By November 22, 2008 17 Comments Read More →

The onus is on you

Over the past few years, I’ve been part of the organizing teams for many events and because of my work in social media and podcasting I regularly find myself in discussions about other events and the community.  I often hear that participation is noticeably skewed towards white males, aged thirty through fifty, that there isn’t enough cultural diversity or women represented.  In fact, I have at least twice been told that I don’t do enough to include multiculturalism and women in the community.

The community and its events are inclusive.  Anyone who wants to attend is welcome.  Invitations to participate are implied.  Invitations to speak or submit speaking proposals are open.  Oddly, some women and individuals from different cultural backgrounds that have expressed their concerns have never submitted speaking proposals to the events I’m involved in.  I respond by requesting they submit proposals and make the effort to increase multicultural and female participation.  There’s only so much the community organizers can do and I can assure you that we have made efforts to reach out to the under-represented.

The Canadian Podcast Buffet was created as a resource and meeting place for the community.  We don’t define who’s in the community, only that it exists for all to join and contribute.  Podcasters Across Borders was created to bring the community together in a single physical space.  We don’t decide who comes, only that the event is organized and those willing to sign-up and travel to Kingston can be part of the scene.  Speaking proposals are welcome from everyone.  I know that the same is true of the PodCamp movement — events are planned and invitations to participate are open.

Andrea and I have been talking about this lately because planning for PAB2009 is about to ramp up.  The PAB community has been built on word of mouth which emanates from CPB.  If you feel that we need more people from a particular country, cultural background or gender, it’s up to you to help increase that representation by spreading the word and inviting the people you feel the community will benefit from meeting and listening to.

Communities thrive when they are made up of mixed opinions and backgrounds.  Make sure you help create the environment in which we can all grow.

Photo: PAB2007 Group Photo.jpg by Sean Joyner.


About the Author:

Mark Blevis is a digital public affairs strategist and President of, an integrated digital communications, public affairs and research company. His work focuses on the role of digital tools and culture on issues and reputation management. He also leads research into how Canadian opinions are shaped through online content and interactions.
  • Valerie

    Okay, I’m going to be way less diplomatic than Mark was in this post.

    Anyone who has actually told this guy that he hasn’t done enough of ANYTHING (besides sleep) regarding this community hasn’t got a freaking clue.

    When he called me out of the blue to ask me to present a Jolt at PAB 2008, even coming up with a great topic that was part of my expertise AND massaging my pathetic introvert’s ego to get me to do it, I frankly didn’t understand why he should bother trying so hard to “increase the female presence” in front of the mic at PAB. Surely he had a thousand other things to do. I hadn’t really been taking notes on what genders or colours or backgrounds or abilities were there, and it didn’t have any effect on what I was getting out of it – which was a ton.

    Guess I know why now. Aside from the organizers’ own ideas about what PAB should be (which is what I was respecting by agreeing to speak, and was glad I did), it would seem people were bugging them about such things, and evidently that hasn’t stoppped.

    That’s just ridiculous.

    If you really think you have something to share at PAB that involves getting out in front of everybody and presenting (and you’re probably right), go tell Mark and/or Bob and give them something to go on. If you think people you know have something to share, pester them to do the same thing and keep on them to follow through. If you don’t think any of that, fine. Enjoy the ride. But don’t bitch to them that you didn’t have your chance. You did. You always do.

  • Andrea Ross

    I second the motion — no wait, you already did that. I third it.

  • Morrie

    Mark, I heard this comment briefly on the Buff, where you said you’d written about it in your blog (I think this was just before the last Meetup/Podcamp/thing. You’re a tall poppy (literally) and people suffer from tall poppy syndrome. They tend to knock people who are successful, and who don’t necessarily deserve knocking. Its all very well saying I want to see more of X(insert gender/stereotype/niche etc here) but the insert needs to want to become involved. You’re helping them to learn about the process, as is Bob and the rest of us, but you can lead a podcaster to a microphone, but you can’t necessarily make them watch their levels – if you get my drift.

    Enjoy your holiday break if you get one, and hope the road trip was fantastic.

    If I was motivated I’d plug the mic in and send an mp3, but hey, the kettle’s boiling and I need a cup of tea.


  • Mitch Joel – Twist Image


    I wish I could be in Ottawa today. I can also tell you – as someone who sits on committees for conferences that attendees pay for and that are organized by a more exclusive group – that the same is true. Anyone is open to submit a keynote, concurrent session, etc… Then, when the best are chosen and decided on, those similar comments come creeping in.

    When you explain that you chose the best of what was received the general comment back is that the onus is on the organizers to be more diversified. I happen to think that that kind of comment is really hurtful as well.

    The truth is, people like to complain and point-out stuff, but rarely will actually do anything about it to make a change. Which is sad.

    At the same time, there’s a reason why someone like you leads and tries stuff, while others sit back and be armchair quarterbacks.

    Keep on building it.

  • Robin Browne

    Hi Mark,
    As one of the folks who has noticed, and commented on, the lack of diversity at social media events like PAB I totally agree with you that the onus is on the folks, like me, who want the change to make it happen. It’s the old Ghandi saying, “Be the change you want to see”. And I totally get that you and all the other event organizers I’ve met totally support diversifying. But as anyone who had tried to grow any community knows, increasing such diversity isn’t easy. So, the first step to making it happen is to start the conversation, as you’ve done here, and I would say is that it’s in everyone’s interest to take part.
    Thanks for all you do man and see you shortly at Podcamp Ottawa 2!

  • John Meadows

    First of all, let me “fourth” the motion :)

    As a medium, podcasting is all about empowerment — so many of the barriers that are present in other media just don’t exist in podcasting. The only barriers remaining are the will to create something, and learning the craft. As far as learning the craft is concerned, through the amazing efforts of folks like Mark and Bob in Podcasters Across borders, and the people who put together podcamps, there is no end of opportunities to learn how to podcast.

    All podcasters win when new podcasters enter the scene and produce content, and are willing to share their experiences with others.

    BUT, you have to speak up — if you sit back waiting for an invitation on a silver platter, you’ll be waiting for a long time. The flipside of empowerment is that you need to make the first move.

  • Jim Milles

    I agree with Mark–mostly, but not completely. Or more accurately, I would interpret Mark’s saying “the onus is on you” a little differently. Certainly Mark, Andrea, Bob and Cat do as much as they possibly can to be inclusive, both in CPA and PAB. I’m sorry I missed Valerie’s talk last summer, but I’m glad Mark encouraged her to do a presentation, and I hope she’ll do another in 2009. The PAB organizers do an excellent job of identifying potential contributors and encouraging them so speak up.

    On the other hand, I can understand why some might not feel as welcome at PAB, and I don’t think it’s entirely fair to put the burden on them to overcome their reluctance to participate. I would put the burden on all of us who do participate in the PAB podcasting community to make underrepresented groups feel more welcome.

    We should all think more carefully about some of the language we use and the comments we make. How many of us unthinkingly do or say things that suggest that some people are more welcome in this community than others? Is it necessary to describe a cobbled-together podcasting studio as “ghetto”? Can we come up with better terms of disapproval–even when joking–than “gay” or “lame”? When we have guests on our podcasts, do they all have to be white and heterosexual? Do we assume, again without thinking, that all our listeners are white and heterosexual?

    Some might dismiss such concerns as “political correctness.” I prefer to describe it as exhibiting normal courtesy and respect for others, even when it requires us to educate ourselves to be more sensitive to how our behavior comes across to others.

  • Andrea Ross

    Wow, Jim.

    I admit I don’t listen to a tonne of different podcasts, but I feel quite confident in saying I haven’t listened to any (and wouldn’t listen to any) that were guilty of the kind of behavior you’re suggesting we *politely* avoid. The suggestion that any of us would consider only white, straight interview guests seems like a pretty imaginative and strong accusation.

  • Mark

    Thank you for all of the great comments and support. Being a community leader and coordinator is a tough job and, try as we might, it’s impossible to please everyone. I take comfort that the social media and new media communities don’t have the monopoly on these challenges.

    @jimmilles Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my actual post. I was trying to communicate that the onus isn’t just on the individuals to participate, but on the community as a whole to help strengthen the community in a way that will benefit all of us — particularly if the issue is important to “you”, don’t just complain about it and task others (read the organizers) to chase down and recruit the under-represented. Ultimately, though, we can’t decide for the individual to attend the event or submit a speaking proposal. At some point, the individuals have to take that upon themselves in the same way that we decided to create the event for all to attend.

    I am concerned about the language and limited guest spectrum you describe in your post. Perhaps I’m listening to the more inclusive podcasts because I don’t recall any of what you describe in what I listen to. Having said that, I admit to having used the term “ghetto” in its slang definition of “when something is jerry-rigged and looks like it was made in a half-assed fashion.” As for interview/guests, I know that the shows I listen to have featured the best guests to speak on a topic no matter what their background.

    An individual’s background is irrelevant. Our core message is and has always been that everyone is welcome. I don’t understand how anyone would misunderstand that.

  • Robin Browne

    Gotta jump back in.
    I thank Jim for his comment not because I agree with it all but because it courageously exposes the complexity of this issue that is easy to miss. For example, Mark, when you say that the shows you listen to have “featured the best guests to speak on a topic no matter what their background”, I say yes, but what were the topics chosen? Interviews that get out out of the fish bowl, like the great one you did with the drag-queen Tyfanny, are too rare.

