MIXIN' IT UP: Exploring Digital Diversity (Or The Lack Thereof)

I'm lucky enough to live in one of the most diverse cities in the world. From food, to art, to the languages you hear on the public transit commute to work, Toronto seems to have at least 2 people representing every corner of the world. However, the overwhelming theme this week has been about the areas in which we don't see that beautiful blend showcased. One of those areas is in the online sphere - where is the digital diversity?

Back in June, I attended the Blogging While Brown conference in Philadelphia and got bitten by the social media and writing conference bug. Since then, a number of amazing conferences like BlogHer and the Black Writers Reunion and Conference have come my way, but finances and limited ability to travel held me back from registering. When I found out about the She's Connected Conference, scheduled for this October right here in Toronto, I was sold! A well-organized conference where I would undoubtedly learn tons and have the chance to network with other amazing bloggers and brands? AND I wouldn't have to leave the city? It was almost too good to be true.

I pumped my breaks, put my credit card back in my wallet, and decided to peruse the She's Connected site to see footage of last year's conference before registering. What I saw was overwhelmingly positive - loads of smiling women, chatting, laughing, taking in words of wisdom from the speakers, and rubbing shoulders with big wigs from brands like Ford and Toshiba. The one thing that was missing? Women of colour. Among the photos I saw of the hundreds of women in attendance, I counted one Black woman and two Asian women. Sigh. So much opportunity, such little uptake by minority women.

For a city as diverse as Toronto, it was disheartening to see that it was not reflected in the attendees at the She's Connected Conference.  Do I think that is some kind of reflection on the conference's promotional procedures? Not at all. What I do think, is that women of colour (especially in the digital world) need to expand their networking circles, find their way to various events, and take advantage of the available opportunities.  I recently wrote a piece for another blog about American natural hair care lines and their seeming disregard for Canadian customers. We are disregarded because they feel there is no market, and we don't let them know there's a market because we don't speak up. This is how I feel about the level of diversity in Canada's social media landscape. Do brands know that we're here? Do they know that there are women of colour who can offer unique perspectives on the reach of their products? Do we even know what other bloggers and social media mavens exist in Toronto and Canada at large? Attending Blogging While Brown (and having way too many people scoff at my attendance at a blogging conference) showed me that we have a lot of work to do up here.

While thinking about the She's Connected Conference today, the resounding thought in my mind was "Closed mouths don't get fed". As a Jamaican-Canadian woman of colour involved in the blogging/writing/social media world myself, I see that my unique perspective isn't being sought out like others' may be. Does that mean I'll be ignored? Nope! It just means that I'll have to put myself in the face of the powers that be to ensure that my voice is heard. This is where attendance at events like the She's Connected Conference is key. We will not be recognized until we make ourselves recognizable. We will not make connections if people don't know we're here for connection. We'll continue to think that we're the only ones trying to make a digital imprint as a woman of colour, until we step out and find the others who are doing the same.

Needless to say, I'll be taking my credit card back out of my wallet and will be registering for the two-day conference. I'm ready to learn, to network, and to let Canada's digital world know that without a doubt, I'm here.

Canadians, how do you feel about digital diversity? Is Canada's much-heralded multiculturalism reflected in our online world? For those outside of our borders, what is social media and online diversity like in your neck of the woods? If anyone out there is registering for the She's Connected Conference, let me know!


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