[hackerspaces] hackerspace demographics

Steven Sutton ssutton4455 at gmail.com
Tue Jan 15 17:40:30 CET 2013

Sorry to keep sending out novels, but this is an important subject to me
and a bit sensitive too -

Well, I think that a big part of inclusion is finding common ground. I've
been reading *How Children Succees: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power
of Character* recently. It's based on research from KIPP schools and I got
to it through the work of *Jonathan Haidt* (
http://www.ted.com/speakers/jonathan_haidt.html) so it applies as much to
adults as to children.

One of the ideas presented in the book is that "Diversity empowers
individuals, but similarity empowers teams." This kind of restates my first
point that in order to improve outreach, you have to improve inclusiveness.
In other words, the best way to be inclusive is to find commonality and
grow from there. I think core values are a pretty good place to start for
that. Again, this gets into touchy-feely soft skills, but there is a lot of
merit to being sensitive to those.

One study that they presented was tested on several children in the middle-
to high-school age groups. Boys and girls were paired with mentors for 30
minutes and then given a math test. Half of the mentors gave the standard
"drug free" message and half spent the time talking about how success is
about habits and character (so anyone can develop these habits and they are
a function of hard work and opportunity).

For the kids that got the drug-free message, the boys averaged an 84 on the
math test and the girls averaged a 74. However, the group that was given
the message that invalidated the stereotype that skills are intrinsic, the
boys averaged 86 and the girls averaged 84. The girls' scores went up 10
points and almost closed the gap with the boys. The girls weren't
under-performing because they were worse at math, but because they had
internalized the stereotype that they should be. This is referred to as
"stereotype threat" and these schools have had a lot of success in applying
personal development concepts to overcome these stereotypes.

While I take this and most psychological studies with a grain of salt, I do
think that the message that points of commonality do exist in personal
development values is important. Curiosity, enthusiasm, compassion,
integrity, social responsibility. These are the kinds of values that I
think of when bridging cultural gaps, and they're also why I like the
hacker community so much.


On Tue, Jan 15, 2013 at 10:57 AM, Edward L Platt <ed at elplatt.com> wrote:

> TLDR: Demographics are self-reinforcing without actively welcoming people
> with different experiences, ideas, and skills.
> Matt, I totally understand where you're coming from, and I've heard
> similar sentiments expressed often in the hacker/maker community, but after
> a lot of thought I have to disagree, and I'd like to try to explain why.
>  One of your comments is a good place to start:
> > it's also not a bad thing for a community to focus on their core values
> The demographics of a community tend to be self-reinforcing.  If the
> current group focuses on their core values, they are likely to recruit new
> members with the same values, and that often implies from the same
> demographic.  Furthermore, when entering a new community, most people feel
> like outsiders even if they match the existing demographic.  If they don't,
> they are likely to feel like that much more of an outsider, even if the
> group does nothing to discourage them.  As an example from i3, we had a
> group of aerial acrobats using our space and everyone thought they were
> awesome, but they were continually worried about wearing out their welcome.
> I'm not saying that it's wrong for spaces to have focuses or values, but
> that we should strive to be on the open-minded about applying those focuses
> and values.  We shouldn't require members to prove that they fit into our
> ideal, we should welcome everyone who doesn't work against our values.
> A diverse membership doesn't happen by accident.  It requires being
> actively welcoming to new members, and *encouraging* them to bring new
> ideas and skills, rather than asking them to fit themselves into what
> already exists.  It also requires reaching outside your current circles and
> comfort zone to look for new members.
> -Ed
> --
> Edward L. Platt
> http://elplatt.com
> http://civic.mit.edu/users/elplatt
> http://i3detroit.com
> @EdwardLPlatt <http://twitter.com/EdwardLPlatt>
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