Diversity has been a recent big discussion topic at the IETF. Many of us have participated in this discussion, but I also wanted to bring it up here in the blog. Hoping for bigger involvement from different areas of the world or more equal participation from both genders is not new. The IETF is affected by typical IT field demographics, industry trends, and geographic growth areas. But we are starting to realise that improvements are necessary. The IETF can benefit of untapped potential and bring even more energy to the work. We can broaden our perspective, making sure that we understand the requirements for Internet technology from everybody, and then share it with the rest of the world.
We think of diversity as something that covers international participation, different cultures, gender, age, organisational background, and so on. While I am very proud of the IETF as a very international organisation – with participants from 60 countries working on documents, for instance — there are many aspects of diversity where we could do much better. Overall participation is concentrated in some areas of the world, with little participation from Africa and South America, for instance. Similarly, while the IETF has some very active female participants and leadership members, the numbers are very small. Much of the work in the IETF is driven by large networking companies, yet academia and small companies would have more to give, and operational experience from additional operators would be similarly appreciated. Importantly, these disparities appear most prominently in our leadership, where institutional and structural issues can lead to even less diversity along all of the above mentioned axes than in our general population. All organisations benefit from a healthy influx of new participants at all levels, and in the IETF we need that to balance our well-established topics and participants, to build the next generation technologies, experts, and leaders.
In April we created a design team to look at the topic, and make some suggestions for improvements. The announcement is here; Kathleen Moriarty and Suresh Krishnan are heading the team. Please contact them if you are interested in helping. I have given them an open assignment, with a desire to get advice on what steps we could take to increase participation in various aspects of the IETF, hoping for some initial advice before the next IETF. The design team will present their recommendations to the community, and engage in the discussion. Recommendations with community support will be taken forward.
The diversity team is a design team tasked with understanding the issues we are facing, drawing in experience from other organizations affected by similar issues, identifying obstacles to us having the widest breadth of talented participants and leaders, and making practical recommendations that could help us improve the situation. It is understood that many improvements may only take effect long-term, such as drawing in more participants from areas of the world where the IETF has traditionally not had much participation. Nevertheless, a set of actionable steps would be useful.
In addition to the design team, we are also working actively on other improvements. For instance, there is an independent effort in looking at improvements in mentoring.
You may think that while all the above are laudable goals but doing something in practice is difficult. I agree that this will not be easy. No one should expect a revolution. I do not have an idea about what to do about some of the issues. But still, I think we know some of the things we can do, and incremental progress is important. Speaking of incremental progress, I’m pleased that participation from South America seems to be on the rise: