This post is a collection of potential solutions I’ve come to over 3+ years of observing, experiencing, thinking about, reading material relevant to, and discussing issues of diversity and inclusion in the EA community, assisted by my experience in other communities.
“Diversity” is about representing people from diverse walks of life. “Inclusion” is somewhat more nebulous, and there seems to be a misunderstanding about its meaning in the community: Inclusion is not about welcoming everyone in, it’s about welcoming in the right people and ensuring we’re not excluding them for irrelevant criteria. I think the people who the effective altruism community should work to engage — and I assume this isn’t very controversial — are people who want to do the most good, or at least people who are interested in doing good better.
There has been a lot of loose discussion of these issues, mostly from those directly affected, but few actions taken to seriously address them. This post will address gender-based exclusion more than other issues as that’s the one I have the most knowledge on, but a lot of the practices I suggest should make the community more inclusive of a broader diversity of people. My goal is to keep the ball rolling by spurring further discussion on solutions and helping people implement the most promising ones, so especially if you are from an underrepresented group and/or have expertise in this area, please do comment with your own thoughts, information, and ideas. Feel free to message me and I can post your comment anonymously if you prefer.
Why is this something we should pay attention to?
Most people in the EA community who I speak with agree this is an important issue, but for those who don’t, I’d like to formally lay out the reasoning in this section.
Based on our demographics, my observations, and many conversations with women, people from other underrepresented backgrounds, and even people from overrepresented backgrounds who still felt or feel the community is too exclusionary, I think the EA community is not quite selecting for “people who want to do the most good” or the lighter version of that, but people who are both that and young, white, cis-male, upper middle class, from men-dominated fields, technology-focused, status-driven, with a propensity for chest-beating, overconfidence, narrow-picture thinking/micro-optimization, and discomfort with emotions. These features suggest limitations of our capabilities, both individual and collective, that could be relieved if we worked harder on diversity and inclusion.
I’ve met many people who are deeply driven to help others as much as possible and who beyond that are highly capable — e.g. high analytical ability, years of experience with nonprofit management, other specialized skills, graduate degrees in relevant fields — but who left, limit their involvement in, or never joined the EA community because of their experience with its culture and norms. Some of those who have stuck around do so begrudgingly because the community still offers them enough to be worth it or because they think the community has so much potential that bearing it to contribute what they can is worth it, but they’re not giving us all they have to offer, and many others are turning away entirely. One big effect here seems to be the exclusion of women, as suggested through my conversations with many women and the community’s gender ratio of roughly 70% men and 2.7:1 men:women. The exclusion of people of color is a noticeable problem as well, with e.g. black and hispanic persons severely underrepresented compared to U.S. demographics. We’re losing the potentially huge amounts of resources that such people could bring to the EA movement: knowledge, experience, management ability, perspective, ideas, creativity, analytical ability, emotional understanding, social competence, big-picture thinking, enthusiasm, career capital, career opportunity, a variety of specialized skills, networks, money — you name it.
See also Alexander Gordon-Brown's post on some other characteristics EA is missing out on in terms of diversities of talent, experience, opinion, and appearance.
Not only are we missing out on those individuals and their resources themselves, but a sum that would be greater than the whole of its parts: [Edit: As a commenter noted, the content of following sentence is debated in psychology.] A group’s collective intelligence is only moderately related to its individuals’ intelligences, and gender-diverse teams score higher on collective intelligence than all-male or all-female teams (What Works: Gender Equality by Design, 10). Research also shows that diverse teams are more creative, more innovative, better at problem-solving, and better at decision-making — see Georgia Ray’s post "Diversity and team performance: What the research says" for more detail. Companies in the top quartile for diversity in gender and ethnicity are 15% and 35% more likely to outperform their industry’s median performance, respectively, and companies in the bottom quartile lag behind the median. Fortune’s top 50 workplaces for diversity list an average 24% higher year-over-year revenue growth than companies that didn’t make the list, and companies with multiple women in the C-Suite are more profitable. These are all correlations, but the effect sizes are very large and the causal explanation seems highly plausible.
There are also known issues in EA that seem likely to be mitigated or eliminated through an increase in diversity. For example, this year’s EA Global San Francisco conference focused on shifting the community towards “doing good together.” Women tend to be more collaborative than men, so if the community had better gender representation, we could already be thinking big and emphasizing doing good together.
Even if people in our community are less prejudiced than the rest of society, small biases can have big impacts: One simulation found that bias accounting for only 1% of variance in evaluation scores resulted in the top level of the simulated workforce being only 35% comprised of the discriminated-against group, instead of 50% like the original pool (What Works: Gender Equality by Design, 14).
Unfortunately I suspect some people in the community are content, implicitly or explicitly, to assume that women and people of color are inherently so much worse than white men at thinking about altruism effectively that the constitution of the community is merely an effect of this presumed difference, and that as such putting effort into diversity and inclusion would either be too difficult and costly to be worthwhile or would dilute the community. I find this argument lacking given the alignment of that thinking with demonstrated biases in society at large — i.e. people tend to think that women are more intuitively-driven and less analytical than men, which does not seem to be borne out and in fact the opposite may be more likely — and given the suspiciously large gender and race disparity in EA, as well as the the very small size of the community at present. The latter enables us to target selectively, not randomly from the general population, even if this loaded, simplistic, and to my knowledge unfounded claim is true. Moreover, there are many examples of women, white and of color, who felt or feel excluded by the EA community, despite being entirely onboard with the philosophy of EA, having participated in the community for years, and having made major changes in their thinking and lives because of EA — they just really dislike the community.
Relatedly, some may assume that our community is genuinely merit-based — that we simply reach out to and include the most qualified people, regardless of their race, gender, etc. Did you know that, at least in an experimental setting, when organizations espouse meritocracy managers show greater gender-based discrimination than those at other companies? And that having a gender quota is more likely, assuming probably that an organization is competent at hiring, to weed out mediocre men than to introduce mediocre women? Unfortunately most of the specific details of the conclusive and pervasive sexism I have experienced, seen, and heard of first-hand within the EA community are confidential — and I don’t just mean sexual harassment and assault, there are other more pernicious and more prevalent forms of sexism in society and in the community, such as the holding of women to higher standards of competence and the consistent underestimation of women’s trustworthiness (What Works: Gender Equality by Design, 27). Happily some of it has been acknowledged by its offenders, who have in some cases stated credible intentions to improve — though whether they are in fact improving takes time to assess, and without ongoing personal or even cultural support they may find improving difficult. Even without the details of specific experiences people have had, it should be sufficient to observe that there are many examples of qualified people being excluded, and no evidence has been offered to justify the assumption — which was recently voiced, to no opposition as I understand it, on a panel at EAGxBerlin — that we are merit-based. [Edit: I want to note as well that who EA seems to select for matches exceptionally well with privilege in society at large, which would be quite a coincidence.]
Some people in the community have made other thoroughly unreasonable claims to justify the status quo, such as that women would be a distraction in the workplace. If they are, the problem is entirely the men who can’t adhere to basic professional norms and who presume their contributions so important that the minor cost to them of being less sexist outweighs all of the potential contributions of all the women they’re keeping out. To my knowledge this claim was recanted — under pressure or reflection, I’m not sure — but it’s a red flag for other sexism. Someone else has said women aren’t as willing as men to take low salaries for altruistic purposes, apparently in ignorance of the rest of the nonprofit world, whose volunteers and workforce are overwhelmingly women. Such unrigorousness should be thoroughly discouraged.
I think the majority of the problem, however, is that while many people know we have a problem, they don’t know what they themselves can do about it.
What changes can we make to more effectively select for the right people?
The evidence base on effective strategies to reduce prejudice and increase inclusion in general is weak, though growing. I don’t claim that the following are all of the answers, nor necessarily the best answers, nor even that they’re all right or involve no tradeoffs. My aim is just to put my ideas out there in the interest of continued discussion and action on this issue. I also don’t claim to be perfect in implementing these myself, but I do generally aspire to embody those I’m failing in.
● Recognize that there is a problem, in society at large, in the communities EA sources from, and within the EA community. Even if you are not convinced by the evidence I’ve presented about why this is a problem our community needs to address, you should still be compelled by the fact that so many people both in EA and elsewhere think we have a serious problem. Look to data — I include barely any of the literature on sexism and other systematic biases in this post because it is vast and Googleable — and to accounts of people in the community — or no longer are — who are from the groups in question. Do not rely on your intuitions or those of anyone lacking the perspectives of people from underrepresented groups. If you disagree that this is an important problem or about any of the steps I suggest to make headway on it, let’s have a discussion so we can get to the truth of the matter.
● Recognize that it is extremely probable that you harbor biases that you are not accounting for. Recognize that recognizing bias in society and our community isn’t enough — people tend to think they are less biased than average, and tend to demonstrate the same levels of bias even when they are experienced with seeing a bias, made explicitly aware of the bias, and asked to introspect to ensure they are not making a biased judgement (What Works: Gender Equality By Design, 45-48). The latter can even backfire, which may be the effect of this whole statement, but I think transparency is sufficiently important to outweigh that risk. Even if you have evidence that you are successfully debiased in some ways — e.g. calibrating against overconfidence in online tests — the society you grew up in has many biases, and you are highly unlikely to be exempt from all of them. People in the EA community might even be particularly susceptible to some.