  • Mark

    I don’t believe it will serve any purpose to have people catalog guests and public speakers by sexual orientation, racial background, etc… Take for example the Just One More Book!! podcast. Does it serve any purpose for us to introduce a guest as being gay or African American? No. The guest is on the show because they create children’s books. Full stop.

    And, I’m not sure why you’re concerned about the topic chosen. The topic shouldn’t make any difference. People should speak about their opinions, passions and expertise. Everyone has them and everyone has a voice. They should take advantage of it, sharing it in a community that’s welcoming.

    I believe CPB and PAB to be more than just open to everyone — they’re welcoming of everyone.

  • Valerie

    Somehow this went from a thread about participating in a podcasting conference to podcasting content, and even to how people define themselves and perceive each other. Can’t wait to see that last one sorted out. Good luck. :-)

    For what it’s worth…

    I’ve listened to podcasts that have said things about women that kind of bummed me out. None of them involved these words everyone debates into the ground these days with no contextual consideration. Some have been guys just shooting their mouths off, others women defining themselves solely and narrowly by their gender. Whatever. At worst, I stop listening. Never for a moment does any of it make me feel less a part of the podcasting community. And never for a moment do I begrudge those people saying what they say. I am entirely responsible for my reactions.

    A much-discussed standard of podcasting is the ultimate freedom to be truthful and transparent. As I know well, we can live and die by that sword, but we take the consequences. Go ahead and tell someone to be more sensitive as a person in general, but to make someone afraid to say what they *truly* want to say the way they want to say it is very very dangerous to podcasting. That’s what can make people not want to start doing a podcast and be a part of the community – not stupid words. Everyone has a right to do their own podcast (a strong theme in CPB and PAB), to fill a void, even to dispute some dumb stuff someone else said.

    What made Tyffanie’s appearance on CPB great had nothing to do with her sexual orientation/colour/physical ability/etc. It’s the same as what was great about the talks with the Edmonton social media folks, Larry Gelkin (monetizer! gasp!), and the Podcamp Halifax guys: they were all new voices on the Buffet who are passionate about what they’re doing *and* have interesting things to share.

    Should Mark and Bob keep reaching out to new voices like that? Sure, and I think they will. But they don’t say who’s in the community and who isn’t. If you take part in a podcast, you’re in, period. The fishbowl doesn’t have a lid. And there is still no excuse for not submitting something for PAB if you actually want to do it.

  • Bob Goyetche

    “The fishbowl doesn’t have a lid.”

    That’s the best line I’ve read in a long time. Awesome.

  • Bob Goyetche

    to Robin’s point about interviews like Tyffany being all too rare – I agree wholeheartedly!

    But you know how that interview came about? SHE approached US! Yup. She responded to the general “Ping us if you’d like to talk about your show” email we send to everyone who submits to .

    So, the onus was, and was excerised by her. Had she not contacted us, we may have not even known she wanted to be heard.

    It’s a great example of Mark’s point.

  • katherine

    What a great discussion, I almost missed it.

    And I agree with Bob, Valerie’s line about the fishbowl not having a lid is great.

    And I also agree that anyone who accusees PAB/CPB of not being inclusive is just, well, well….okay, maybe I shouldn’t hurl words around here.

    I will say I have been thinking about how the majority of the community tends to a certain age/sex/tech savvy range, and where I fit into that. Okay, mostly I don’t think I fit into it, but I also don’t expect the community to change itself to accomodate me. It’s up to me to find my place here.

    And if I don’t submit proposals for things like PAB, it’s certainly not as if the invitation hasn’t been thrown out there, because it has. It’s just that I honestly don’t think I have anything to add to the conversation right now that would benefit the community in any way. But I really do feel that if I suddenly decided I had something to contribute, that my proposal would be both welcome and taken just as seriously as any other proposal of any other podcaster.

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  • Morrie

    Mark, I heard this comment briefly on the Buff, where you said you'd written about it in your blog (I think this was just before the last Meetup/Podcamp/thing. You're a tall poppy (literally) and people suffer from tall poppy syndrome. They tend to knock people who are successful, and who don't necessarily deserve knocking. Its all very well saying I want to see more of X(insert gender/stereotype/niche etc here) but the insert needs to want to become involved. You're helping them to learn about the process, as is Bob and the rest of us, but you can lead a podcaster to a microphone, but you can't necessarily make them watch their levels – if you get my drift.

    Enjoy your holiday break if you get one, and hope the road trip was fantastic.

    If I was motivated I'd plug the mic in and send an mp3, but hey, the kettle's boiling and I need a cup of tea.