News flash: There are a lot of white guys in tech

There’s been a contentious and useful conversation this week over the demographic balance of the tech economy, sparked by Jamelle Bouie posting the piece he’d written earlier on that topic for Marco Arment’s subscription-required iPad publication The Magazine. The first two sentences of his story:

Click through to the “about” page of any technology magazine, website, or blog, and you often find individual or group pictures of the staff and regular contributors. What’s noticeable is so in its absence: You find precious few brown people.

Bouie pinned much of the blame for that on tech journalists sticking with their default recruitment settings–as he quoted Anil Dash, “they’ve tended to hire from their familiar circle of connections.”

TC Disrupt crowds

Not all of the tech community appreciated the critique. After some back-and-forth on Twitter, veteran startup founder Jason Calacanis posted an essay defending his ecosystem’s meritocracy and suggesting that ambitious writers of any color follow his example of “hustling in my spare time”:

To fall back to race as the reason why people don’t break out in our wonderful oasis of openness is to do a massive injustice to what we’ve fought so hard to create.

It was interesting to digest that a day or so after reading testimonials by two female tech types, Sarah Parmenter and Leslie Jensen-Inman, about the grotesque sexism they’d encountered while speaking at conferences. Perhaps the tech ecosystem is not a wonderful oasis of openness for everyone?

I know it’s not.

I’ve been to more than enough tech events that didn’t exactly look like America, but I also have my own experience distributing work to journalists. From 1997 to 2005, my job titles at the Washington Post ended in “editor,” and a key part of those jobs was assigning a page or so of reviews each week.

I did okay at finding women writers, but I was not effective at signing up non-white ones. It was not (I think) an error of commission, but one of distraction: I had more than one person’s job on my plate, I was stressed enough figuring out my own–and once I’d located enough freelancers who could file on time, I didn’t look beyond the people I knew and the people they knew.

This is one white guy’s story, and it may not apply to any other editor who looks somewhat like me.

But I do know this much: As the sample size grows, a continued mismatch between your community’s demographics and those of the larger society increasingly suggests an inefficiency in the allocation of talent. You might want to look into why that happens.