● Don’t penalize the “heart" as though there is only the “head." EA is both, and one is nothing without the other in this movement. I prefer to play the long game with my own investments in community building, and would rather for instance invest in someone reasonably sharp who has a track record of altruism and expresses interest in helping others most effectively than in someone even sharper who reasoned their way into EA and consumed all the jargon but has never really given anything up for other people. I see exceptions to this being the best investment on the whole, but none who I think wouldn’t be here anyways if we were focusing much more on the former personalities. In practice, the lowest-hanging fruit to elevate the heart is to be empathetic with and kind to people. At the very least, ensure you are not being dismissive of people’s emotions, and in particular feminine-coded emotions like empathy, grief, sadness, or love — things that drive a lot of people’s altruism. Some of the most talented and resolute people in this community are here because they are deeply emotionally compelled to help others as much as possible, and we’re currently missing out on many such people by being so cold and calculating. There are ways to be warm and calculating! I can think of a few people in the community who manage this well.
● Recruit and promote women to manage teams. Women tend to be better managers than men.
● [Edit: Additional suggestion. People in high places in the movement, particularly white men, publicly state the importance of EA being diverse and inclusive to you.]
● CEA and EAF could both, or jointly, hire a Diversity & Inclusion Officer. CEA and EAF, your intention is to be institutional leaders of the EA community, so lead the way on this critical aspect of movement-building — there is definitely a full-time job’s worth of advising and other work to do, probably even just with the suggestions I list here. Some universities and companies have such a position, and I — and I’m sure others — would be happy to advise on what the position’s responsibilities would look like. (Thank you Sana Al Badri for this suggestion.)
● All organizations should hire communications staff who are versed in inclusionary communications practices. Alternatively, the Diversity & Inclusion Officer could train them.
● Adopt and enforce a clear policy — as organizations and individuals — for dealing seriously and fully with illegal actions like sexual harassment and explicit discrimination or discrimination revealed by HR or legal counsel. Commensurate consequences and reform procedures, escalating as necessary to expulsion, are critical. The perpetrator is not so much more important than the greater number of people they are driving away, the risk of a lawsuit to the organization protecting them, or the risk they bring to the community’s reputation, that such actions should be protected. If this community’s members are as smart as we like to think, using a heavy hand once, if necessary at all, should be all it takes, so long as the threat of using it again is credibly maintained.
● If you go out with colleagues, ensure you’re not just including the ones most like you. A lot of opportunity to build skills, network, and advance one’s career happens out of the office, and favoring some colleagues over others can lead to systematic disempowerment. If you are a man and can’t go out with women colleagues without thinking of them sexually and making the interaction uncomfortable, or if you can’t have a conversation about work and EA with women colleagues at lunch, you should not be managing anyone.
● If you see something, say something. Don’t leave the reporting of problematic behavior to the people who directly experience it. They are feeling disempowered and alienated and are usually in a far less capable position to do something about it.
● If you experience something, try to at least say something to someone. Whether you decide it is in your interest to say something or not, ensure you at least consider the risks to other people and the broader community if you do not. I appreciate that in many if not most cases we just want to move on with our lives, and this burden should, as noted above, not be left to the people experiencing the problem, who generally face higher risk bringing it up than other people.
● We could establish a website providing resources for legal counsel and enabling people to anonymously share experiences regarding discrimination, harassment, and assault, both to inform less-aware community members of issues in the community and to provide a sense of accountability to the movement as a whole, as the testimonies would be publicly accessible.
● Update your valuations of men’s competencies downwards, and of women’s upwards, particularly when you are forming your first impressions. People already inaccurately perceive women as less competent than men, even when their work is superior, in addition to which men overestimate and oversell themselves while women underestimate and undersell themselves. Yes, this will penalize the rare men who represent themselves accurately or under-represent themselves, and favor the rare women who represent themselves accurately or over-represent themselves, so take care, but the risk of overcorrection is not sufficient reason to resort to the prejudiced status quo. Additionally, in more long-term and formal environments, utilize standardized and objective metrics of competency whenever possible, such as trial projects when hiring. Relatedly, consider promotions and do hiring in rounds, not on a rolling individual basis.
● Amplify the contributions of people from underrepresented groups, in personal interactions, meetings, articles, podcasts, Facebook posts, conferences — everywhere.
● If a colleague from an underrepresented group can speak on an issue you’ve been asked to speak about, whether at a conference or for a quote in an article, give them the opportunity. If they decline, ask why — they may be interested but want PR training.
● Giving announcer and moderator positions to people from underrepresented groups at conferences is an easy way to start including them more. That’s not a license to not consider diversity and inclusion elsewhere else, but it is a step. Many people are very capable of being great emcees and moderators, so there’s little or no reason not to use this opportunity to include them. Note that EAG Boston and San Francisco 2017 both had a white man as the emcee.
● Don’t dismiss or trivialize the altruistic concerns ordinary people have. It’s great that people care about immigration reform, worms in children in impoverished regions, and dog rescue. It would be even more great if they put their energy into efforts of greater impact, but moving them in a more effective direction, whether within their currently preferred project or cause or to another, is easier done if they have a sense of community with you, which is easier achieved if they know you care about the issues they care about. It’s all but impossible to achieve if you stick your nose in the air at their altruism because their thinking on the weighty and new topic of effectiveness is underdeveloped — like yours once was.
● Quit the hero worship. Major progress is made by groups, not individuals. People should be praised for their individual contributions, and some people will be leaders, but that doesn’t mean other people aren’t contributing as much or more. Hero worship in EA is almost always directed towards white men, and while it’s great to celebrate their achievements, overdoing that celebration exacerbates the issue of how we represent ourselves to newcomers and outsiders, and encourages a masculine, individualistic culture where newcomers can’t thrive.
● Do not consider anyone’s arguments or positions above questioning or criticism. Never presume that someone has no place questioning someone else whose intellect you laud. No one is infallible, and no one has every answer or has considered every possible angle and argument. This particular form of hero worship is a common complaint from people who feel excluded from the community.
● People from underrepresented groups: Own your worth. Don’t apologize for an A- job while others spin their C’s as A’s. Take credit for your work, even if you don’t personally want it, because other people like you need to see your success. Don’t do the dishes when that’s someone else’s responsibility this week. Apply for the jobs you want, not just the ones you are explicitly fully qualified for, because they’re written under the assumption that people are going to apply even when they only meet half the requirements — women don’t apply to jobs unless they meet all the posted requirements, whereas men apply when they meet 60%.
● When possible, which is the vast majority of the time, use ordinary phrasing instead of jargon, at least with people who have only recently become involved.
● Stop interrupting people. Men are much more likely to interrupt than women are, and more likely still to interrupt women than other men. Not only does this disproportionately disempower women, but it’s rude and off-putting to everyone.
● When people are interested in talking through something they’ve been thinking about in EA, have a conversation about it, even if you’ve already resolved your own thoughts on the topic and even if you don’t think there’s anything for you in the conversation. The other person will likely end up more informed and feel more welcomed, and it won’t take too much of your time. Remember too that being willing to engage with newcomers and people of lower status or perceivable “usefulness” is very common in other communities, and particularly advocacy communities, so when people act otherwise it seems surprising, rude and alienating.
● Don’t emphasize earning to give too much. This has been an ongoing discussion, and I think we’re slowly doing better.
● Be just as welcoming with people who do direct work on non-priority problems as you are with people who work in finance or tech. Not only can people contribute a lot more to the community and movement than their income, but keep in mind too that finance and tech specifically are places with particularly bad reputations for their exclusion of women and other historically marginalized people.
● Emphasize that doing the most good will necessarily mean different things for different people. Even if we ourselves know we’re speaking in generalities, it can very easily come off like we’re advocating a one-size-fits-all approach, or asserting that any one cause or career path is the best path to maximum impact for everyone.
● Represent the community's values accurately. This can be a challenge in a single 140 character tweet, but not in a whole Twitter feed or in a conversation. Consistently presenting anti-malarial nets as the community's primary concern is going to attract people with that particular interest. This means a relatively high proportion of people who are resistant to pushing new frontiers, as global poverty is a popular cosmopolitan cause that normal people can get lots of praise for contributing to more effectively, with no or nowhere near the personal risk of less mainstream causes and projects. Such an emphasis will also mean the community gets skipped over by people who are exploring other and unconventional ways of doing good.
● Relatedly, our public image can and should be weird in the right ways. It can say true, abstract, challenging things like “We should consider the interests of all sentient beings,” “We don’t have all the answers, our goal is to find and implement them,” “How our actions affect people in the far future could vastly outweigh the impact they have now,” and “New technologies may transform the quality of life on Earth and beyond to a much greater extent than they have even in the past century." And it can do all that without using jargon, without throwing around the term “AI” with no qualification or explanation, without looking or sounding like a young socially awkward white guy in tech, and while emphasizing the altruism motivating these intellectual explorations and providing palatable examples of relatively high-impact actions people can take — including, but not inordinately emphasizing, those that best help individuals in poverty. It’s not a question of either being weird AI fanboys or mainstream philanthropists.
