we,” I mean all of us – you, me, the community team, every SAP employee, and every other community member – because we are all responsible for the safety of our community. It will take courage – for some more so than for others. We will all have to learn how to be the person who steps up when we see something to say “hey, this isn’t right.”
The community team is currently working on transforming our Rules of Engagement and moderation processes to help with this effort. Additionally, in partnership with community members, as well as, other SAP and non-SAP organizations who are doing good work around this topic, I will be driving forward initiatives that help showcase and create opportunities for visibility, skill development, networking, sponsorship, policy change, celebration of accomplishments, and other programs that build tangible results for better diversity and inclusion.
Note: I will likely be looking for people who are interested in being involved with these efforts as we move forward, so if you are interested in this topic, please keep an eye out for specific opportunities in the future.
I also want to be clear that when I speak about our community, I don’t just mean our website. The SAP community is everywhere people are engaging with each other about SAP topics and working together to make the world a better place. We can do this together.