The Enormous Diversity Problem at AWS re:Invent 2017

📅 08 December, 2017 – Kyle Galbraith

I will be the first to admit I don’t have all the answers. I will also say that I speak as a white male programmer in a position of power. There is no one person to blame or entity that has failed. But as a member of this community I have a responsibility to report what I observed.

The technology community has a massive diversity problem. Nothing made that more obvious then attending the AWS re:Invent conference this year with 43,000 other attendees.

It is easy to forget if you work for a diverse company. It seemed a bit second nature to me to have colleagues from underrepresented groups. Having others in the room with different perspectives on solving problems is incredibly valuable. Yet, you walk into an exhibit hall in Las Vegas for re:Invent and it becomes clear not everyone in the tech community has caught up.

Walking from session to session you could actually count the number of people from minority groups on one hand. Hundreds of people you are walking past, and those that were not white males could fit on one to two hands. That is at best 10% if we are lucky and probably more like 2-3%.

Do the math. 43,000 attendees with only 2-3% being non white male means there was at best 800-1,1300 attendees from underrepresented groups. We have to do better than that.

Amazon Web Services tried to promote diversity. There was a diversity track of breakout sessions, cocktail hours for Women In Tech, and awesome presenters for keynotes. It’s not enough though. The lack of diversity with re:Invent attendees shows that companies still don’t get it.

The same types of people in the same room all the time leads to the same thoughts, processes, and failures. It promotes the same ludicrous behaviors and actions that we are seeing on our news channels. As an industry that is going gang busters, we must do better. Amazon must exert its presence and tell attendees to do better.

There isn’t change without action and those that wield the biggest stick are those that must act. But we must also act as well and push those around us to understand the value in diversity. It is a massive failure in the tech community if we do not solve the problem I observed at re:Invent.

As I said at the start of this post, I don’t have all the answers. But I am happy to help in anyway I can. I will continue to promote diversity in my workplace, on Twitter, and with those I network with. I believe a failure to do so is a failure to recognize that we have the power to change the world.