● Don’t get hostile in conversations. Keep the focus on the information and arguments at hand.
● Don’t reward people for aggressive communication styles. If you want to express agreement with their content, but their delivery is bad form, you can say for instance “I agree, but your [snarkiness, ad hominem comment, exaggeration, etc] was unnecessary and not conducive to rigorous discussion.”
● Do not disproportionately penalize women for aggressive communication styles. When a man and woman are equally aggressive, people tend to see the man as more persuasive but the woman as less credible, and women are given feedback that they’re “too aggressive” three times as often as men. Both positions seem highly unlikely to line up with reality and are more likely unconscious efforts to punish nonconformity to gender stereotypes.
● Relatedly, if you find yourself judging that a woman is too emotional, consider the men you know who are confrontational, who argue aggressively, who have expressed strong feelings about people they don’t know well, who can’t work well with attractive women, who jump to conclusions based on unexamined intuitions, who are obsessed with obtaining status, who are snarky, who level insults at others regularly, or who stoop to pissing contests. If you’re in the EA community, you know lots of men who demonstrate multiple such tendencies. In all likelihood men just hide their emotions better than women, which does not mean their judgements are less emotionally-motivated. It’s even possible that men’s judgements are more emotionally-motivated, as girls and women in society tend to have more social encouragement and opportunity to examine their emotions.
● Replace competitiveness with collaborativeness. In successful communities, people empower each other and become better off on the whole for it — another EA’s success strengthens and grows the community, and the community’s strength and size helps you and your purposes. So: Is someone’s counter to your argument making you feel defensive? This is an opportunity to get closer to the truth, together. Is someone considering starting a project that you were also thinking of? Combine your resources, and if it needs just one leader, sort out who’s best positioned for it — that’s great for the project. Are your donors shifting funds to a new organization? Sounds like you should drop inferior programs, and also like the community needs to grow the donor pool.
● Don’t try to take shortcuts to status, and particularly don’t try to gain status by disempowering other people. Status for most of us is not a zero-sum game. In fact, there is a lot of status to be gained by developing a reputation as someone who empowers other people. So it doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished, you are not above giving a few minutes to an enthusiastic new EA who wants to learn how to get more involved, or at the least directing them warmly to someone who has more time to engage. And your public/semi-private conversation at an EA event is not so important that you can’t take a few seconds to say hello to someone trying to enter the conversation and fill them in, or to change the topic for the new person — you can pick up the other conversation again later.
● Relatedly, empower people, don’t use them — act in good faith, and show faith in your community members. Consider the other people in the community your collaborators, neither your competition nor a means to your ends. When collaborating with other EAs, be honest about your information, goals, and thought processes. Even if, for instance, you really just want someone to donate to or work for your project, and they’re deciding between yours and another, you should still give them your honest thoughts — or a better source — and critical or full information on the tradeoffs you see, not just what you think will convince them to support you instead of the other project. Introduce them to people at the other project if they aren’t introduced already. Help them make their own decision. Doing otherwise incentivizes further dishonesty and manipulativeness in the community.
● Relatedly, consider the bigger picture, in everything you do. The good you can do does not just encompass the direct impact of your actions, but also how they influence other people. Establishing stronger norms of honesty would both incentivize stronger norms of intellectual rigor and select more strongly for new members who are intellectually rigorous rather than manipulative or manipulable. It’s also helpful to probably everyone as individuals to have a variety of people out there who appreciate you and will be enthusiastic about lending you a hand when you choose to ask for one, so be careful handling fire around bridges.
Similarly, when considering whether to go vegetarian or take some other step to avoid participating in a major moral problem, consider how not doing so could validate and perpetuate the biases and selfishness that enable people commit that act normally, and how that act could help others feel licensed to do other selfish and harmful things that you disagree with, like lying to sexual partners about having an STI or being dishonest and uncharitable in representations of your organization or preferred cause area.
Some people may have their own reasons for thinking that it’s good for them to act in and use people in short-sighted ways, and to be confident that they have nothing left to learn and no need to build social capital, but even if that actually is the right call for them individually, such short-sighted self-interest is bad for the broader EA community and limits what it can accomplish, so it should be discouraged. Controversy here may point to a deeper issue, of which I have seen concerning evidence, of some people using the broader EA community as a mere conduit to their preferred issue rather than a meeting place for everyone to learn from each other and help each other and grow the broader community and each other’s sub-communities on the whole. The community has a lot of room to grow, and actively trying to cannibalize each other is probably not in anyone’s long-run interest. So when, for instance, newcomers ask me about AI safety, I give them a clear and palatable introduction and I answer their questions or direct them to people who can answer better, and I do so even if we might not get a chance to talk about things I suspect would be a better use of their resources and which I have resolved are better use of mine. For me, the EA community isn’t just another place to pitch animal advocacy, it’s a place where I can learn and grow as an effective altruist, and where I can help others learn and grow as effective altruists. It’s a place where, in its better moments, people do good together, not alone.
● Give to the people in your community. Acknowledge their contributions, introduce them to people they might be interested in knowing, offer them your expertise, help them when they need a favor… this community is no exception to all communities’ needs for basic positive social norms.
● When people make mistakes, kindly and clearly identify them. If the mistake was not just an intellectual error but harmed someone, identify it in the interest of achieving justice for the person who was wronged, but also and perhaps more importantly in the interest of helping the person who made the mistake to grow and improve. That is to their benefit, the benefit of the community, the benefit of other people they would have gone on to wrong, and the benefit of others still who they’d be failing to help by falling short of who they could be. Encourage and reward good behavior privately and publicly, and discourage bad behavior privately, and more publicly and severely as it becomes more necessary to raise the costs to people of refusing to adopt better attitudes and behaviors. If we are only concerned with the direct impact of our own actions or don’t care about our omissions, we won’t get far in improving this community — we need to empower others to do better as well, so give people a genuine chance to improve.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting endless second chances, and some actions taken even once will warrant zero tolerance and immediate expulsion.
Also, even people who are exceptionally humble and exceptionally interested in personal growth still need to feel accepted and their egos can still be wounded, so take care not to overload people — give criticisms seriously but compassionately, focus on priorities, be clear about what happened, why the action was a problem, and what you think the person should have done instead, and in normal circumstances it’s probably best to give criticisms sparingly. Criticisms also have more credibility and are less hurtful when the critic has gained the respect and camaraderie of the criticized.
● Accept that you will make mistakes, and take responsibility when you do. Encourage yourself to value humility and growth even if it hurts your pride. We all make mistakes! When we are informed or otherwise realize that we have, we should take responsibility, rather than ignore the mistake or defend it and lose the opportunity to improve — not to mention incentivizing others to prioritize their own pride over self-improvement. Especially if you can feel an accusation wounding your ego and alerting your defenses, or if you can’t explicitly argue against an accuser's points, you are probably not thinking very clearly. It should be a norm in the community to comfortably and casually admit “oh, you’re right I got that wrong” and “good point, I’ve changed my mind” and “I was not thinking about that effect of my actions, I’m sorry and thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
● Take up that humility more generally. Don’t judge that you’re right and another party is wrong before ensuring you know their reasoning — ask someone why they hold the position they do, maybe they’ve thought of something you haven’t just as you may be assuming you’ve thought of things they haven’t.
● You can disagree with people while entirely respecting their positions, appreciating their contributions, and recognizing them as an ally. The reason I spend my time strategizing to bring down animal farming and to expand humanity’s moral circle instead of working — directly at least — on AI safety generally seems to come down to intuitive differences between myself and people who prioritize direct work on AI safety. These differences are sometimes minor and in my experience generally irreconcilable with available information. I also disagree that near-term interventions to help individuals in poverty are the best use of most EA’s resources because I don’t think lives matter as much as well-being, and poverty interventions are not relatively robust in their address of well-being. I disagree with many of my allies and colleagues about the value of farmed animal welfare reforms and other near-term interventions ultimately because I tend to be more risk-tolerant and compelled by expected value than they are, and because I consider the net impacts of near-term interventions sufficiently uncertain that I don’t think it’s useful to consider them categorically more measurable than interventions whose intended impacts are less direct or further in the future.
Nonetheless, I’m very excited that these people are working on these projects, which I still consider important even if I disagree that they’re the best use my or these individuals’ resources, and I still have a lot of respect for some of these allies’ and colleagues’ analyses, and I am deeply moved by their altruistic drives and grateful for their contributions to the EA community and to my own thinking on these issues. Disagreement is critical for finding the best answers to the kinds of questions EAs ask.
● There is a point at which championing “free speech” actually inhibits it, enabling what was once innovative, challenging, rigorous discussion to become regressive, harmful, thoughtless trolling and/or identity politics. When people say severely intolerant things that disenfranchise other people — especially if they for instance cannot justify it, respond to criticisms of it with aggressive repetition of their claims with no evidence and/or with personal attacks, and cannot explain why it’s important that they say it at all — don’t tolerate it.
