A while ago Molly posted a great critique of some recent news articles about the lack of diversity in the top tier of the blogosphere. Thoughts about this have been stewing in the back of my mind ever since and although I’m not sure of the coherence, I do have some things to say.

Firstly, people are not the same. Personally I don’t think that diversity is about making everyone indistinguishable, but rather about celebrating differences. I don’t agree with targets, since I’ve seen what they can do. I don’t think men are the same as women, I don’t think all cultures are interchangeable and I don’t think anyone is better off by people pretending so!

The best illustration I have seen of this is the melting pot vs salad bowl metaphor. During the 80s and 90s, many companies and even countries were actually trying to achieve monoculturalism — taking all different types of people and teaching them to behave in the same way, much as when you take many ingredients and place them in a melting pot, a sort of untextured mush is all that results. The ideal is more like a salad bowl (pluralism) — individual elements are identifiable and can be enjoyed separately as well as in concert with the other flavours.

This is the advantage of true diversity — you get to celebrate and benefit from the differences between people. Got a different viewpoint on how to solve a problem at work? Brilliant! Best way to avoid Groupthink is to make it unlikely that everyone can have the same viewpoint. Haven’t you all worked in teams where each member appears to be just a carbon copy of every other? Isn’t it refreshing when someone new, different, with alternative experience and viewpoints comes in and turns everything upside down?

Back to the problem of the blogosphere. Part of the problem here is the definition of what is seen to be the “good content” of blogs (especially technical blogs) — most of the very popular technical blogs are extremely focused. They are quite narrow in what they encompass, very detailed, even extending to code samples a great deal of the time. They are also almost exclusively written by men.

I have a few theories as to why this is:

  • Women tend not to regard themselves as experts as often as men
  • Men seem to be more ruthless about regarding blogs as a PR tool and therefore staying on message
  • Women don’t sweat the details as much — and don’t enjoy them as much either. Think about how many of the blogs you read focus on actual code, details of solutions or hacks. I have much more of a “I’ll find the info when I need it” approach and I think a lot of other women do too
  • The combination of the first & the third points means that even when we do implement something cool or solve a tricky problem, we tend to assume someone else got there first and so don’t document it
  • Women multitask. Don’t tell me men do this to the same extent — I love guys and I work well with them, but they can’t juggle anywhere near as well. Because we multitask, we’re more likely to fall into the hybrid blogger category — writing about all the things that interest us

Thus, I think there may be a grain of truth to the white male bloggers produce the best product argument — they do produce the most attractive product for a predominantly white male audience. Women write differently — as do non-Westerners. It’s even pretty evident that there’s a difference in style between white British male bloggers and white American male bloggers. There’s a greater difference evident when the people themselves are more different. So part of the issue is the perception of what is a “good blog” and part is the audience.

But what do we do about most blog readers (at least in the tech world) being white males from English-speaking bits of the world? How can female bloggers be A-list in this kind of environment?

There are three chief strategies:

  1. Write like men — personally, I don’t think this is a good option. Much like female managers in the 80s & 90s learning a very aggressive, masculine management style, it just perpetuates the myth that you have to conform to a standard to be popular/successful
  2. Encourage more diversity on the web — this is already starting to happen. It helps when the A-listers are conscious of the fact that they may be gender-skewed, but I don’t think anyone wants them to link to low-quality blogs. Just to perhaps make more effort to expose themselves to a wider variety and still pick out the best of the bunch — as we all should
  3. Encourage the existing A-list men to write more like women — I hope they won’t mind me saying so, but this has already started to happen. With Eric writing about his daughter, Matt about his childhood and Dan with his BP fascination, great tech bloggers are letting us see about of … well, themselves too, which is definitely moving over towards middle ground. So hopefully soon it will be socially acceptable to talk about everything that we care about, rather than just the tech. That said, if the relentless focus is just one of those differences, hey cool and let’s just allow all the different ways, yeah?

Women tech bloggers do exist — there was a roomful of them at SXSW in the Where Are The Women of Web Design session. But even in person, style differences were evident. It was the only panel I attended where both audience members and panelists were laptop-lite. A number of people came up afterwards to me and introduced themselves. It stood out to me as a very different experience, in a very good way. And the web being the fertile ground for infinite opportunity that it is, I think we can make it the same here.