saas-e[quality] 2018

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[Where leaders gather to discuss & design equality in the SAAS ecosystem]


SAAS-E 2018 was a one-day pop-up unconference in Toronto designed to advance equality in the SAAS ecosystem.

The unconference hosted uplifting, engaging, and provocative dialogue in an inclusive format in order to produce strategic and actionable ideas for progress.

Learnings from SAAS-E 2018

Thoughts on “Don’t Give Women Free Tickets”

  • Kyle Duncan, attendee

As an outsider to the community, I didn’t have the same context for Irina’s comments on free tickets for women in SAAS. But as the discussion unfolded I was struck by a parallel with an observation by another European thinker, Slavoj Žižek. He provides two examples of similar psychological discomfort: recycling and Starbucks coffee.

Žižek observes how consumer recycling has translated a systemic social problem (excessive creation of waste) into an individual responsibility. The act of recycling lets us feel as though we are making a meaningful difference and abates the personal trauma of the problem.

Žižek’s picture of Starbucks makes this even more explicit: a donation to a developing (coffee-producing) nation or community is included in the cost of the coffee, so any psychological fallout from our participation in consumerist capitalism is already addressed.

Like free tickets to conferences, neither recycling nor the donations are intrinsically bad. The point I think Irina and Žižek want to make is that these efforts can provide a psychological balm for organisers and participants, that suggests the problem has been addressed.

What all three efforts have in common is a focus on addressing the symptoms rather than the issue itself.

The problems created in each context (waste, poverty, inequality) are effectively outsourced to individuals participating (recycle, donate, take a free ticket) rather than having to be genuinely addressed by the institution or existing power structure.

If a free ticket is a genuine invitation to equal participation, or even to be a empowered voice at a conference that is a good thing. But if a free ticket is a way for organisers or other participants to essentially disavow that there is an ongoing issue of diversity and equality, then you may as well get a Starbucks, recycle the cup, and tell yourself your work is done.

Irina’s challenge, as I understand it, is to have the courage to say “this isn’t enough” and to innovate and design different ways of making conferences and the SAAS community diverse and inclusive. At SAAS-E I feel like both the inherent discomfort of reconsidering a psychological safety blanket, and the seeds of something different started to emerge and I look forward to hearing what happens next.

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