For instance, it should be outright unacceptable for someone to say that women do not contribute to society and are leeches if they don’t offer men sex. This actually happened, recently, and is a problem for two reasons: One, the factual claim is highly contrary to economic and other data as well as extensive anecdotal evidence, and such unrigorousness should be discouraged. Two, the value judgement, which is explicitly sexist to an atypically extreme degree, is well beyond the limit of what the community should accept as any kind of a “diversity of opinion" unless we want to severely limit our diversity of participants, and as such that very diversity of opinion. People are both less able to and less interested in contributing their resources to the community when they are treated with such hostility and when such hostility is accepted by the community. It is women’s interests to assume that every man who is okay with this person’s behavior has an appallingly poor understanding of sexism in society, if not also of basic social norms generally, and that as such he probably harbors a dangerous level of sexism himself, if not also a shockingly — contextually — limited intellectual capabilities given the obvious lack of intellectual rigor in the offender’s comments. So toleration of such comments makes the whole community look highly unappealing.
Happily, this particular individual — who is probably a troll in general — was banned from the groups where he repeatedly and unrelentingly said such things, though it’s concerning there was any question about whether this was acceptable behavior. Maybe we should have a reference document of what kinds of actions in online forums warrant an explanation of the problem, ensuing non-engagement, warnings from the moderator, and bans.
To be clear, by tolerating rude and intellectually unrigorous behavior we are in fact choosing to have such people in the community in the place of the more rigorous and compassionate people they are likely to put off. Such toleration of intolerance is also likely to normalize that intolerance and as such to increase the biases in the rest of community. It concerns me that I even have to bring this up as a problem, as I think e.g. most Fortune 500 companies have by now figured out that it’s very important that employees not be outright assholes to other employees. [Edit: example that came to mind redacted because while problematic, I would not describe the person as an "outright asshole," though this action was still a serious problem.] Yes, some people in broader society now respond to correctable offenses with a mob mentality and too much readiness for ostracization, but just because some people have swung too far past the mark doesn’t mean we should default to a status quo that falls so short of it.
● Hiring processes and employee management are a big topic, but for starters, take care with job postings: Use less masculine language; talk about the concrete skills and experience you’re interested in instead of appealing to people with “startup” experience; ensure that the qualities you say are “required” are actually required; and appreciate that women may conceive of their achievements differently than men tend to, for instance attributing their successes more to their team rather than to themselves.
● Men, accept that many women will be your equals, and others your superiors, in intelligence, knowledge, and other abilities you aspire to or pride yourself in. Even those who aren’t will sometimes have a better argument or more relevant information than you. And no, just because you can point to one or two women whose intellects and other competencies you appreciate does not mean you are evaluating other womens’ fairly — especially if the women you are thinking of are in your community and share your positions. The same goes for people of color, and others.
● People who belong to currently disenfranchised groups, adopt the attitude that the success of other people who are disenfranchised, particularly for the same reasons as you, is your success. Women who encounter discrimination early in their careers may distance themselves from other women, refuse to help them, and align themselves with men at other women’s expense. The disempowerment of women in the EA community may make women feel as though there is only room for a few women to have some voice, but we don’t need to accept someone else’s narrative that we have to compete with each other — we can make more room for each other, like women in other masculine men-dominated communities have done before us and are doing alongside us, by empowering each other. As I’ve said already, this is not a zero-sum game: Every person of color’s success should, with sustained inclusionary efforts from the rest of the community, reduce some racism in the community, which in turn increases opportunity for other people of color in a virtuous circle.
● Mentor people from underrepresented groups. Or if you belong to an underrepresented group, seek out mentors.
● Take an interest in people. You will at times, often even, have to judge when someone isn’t going to be so involved in the movement that it’s worth your time to continue engaging, but give people a chance, and try to be mindful of your intuitions, some of which will be more valid and useful than others and some of which will be plain biased — try to be conscientious in that judgement and focus on concrete measures of a person’s likelihood to engage well enough that they’ll learn to do good better.
● Finally: Take responsibility for improving diversity and inclusion in EA. Whatever your role in the community and movement and however inclusive your actions tend to be already, there is more you can do, and saying it’s someone else’s problem to solve will only result in a collective action problem..
See also Kelsey Piper’s notes on failure modes in efforts to increase demographic diversity, Julia Wise’s post on specific actions people can take to be more welcoming at events, and Owen Cotton-Barrett’s post on being welcoming.
I should note that I put vastly more time and effort into working with people outside of EA to develop their thinking on effectiveness independently of the EA community than I do bringing new people into the community, which frankly I only do when they’ve explicitly expressed interest. This is because I usually expect introducing them to the community to waste their time, cause them stress, cost some of my relationship with them because of that, and most importantly, turn them off from thinking about effectiveness. In fact, I think we backfire often just because we present ourselves so suboptimally.
The time I have spent on EA community-building, which has been substantial, has focused on supporting individuals who are already in the community, for the most part in the wing that intersects with the animal advocacy community. I should note, brusque though this comment may be, that the animal-advocacy-focused sub-community of EA tends to be significantly more socially competent, welcoming, and proficient in the kinds of inclusionary practices I’ve suggested here than some other parts of the community. This may be largely explained by how women-dominated the animal advocacy community is — though heavily white and guilty of other failings — and how its members are generally much better versed in issues of discrimination and inclusion than EAs are. Animal advocates, particularly in the farmed animal wing, tend to be highly liberal and generally actively encourage concern for broad social justice — which stands in stark contrast to the many people in the EA community who use strawmans and the worst of the social justice community to dismiss, insult, and otherwise actively discourage any association with the term, to the point of taking pride in that opposition.
I should also note that most other women, white and of color, who have been in the community for several years and who I have spoken with about diversity and inclusion issues, are exhausted from talking about and even thinking about this problem for so long and to so little avail. True, the vast majority of that conversation has been in private or otherwise sequestered discussions, and mostly among people who agree there’s a problem and aren’t contributing to it as much as others, whether by act or omission. That’s why I’m putting all of these thoughts online. Regardless, people from more represented backgrounds and who are otherwise in more influential positions need to take up this mantle.
Also FYI, I am currently reading and taking notes on What Works: Gender Equality by Design and intend to share its insights — even if they’re potentially somewhat cherry-picked and otherwise weaker evidence than we’d like, as pop science books often are — hopefully within the next month or so.
Thank you Jennifer Fearing for the handful of suggestions I took from your advice to animal advocates on how to promote gender inclusion in animal advocacy leadership.
Thanks for this post. There's a lot I agree with here. I'm in especially vigorous agreement with your points regarding hero worship and seeing newcomers as a source of fresh ideas/arguments instead of condescending them.
There are also some points I disagree with. And in the spirit of not considering any arguments above criticism, and disagreement being critical for finding the best answers, I hope you won't mind if I lay my disagreements out. To save time, I'll focus on the differences between your view and mine. So if I don't mention a point you made, you can default to assuming I agree with it.
First, I'm broadly skeptical of the social psychology research you cite. Whenever I read about a study that claims women are more analytical than men, or women are better leaders than men, I imagine whether I would hear about it if the experiment found the opposite result.
I recommend this blog post on the lack of ideological diversity in social psychology. Social psychologists are overwhelmingly liberal, and many openly admit to discriminating against conservatives in hiring. Here is a good post by a Mexican social psychologist that discusses how this plays out. There's also the is... (read more)
It's not unheard of, but it seems more common than it is because only the movements and initiatives which go too far merit headlines and attention. The average government agency, F500 company, or similar organization piles on all kinds of diversity policies without turning into the Nightmare on Social Justice Street.
The pattern I see is that "organizations" (such as government agencies or Fortune 500 companies) usually turn out OK, whereas "movements" or "communities" (e.g. the atheism movement, or the open source community) often turn out poorly.
Hm, that's a good point. I can't come up with a solid counterexample off the top of my head.
The Atheism Plus split was pretty bad. They were a group that wanted all atheists to also be involved in social justice. Naturally many weren't happy with this takeover of the movement and pushed back. The Atheism Plus side argues that this was due to misogyny, ect, ignoring the fact that some people just wanted to be atheists and do atheist stuff and not get involved in politics. The end result was Atheism Plus was widely rejected, many social justice leaning atheists left the movement, Atheism widely defamed, remaining atheists not particularly open to social justice.
I don't know very much about open source, but I've heard that there's been some pretty vicious/brutal political fights over codes of conduct, ect.
People nominally within EA have already called for us to disavow or not affiliate with Peter Singer so this seems less hypothetical than one might think.
'Yvain' gives a good description of a process along along these lines within his comment here (which also contains lots of points which pre-emptively undermine claims within this post).
Even after clarification, your sentence is misleading. The true thing you could say is "Among outsiders to projects, women are more likely to have their contributions accepted than men. Both men and women are less likely to have their contributions accepted when their genders are revealed; the effect was measured to be a percentage point different between the genders and may or may not be statistically significant. There are also major differences between the contribution patterns of men and women."
As a side note, I find the way you're using social science quite frustrating. You keep claiming that social science supports many of your particular beliefs, and then other people keep digging into the evidence and pointing out the specific reason that the evidence you've presented isn't very convincing. But it takes a lot of time to rebut all of your evidence that way, much more time than it takes for you to link to another bad study.
This is a similar issue that's going on in another thread where people feel you're cherrypicking results rather than sampling randomly in a way that will paint an accurate picture. Perhaps this dialogue can help to explain the concerns that others have expressed:
Person One: Here are 5 studies showing that coffee causes cancer, which suggests we should limit our coffee consumption.
Person Two: Actually if you do a comprehensive survey of the literature, you'll fine 3 studies showing that coffee causes cancer, 17 showing no effect, and 3 showing the coffee prevents cancer. On balance there's no stronger evidence that coffee causes cancer than that it prevents it, and in fact it probably has no effect.
Person One: Thanks for the correction! [Edits post to say: "Here are 3 studies showing that coffee causes cancer, which suggests we should limit our coffee consumption."]
Person Two: I mean... that's technically true, but I don't feel the problem is solved.
I dearly hope we never become one of those parts of the internet.
And think we should fight against every slip down that terrible incentive gradient, for example by pointing out that the bottom of that gradient is a really terribly unproductive place, and by pushing back against steps down that doomy path.
The incentive gradient I was referring to goes from trying to actually figure out the truth to using arguments as weapons to win against opponents. You can totally use proxies for the truth if you have to(like an article being written by someone you've audited in the past, or someone who's made sound predictions in the past). You can totally decide not to engage with an issue because it's not worth the time.
But if you just shrug your shoulders and cite average social science reporting on a forum you care about, you are not justified in expecting good outcomes. This is the intellectual equivalent of catching the flu and then purposefully vomiting into the town water supply. People that do this are acting in a harmful manner, and they should be asked to cease and desist.
The best scrutinizer is someone that feels motivated to actually find the truth. This should be obvious.
Yet EAs are mostly liberal. The 2017 Survey had 309 EAs identifying ... (read more)
I am disinclined to be sympathetic when someone's problem is that they posted so many bad arguments all at once that they're finding it hard to respond to all the objections.
Another idea I had: add questions to the EA Survey to understand how people feel about the issues you are describing. This accomplishes a few things:
It allows us to track progress more effectively than observing our demographic breakdown. Measuring how people feel about EA movement culture gives us a shorter feedback loop, since changes in demographics lag behind culture changes. Furthermore, by attempting to measure the climate issue directly, we can zero in on factors under our control.
It helps fight selection effects that occur in online discussion of these issues. People on both sides can be reluctant to share their thoughts & ideas in a thread like this one. Online discussions in general can be wildly unrepresentative. I was surprised to learn about polls which found that most Native Americans aren't offended by the use of "Redskins" as a team name (criticism of this poll), and that a majority of black people are against affirmative action. And among the "anti-SJW" crowd, there's a perception that some folks are going to see racism/sexism in everything, and they will never be satisfied. So taking a representative poll of EAs, and perhaps com
I like this idea. It will be skewed towards people who aren't turned off by the culture, as those who are will have less interest in, and in some or many cases may not even be exposed to, the survey, but getting more systematic info on people's feelings here would be very useful.
I think you're overstating your case.
This strikes me as a misunderstanding of how Bayesian updates work. The reason you still don't believe in ESP is because your prior for ESP is very low. But I think hearing about Bem's research should still cause you to update your estimate in favor of ESP a tiny amount. In a world with ESP, Bem finds it easier to discover ESP effects.
I don't think social psychologists are that dishonest. Even 36% replicability suggests some relationship between paper-publishing and truth.
Furthermore, I think the fact that social psychologists are so liberal should cause some update in the direction that studying humans causes you to realize liberal views about human nature are correct.
Opinions mine, not my employer’s.
Very important article Kelly, thanks for writing! I don’t agree with 100% of your diagnoses or prescriptions (honestly I rolled my eyes at some of them), but absolutely share your concern that a lack of gender and racial diversity is hurting EA. I’d also add age diversity to the mix, and in my experience (which I doubt is unique) this issue interacts with the gender and racial issues in a problematic way.
Back in my 20s, I would have brushed off and rationalized away your diversity concerns. At that time, I was the type of person over-represented in EA: young, male, studied econ at an elite school, working as a hedge fund quant in an explicitly hyper-rational and confrontational work environment, maximum “thinker” assessment on the Myers-Briggs thinker vs. feeler spectrum, etc. Many (probably “most”, or even “almost all”) of my friends and co-workers fit the same description. And I placed a very high value on my opinion, and the opinions of people like me.
Now I’m pushing 40, and I’m still a quanty, thinker vs. feeler guy with a blunt communication style. But I’ve acquired a valuable perspective on just how stupid really smart 20 somethings can ... (read more)
As a general note for the discussion: Given the current incentive landscape in the parts of society most EAs are part of, I expect opposition to this post to be strongly underrepresented in the comment section.
As a datapoint, I have many disagreements with this article, but based on negative experiences with similar discussions, I do not want to participate in a longer discussion around it. I don't think there is an easy fix for this, but it seems reasonable for people reading the comments to be aware that they might be getting a very selective set of opinions.
So as a general principle, it's true that discussion of an issue filters out (underrepresents) people who find or have found the discussion itself unpleasant*. In this particular case I think that somewhat cuts both ways, since these discussions as they take place in wider society often aren't very pleasant in general, for either side. See this comic.
To put it more plainly, I could easily name a lot of people who will strongly agree with this post but won't comment for fear of criticism and/or backlash. Like you I don't think there is an easy fix for this.
*Ironically, this is part of what Kelly is driving at when she says that championing free speech can sometimes inhibit it.
An example of a particular practice that I think might look kind of innocuous but can be quite harmful to women and minorities in EA is what I'm going to call "buzz talk". Buzz talk involves making highly subjective assessments of people's abilities, putting a lot of weight in those assessments, and communicating them to others in the community. Buzz talk can be very powerful, but the beneficiaries of buzz seem to disproportionately be those that conform to a stereotype of brilliance: a white, upper class male might be "the next big thing" when his black, working class female counterpart wouldn't even be noticed. These are the sorts of small, unintentional behaviors that I that it can be good for people to try to be conscious of.
I also think it's really unfortunate that there's such a large schism between those involved in the social justice movement and people who largely disagree with this movement (think: SJWs and anti-SJWs). The EA community attracts people from both of groups, and I think it can cause people to see this whole issue through the lens of whatever group they identify with. It might be helpful if people tried to drop this identity baggage when discussing diversity issues in EA.
I strongly agree. Put another way, I suspect we, as a community, are bad at assessing talent. If true, that manifests as both a diversity problem and a suboptimal distribution of talent, but the latter might not be as visible to us.
My guess re the mechanism: Because we don't have formal credentials that reflect relevant ability, we rely heavily on reputation and intuition. Both sources of evidence allow lots of biases to creep in.
My advice would be:
When assessing someone's talent, focus on the content of what they're saying/writing, not the general feeling you get from them.
When discussing how talented someone is, always explain the basis of your view (e.g., I read a paper they wrote; or Bob told me).
Variant on this idea: I'd encourage a high status person and a low status person, both of whom regularly post on the EA Forum, to trade accounts for a period of time and see how that impacts their likes/dislikes.
Variant on that idea: No one should actually do this, but several people should talk about it, thereby making everyone paranoid about whether they're a part of a social experiment (and of course the response of the paranoid person would be to actually vote based on the content of the article).
So I think that if you identify with or against some group (e.g. 'anti-SJWs'), then anything that people say that pattern matches to something that this group would say triggers a reflexive negative reaction. This manifests in various ways: you're inclined to attribute way more to the person's statements than what they're actually saying or you set an overly demanding bar for them to "prove" that what they're saying is correct. And I think all of that is pretty bad for discourse.
I also suspect that if we take a detached attitude towards this sort of thing, disagreements about things like how much of a diversity problem EA has or what is causing it would be much less prominent than they currently are. These disagreements only affect benefits we expect to directly accrue from trying to improve things, but the costs of doing these things are usually pretty low and the information value of experimenting with them is really high. So I don't really see many plausible views in this area that would make it rational to take a strong stance against a lot of the easier things that people could try that might increase the number of women and minorities that get involved with EA.
I think that your link to Georgia Ray's piece should make it clearer that her conclusion is
Your link implies that Georgia's post is overall positive on the effect of diversity on the performance of teams or groups, which I think is incorrect.
Georgia here - The direct context, "Research also shows that diverse teams are more creative, more innovative, better at problem-solving, and better at decision-making," is true based on what I found.
What I found also seemed pretty clear that diversity doesn't, overall, have a positive or negative effect on performance. Discussing that seems important if you're trying to argue that it'll yield better results, unless you have reason to think that EA is an exception.
(E.g., it seems possible that business teams aren't a good comparison for local groups or nonprofits, or that most teams in an EA context do more research/creative/problem-solving type work than business teams, so the implication "diversity is likely to help your EA team" would be possibly valid - but whatever premise that's based on would need to be justified.)
That said, obviously there are reasons to want diversity other than its effect on team performance, and I generally quite liked this article.
As a relevant piece of data:
I looked into the 4 sources you cite in your article as improving the effectiveness of diverse teams and found the following:
One is a Forbes article that cites a variety of articles, two of which I looked into and didn't say at all what the Forbes article said they say, with the articles usually saying "we found no significant effects"
One study you cited directly found the opposite result of what you seemed to imply it does, with its results table looking like this:
And the results section of the study explicitly saying:
"whereas background diversity displayed a small negative, yet nonsignificant, relationship with innovation (.133)."
(the thing that did have a positive relation was "job-related diversity" which is very much not the kind of diversity the top-level article is talking about)
Which found some effects on ... (read more)
I find this troubling. If a small sample of the evidence cited has been misreported or is weak, this seems to cast serious doubt on the evidence cited in the rest of the piece. Also, my prior is that pointing to lots of politically amenable social psychology research is a big red flag.
It feels like a bad practice to take a post which concludes that the effects are mixed or small, then just cite the effects in that post which seem positive and not mention the ones that seem negative or that the post overall disagrees with what you're trying to use it to argue for.
To speak to the section about EA orgs hiring a diversity & inclusion officer:
That's essentially my role at CEA as Community Liaison, with help from other staff. Some of my work is focused on helping CEA work well for lots of kinds of people, both internally as a workplace and externally in our events and projects for the community.
I also try to be a resource on these topics for other EA orgs, groups, and individuals. I'm very happy to be contacted (firstname.lastname@example.org) about anything in this area where I might be able to give information or advice. Some examples of things we've helped with:
Edited to add: someone pointed out that I didn't mention confidentiality. I will keep anything you tell me as confidential as you want it to be kept.
Many other commentators have already pointed out the problems with other pieces of evidence cited in the post, but I thought it was worth noting that this study also failed to replicate:
Thanks for taking the time to post this result four years later!
I believe that Toby Ord has talked about how, in the early days of EA, he had thought that it would be really easy to take people who are already altruistic and encourage them to be more concerned about effectiveness, but hard to take effectiveness minded people and convince them to do significant altruistic things. However, once he actually started talking to people, he found the opposite to be the case.
You mention "playing the long game" – are you suggesting that the "E first, A second" people are easier to get on board in the short run, but less dedicated and therefore in the long run "A first, E second" folks are more valuable? Or are you saying that my (possibly misremembered) quote from Toby is wrong entirely?
I only hold this view weakly, but yes, I'm worried that, as you put it, "E first, A second" people are less likely to stick around.
I don't think "A first, E second" people are necessarily easier to get in the first place though, as they are more likely to already have a calling (and so to have less personally to gain) and to be committed to other altruistic pursuits that are hard for them to drop as "ineffective."
That said, I've seen significant movement among heavily committed farmed animal advocates towards thinking more about and acting in the interest of maximizing impact... though farmed animal advocates are often already doing that advocacy because they're already thinking about effectiveness: they see the issue as massively important and very tractable. So I suppose realistically I'm putting most of my investments in people who are A first, but still clearly already E.
Katja Grace gives a related [edited - said "the same" - see Katja's comment below] argument here:
"When I was younger, I thought altruism was about the most promising way to make the world better. There were extremely cheap figures around for the cost to save a human life, and people seemed to not care. So prima facie it seemed that the highly effective giving opportunities were well worked out, and the main problem was that people tended to give $2 to such causes occasionally, rather than giving every spare cent they had, that wasn’t already earmarked for something more valuable than human lives.
These days I am much more optimistic about improving effectiveness than altruism, and not just because I’m less naive about cost-effectiveness estimates."
She goes on to list several reasons, including greater past success and greater neglect.
Easy money: https://userstyles.org/styles/150270/effective-altruism-form-anti-kibitzer
I'd tell you to keep it or donate it, but I want to encourage the norm that such offers represent a real cost, so I hereby commit to use this money entirely on hedonistic pleasures.
While I agree with a lot of this, it's worth pointing out that the claims about gender diversity increasing 'collective intelligence' are controversial within psychology. For example, see this paper:
"We examined group-IQ in three independent studies.
• Gender balance and turn-taking were unrelated to group performance. • Social sensitivity had no impact on latent group-IQ. • Individual IQ emerged as the cause of group-IQ. • Group-IQ almost exclusively reflects individual cognition.
What allows groups to behave intelligently? One suggestion is that groups exhibit a collective intelligence accounted for by number of women in the group, turn-taking and emotional empathizing, with group-IQ being only weakly-linked to individual IQ (Woolley, Chabris, Pentland, Hashmi, & Malone, 2010). Here we report tests of this model across three studies with 312 people. Contrary to prediction, individual IQ accounted for around 80% of group-IQ differences. Hypotheses that group-IQ increases with number of women in the group and with turn-taking were not supported. Reading the mind in the eyes (RME) performance was associated with individual IQ, and, in one study, with group-IQ factor scores. H... (read more)
One defining feature of the #metoo movement has been its exposing of powerful men, often in leadership positions and protected by influential friends, who sexually harassed women.
As you know, Jacy Reese (previously known as Jacy Anthis), recently admitted to harassing women in the EA movement. While exactly what he did is not public, it was apparently severe enough that CEA has found it necessary to ban hi... (read more)
You report EA as being 70% male. How unusual is that for a skew? One comparison point for this, for which data is easily abundant, is readerships of websites that are open-to-read (no entry criteria, no member fees). Looking at the distribution of such websites, 70% seems like a relatively low end of skew. For instance, Politico and The Hill, politics news sites, see 70-75% male audiences (https://www.quantcast.com/politico.com#demographicsCard and https://www.quantcast.com/thehill.com#demographicsCard) whereas nbc.com, a mainstream TV, entertainment, and celebrity site, sees a 70% female audience: https://www.quantcast.com/nbc.com#demographicsCard
(I'm not trying to pick anything too extreme, I'm picking things pretty close to the middle. A lot of topics have far more extreme skews, like programming, hardcore gaming, fashion, see https://www.wikihow.com/Understand-Your-Website-Audience-Profile#Understanding_the_gender_composition_and_index_of_your_website_sub for more details on how the gender skew of websites differs based on the topic).
Based on this, and similar data I've seen, a 70% skew in either gender direction feels pretty unremarkable to me in the context of today's broader... (read more)
This reminds me of a pattern I see in social justice movements, which goes something like this: We are observing some kind of gender or race-based disparity, with a variety of different hypotheses for why it might be occurring. Some people think discrimination is the most likely hypothesis. Other people have other hypotheses. The people who think discrimination is the most likely hypotheses see the people suggesting other hypotheses and loudly decry those people as discriminatory. Those people get quieter. The gender or race-based disparity persists. The only hypothesis that anyone is allowed to talk about is the discrimination one. So it's more clear than ever that discrimination is the only possible explanation. Given this clarity, the people pushing the discrimination hypothesis have the mandate to decry milder and milder instances of discrimination. Eventually, the community undergoes a schism over the issue of whether to be hypersensitive to mild instances of discrimination or not.
The Google memo Kelly references is a good case study. Kelly implies that the author is an "outright asshole". I assume she makes this judgement solely based on the author's will... (read more)
The histories of many forms of prejudice are histories biological essentialism and biological determinism. Even if such claims are now made out of a "willingness to explore" alternative hypotheses despite this long history of precisely being an unwillingness to explore the much newer hypothesis of prejudice, they tend to be over-simplistic, as in the memo, and tend to have the effect -- if not also the intention -- of dismissing the other, newer hypothesis of prejudice, which is robustly supported by data that the memo's author fails to include.
That's not to say it's a black and white matter of total biological similarity or total culturally-imposed disparities and prejudice. That's what the author of the memo implies, and I disagree. The evidence that prejudice is a major problem that is holding people back is substantial nonetheless.
Some of his suggestions for ways to reduce the gender gap are worth considering, and charitably he's not exceptionally prejudiced and is able to analyze information that has found its way to him, but is just very poorly informed and has no willingness to explore the alternative explanation of prejudice. At most charitable this still enables ... (read more)
Thanks for the reply, Kelly, and I'm sorry you're getting downvoted. I really appreciate your willingness to be charitable and admit your mistakes, and I will strive to emulate your example.
Hm, that's not how I read it. For example, in the first sentence, he says he doesn't deny that sexism exists. Later, he writes: "Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this..." My interpretation is that Google already has a ton of discussion of the impact of sexism, bias, etc. and Damore wanted to fill in the other side of the story, so he didn't bother to repeat stuff that everyone already agrees on. Maybe that was a mistake in retrospect.
Can I suggest that the Damore issue be parked? Even though it is currently producing a high quality, civil conversation, I worry that talking about such a highly polarised topic is somewhat risky as you never know who might join the thread.
I think that's a huge part of the reason why we overrepresent people the demographics we do. But offloading responsibility onto part of the pipeline below us isn't sufficient, least of all when we can source from other pipelines.
The problem is that those thoughts, as I noted, become actions, just actions we can usually only see as systematic trends. Just because someone does not say "women are incompetent" does not mean they aren't underestimating women's competence and e.g. hiring them less than he should. Taking action on this just requires a more systematic approach than explicit discrimination does.
I agree that in terms of what works, just pointing out bias doesn't seem to help and can even backfire, as I mentioned, which is why I provided a list of other possible solutions.
What evidence causes you to think that heterosexuality is overrepresented in EA? That seems backwards to me.
"I take your point that skews can happen, but it seems a bit suspicious to me that desire to be effective and altruistic should be so heavily skewed towards straight, white dudes."
(1) Where did "straight" come into this picture? The author says that EAs are well-represented on sexual diversity (and maybe even overrepresented on some fairly atypical sexual orientations), and my comment (and the data I used) had nothing to say about sexual orientation?
(2) """it seems a bit suspicious to me that desire to be effective and altruistic should be so heavily skewed towards straight, white dudes"""
I didn't say that desire to be effective and altruistic is heavily skewed toward men. I just said that membership in a specific community, or readership of a specific website, and things like that, can have significant gender skews, and that is not atypical. The audience for a specific community, like the effective altruist community, can be far smaller than the set of people with desire to be effective and altruistic.
For instance, if a fashion website has a 90% female audience (a not atypical number), that is not a claim that the "desire to l... (read more)
The idea of introducing social justice into an existing movement has already been tried, and I think it's worth going over the failures and problems that social justice has caused in the atheist movement before jumping headlong into it in the EA movement. This reddit page about why Atheism+ failed makes for interesting reading: https://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/2ygiwh/so_why_did_atheism_plus_fail/
See also this: https://athefist.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/the-atheism-plusftb-problem/... (read more)
I find it interesting that most of the examples given in the article conform to mainstream, politically correct opinion about who is and isn't overrepresented. A pretty similar article could be written about e.g. math graduate students with almost the exact list of overrepresented and underrepresented groups. In that sense it doesn't seem to get to the core of what unique blind spots or expansion problems EA might have.
An alternate perspective would be to look at minorities, subgroups, and geographical patterns that are way overrepresented in EAs relative to the world population, or even, say, the US population; this could help triangulate to blind spots in EA or ways that make it difficult for EA to connect with broader populations. A few things stand out.
Of these, I know at least (1) and (2) have put off people or been major points of concern.
(1) Heavy clustering in the San Francisco Bay Area and a few other population centers, excluding large numbers of people from being able to participate in EA while feeling a meaningful sense of in-person community. It doesn't help that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most notoriously expensive in the world, and also located in a cou... (read more)
I can see 1-3 being problems to some extent (and I don't think Kelly would disagree)... but "overrepresentation of vegetarians and vegans"?? You might as well complain about an overrepresentation of people who donate to charity.
"I'm assuming people think discussion of inclusion issues is a terrible idea."
This is a misreading. I'm almost sure you were downvoted because readers perceived this to be the reverse of the truth: "I think it weird, given there's so much mainstream discussion of inclusion, that it hasn't seemed to penetrate into EA."
It's a topic that has been discussed intensely, frequently and continuously in EA since its inception, both online and off. If someone had asked me to compile a list of the all-time most-discussed topics in EA, this would be near the top. That's not to say we shouldn't continue discussing it here of course and I appreciate Kelly's quite comprehensive list of the possible ways we could try to increase diversity in the community.
Someone who prefers to remain anonymous shared with me that there were multiple issues that made her and other women interns feel excluded at an EA organization, but she felt it was too intimidating to bring them up because the staff seemed too tight, including the women, and the interns felt too separate from them.
The same person, in response to the point "Don’t dismiss or trivialize the altruistic concerns ordinary people have," said:
Agree – this is one of the most alienating parts of EA groups I have come across. Charity snobbishness has become quite extreme in some contexts I’ve been in, and I found it to be a somewhat closed-minded approach to altruism generally. At one point, I became persuaded by this attitude and even noticed myself becoming judgmental with the people around me. It was only when my mum told me she thought I had become more judgmental, and not for the better, that I took initiative to really analyse why I was behaving like I was, and to understand that this is not a way to do the most good for people around you nor for trying to encourage people to give their time and money more effectively. I think many people in EA should take a step back and realise that in their attempt to do the most good, they are acting in a closed-minded way, which is actually preventing them to be able to achieve the most good they can.
On one hand, it is technically better to change things if that motivates people to become involved in the community. But on the other hand, if someone is ethically motivated to do the right thing, and they find that EA is plausibly in the right lane for this purpose, then you would expect them to be involved in productive activities regardless of whether their personality types are similar or not. That's not any more of a sacrifice than we make in other sorts of things: I recruited for a finance career, despite the fact that the personality types and culture are antithetical to my own, I am in the military, despite the fact that the personality types and culture are antithetical to my own, I donate money, despite the fact that I would have more personal happiness than if I didn't, and so on.
The kinds of people who would be doing EA things if and only if we were a little bit more appealing are the kinds of people who won't take the ethically optimal career route, because the ethically optimal career route is not likely to be optimally appealing, and that is something that we can't change. If someone can only be brought into the movement by catering, they're not going to suddenly ch... (read more)
I'd like to move towards an inclusive community that doesn't damage the valuable aspects of EA. I think this post mostly did a good job of suggesting things in that vein (I was heartened to see "don't stop being weird" as an item), but I'd like to push on the point a bit more.
For example, I'm hugely in favour of collaborative discussions over combative discussions, but I find it very helpful to have discussions that stylistically appear combative while actually being collaborative. For example: frequent, direct criticism of ideas put forward by other people is a hallmark of combative discussion, but can be fine so long as everyone is on an even footing and "you are not your ideas" is common knowledge. If we ban this, then we make some parts of our discourse worse. Overly zealous pursuit of formalized markers can destroy a lot of value.
Of course, the solution is "don't do that", but the most obvious approach to "have more X" is "pick some formal markers of X and select for them". Doing better is harder, perhaps something like "have workshops/talks on good disagreement", "praise people who're known for being excellent a... (read more)
Regarding discussion style: I think several EAs are great at discussions where they're fully critical of each other but aren't combative (e.g. they don't raise their voices, go ad hominem, tear apart one aspect of an argument to dismiss the rest, or downvote comments that signal an identity that theirs is constructed in opposition to). I think it's possible to get all the benefit of criticism and disagreement without negative emotions clouding our judgement.
I think the key may be to work against the impulse to be right, or the impulse that someone who disagrees with you is your enemy. I'm much better than I used to be at seeing disagreement as the route to everyone in the discussion getting closer to the truth, though unfortunately that takes a constant drive to improve. (It does help a lot to just remind myself that the person I'm disagreeing with -- in most cases at least -- is on my team in the bigger picture.) Doing more to penalize combative behavior and reward constructive behavior -- like how downvotes and upvotes are supposed to be used in this forum -- seems like a feasible solution.
Regarding the grab-bag: That was my intention, to get the ball rolling. I hope for others to bring in their own thinking on prioritization and implementation.
You made an extremely long list of suggestions. Implementing such a huge list would mean radically overhauling the EA community. Is that a good idea?
I think its important to keep in mind that the EA community has been tremendously successful. Givewell and OpenPhil now funnel tremendous amounts of money towards effective global poverty reduction efforts. EA has also made substantial progress at increasing awareness of AI-risk and promoting animal welfare. There are now many student groups in universities around the world. EA has achieved these things in a rather rapid timeframe.
Its rather rare for a group to have comparable success to the current EA community. Hence I think its very dangerous to overhaul our community and its norms. We are doing very well. We could be doing better, but we are doing well. Making changes to the culture of a high performance organization is likely to reduce performance. Hence I think you should be very careful about which changes you suggest.
In addition to being long your list of changes has many rather speculative suggestions. Here are some examples: " -- You explicitly say we should be more welcoming towards things like "dog rescue".... (read more)
As a guy who used to be female (I was AMAB), Kelly's post rings true to me. Fully endorsed. It would be particularly interesting to hear about AFAB transmen's experiences with respect to this.
The change in how you're treated is much more noticeable when making progress in the direction of becoming more guyish; not sure if this is because this change tends to happen quickly (testosterone is powerful + quick) or because of the offsetting stigma re: people making transition progress towards being female. I could also see this stigma making up some of the positive effect that AMAB people feel on detransitioning, though it's mostly possible to disentangle the effect of the misogyny from that of the transmisogyny if you have good social sense.
In anticipation of being harassed (based on past experience with this community), I'll leave it at that. I'm not going to respond to any BS or bother with politics.
Your portrait of what the EA community could be is a beautiful one and made me tear up. You hit the nail on the head many times in this post on the subtle connections between things that I think can be hard to identify: the connection between heart and head, the E and the A, the overuse of jargon, and the hero worship, and so on. I have to say that as a fairly straight-passing gay man with immense amounts of privilege, even I feel many of these pressures and am often put off by the alpha-male machismo you often see in EA spaces.
I’ve witnessed discrimination and harassment, and heard of assault, in EA-ish spaces, and it seems pretty clear that this is contributing to the gender gap. I’ve definitely exhibited some of the combative and argumentative behaviors you mention. When I got into the EA community a few years ago, I began in global poverty and animal advocacy circles, and I found they were much better on these issues than the community is now, sadly. (That’s with both of those areas’ having plenty of problems.)
I think Kelly moved us toward a type of dialogue on this issue that is lacking in the world, and I hope we can have more of it. Right now, discussions around diversity an... (read more)
I'm seeing a lot of comments questioning the literature around diversity improving performance. EA prizes accuracy, so that's a good thing.
However, I'm concerned we're falling into two very common traps of requiring women to prove themselves more competent than men and status quo bias.
In general, I'd expect teams to be diverse unless a non-diverse team can be proven more effective. Because so many EA leaders are currently white men, I can imagine some reasons why we might have less-diverse teams in the short-term, but my baseline expectation would always be to prefer a more diverse team all other things being equal.
Thanks Kelly. I agree that this is a problem in EA in ways that people don't realize. In retrospect, I feel stupid for not realizing how casual discussion of IQ and eugenics would be hurtful. Same thing with applying that classic EA skepticism to people's lived experiences.
Culture isn't the main reason I left EA, but it's #3. And I think it contributes to the top two reasons I felt alienated: the mockery of moral views that deviate from strict utilitarianism, and what I believed were naive over-confident tactics.
"Same thing with applying that classic EA skepticism to people's lived experiences"
I suppose this comes down to why the person is sharing their lived experience. If someone is just telling you their story, you want to try and keep an open mind. On the other hand, if someone is sharing their lived experiences in order to make a political argument, a certain amount of criticism, whilst not being unnecessarily insensitive, is fair game.
If people have to opt into it, we can assume the people who currently misuse their votes won't.
Thank you for the interesting post Kelly. I was interested in your comment:
And followed the link through to Forbes. I think the part you are citing is this:... (read more)
Moving you to my answer to the same question above to for further discussion :)
Thanks for putting in the effort to write such a detailed post, I imagine that this would have taken a lot of time and effort. I also appreciate that you offered to have a discussion on the extent to which this is a problem. I have had negative experiences in the past with people who were opposed to this line of questioning, so I am really glad to see you actually invite this discussion.
Firstly, in regard to the communities we draw from, I've seen a lot of articles about how problematic the IT industry is, but I am rather skeptical of these claims and henc... (read more)
I made a survey for all the suggestions to try to sort them out, cause it seemed like people thought there were too many.
Unfortunately only 3 people responded, but you can also answer or share it around more if you wish.
Since I've not seen it mentioned here, unconferences seem like a inclusive type of event as described above. I'm not sure how EAG compare.
Thank you for writing this! You've made a lot of good points in here, some of which I've been thinking of myself.
A note on this point though:... (read more)
I think citing this article weakens your overall argument. The study has n=30 and is likely more of the same low-quality non-preregistered social psychology research that is driving the replication crisis. Your argument is strong enough (to think about examples of men being snarky, insulting others, engaging in pissing contests) without needing to cite some flimsy study. Otherwise, people start questioning whether your other citations are trustworthy.
Is it true that men score higher than women in 'thinking' vs 'feeling'? If so, the EA community (being dominated by men) might be structured in ways that appeal to 'thinkers' and deter 'feelers'. To reduce the gender gap in EA, we would have to make the community be more appealing to 'feelers' (if women are indeed disproportionately 'feelers').
I'd like to point out that the main post is written in a somewhat "culture war"-y style, which is why it has attracted so many comments/criticisms (and within 3 days it already has more comments than any other thread one these forums, ever, as far as I can tell). Here's a somewhat similar thread that makes some good suggestions about diversity without getting too much into politics: http://effective-altruism.com/ea/mp/pitfalls_in_diversity_outreach/ (also take a look at the top comment).
Another concrete suggestion: I think we should stop having downvotes on the EA Forum. I might be not appreciating some of the downsides of this change, but I think they are small compared to the big upside of mitigating the toxic/hostile/dogpiling/groupthink environment we currently seem to have.
When I've brought this up before, people liked the idea, but it never got discussed very thoroughly or implemented.
Edit: Even this comment seems to be downvoted due to disagreement. I don't think this is helpful.
Just for the record, I think this is a bad idea: I think it's costly for the community when people make bad arguments, and I think that the community is pretty good at recognizing and downvoting bad arguments where they appear, and I don't think it too often downvotes stuff it shouldn't.
The problem is that this takes a lot of time, and people with good judgement are more likely to have a high opportunity cost of time; you want to make it as cheap as possible for people with good judgement to discourage bad comments; I think that the current downvoting system is working pretty well for that purpose. (One suggestion that's better than yours is to only allow a subset of people (perhaps those with over 500 karma) to downvote; Hacker News for example does this.)
The most efficient point of intervention on this issue is for confident insiders to point out when a behavior has unintended consequences or is otherwise problematic.
The post mentions this. It's hard to get stable, non-superficial buy-in for this from the relevant parties; everyone wants to talk the talk. But when you do, you'll get a much different effect than you will from hiring another diversity & inclusion officer.
I know of a few Fortune 500 companies that take the idea that this stuff affects their bottom line seriously enough that people in positions of power act on it, but EA seems more like a social club.
That's a fascinating suggestion.
I think there's an "in" missing between "people" and "broader"
Thank you very much for bringing this up. Discussion about inclusivity is really conspicuous by it's absence within EA. It's honeslty really weird we barely talk about it.
I'd like to emphasise how important I think it is that members of the community trying and speak in as jargon-free a way as possible. My impression is this has been getting worse over time: there seems to be something of a jargon arms race as people (always males, typically those into 'rationality'-type stuff) actively try to drop in streams of unnecessary, technical, eli
Are you sure? Here are some previous discussions (most of which were linked in the article above):
http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1ft/effective_altruism_for_animals_consideration_for/ http://effective-altruism.com/ea/ek/ea_diversity_unpacking_pandoras_box/ http://effective-altruism.com/ea/sm/ea_is_elitist_should_it_stay_that_way/ http://effective-altruism.com/ea/zu/making_ea_groups_more_welcoming/ http://effective-altruism.com/ea/mp/pitfalls_in_diversity_outreach/ http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1e1/ea_survey_2017_series_community_demographics/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/1479443418778677/
I recall more discussions elsewhere in comments. Admittedly this is over several years. What would not barely talking about it look like, if not that?
Don't just try to be more inclusive, include!
ie. go to where women and BME people already are, find those who also want their altruism to be effective, and see how they are ALREADY organising themselves, and support that....
....rather than imagining that we can co-opt THEIR skills and talent into OUR network!
It may be that we are not the ones who are best placed to shift the EA network to something more welcoming to women and BME people. I'm not saying effort isn't worthwhile, and valuable in itself, it is. but forming an alliance may be much more viable... (read more)
Many of these are good arguments, and I really appreciate the honesty and detail Kelly has put forth here. But zoinks, some are also quite controversial, and not accepted by many scholars in academia.
Here are some sharp thinkers who argue against the notion that diversity and inclusion can be enforced without severe repercussions:
Prof. Jonathan Haidt's presentation on Truth and Social Justice.
Prof. Jordan Peterson's presentation on equity and authoritarianism.
Prof. and EA Geoff Miller's argument about the neurodiversity case for free speech.
Prof. Steven P... (read more)
I just played with Parable of the Polygons recently http://ncase.me/polygons/ and I think it illustrates a simple general strategy for building more diversity which may underly many of the strategies in this article. The simple strategy is to have a preference against high levels of sameness (/homogeneity), given that one already has a preference for more diversity. I think it is important to not be okay with a demographically homogenous EA movement, manifested with more general strategies, e.g. 'I will try to notice, feel bad/ disapproving, and do s... (read more)
Thanks so much for this thoughtful and well-researched write-up, Kelly. The changes you recommend seem extremely promising and it's very helpful to have all of these recommendations in one place.
I think that there are some additional reasons that go beyond those stated in this post that increase the value of making the EA a more diverse and inclusive community. First, if the EA movement genuinely aspires to cause-neutrality, then we should care about benefits that accrue to others regardless of who these other people are and independent of what the causal ... (read more)
I just want to quickly call attention to one point: "these are still pure benefits" seems like a mistaken way of thinking about this - or perhaps I'm just misinterpreting you. To me "pure benefits" suggests something costless, or where the costs are so trivial they should be discarded in analysis, and I think that really underestimates the labor that goes into building inclusive communities. Researching and compiling these recommendations took work, and implementing them will take a lot of work. Mentoring people can have wonderful returns, but it requires significant commitments of time, energy, and often other resources. Writing up community standards about conduct tends to be emotionally exhausting work which demands weeks of time and effort from productive and deeply involved community members who are necessarily sidelining other EA projects in order to do it.
None of this is to say 'it isn't worth it'. I expect that some of these things have great returns to the health, epistemic standards, and resiliency of the community, as well as, like you mentioned, good returns for the reputation of EA (though from my experience in social justice communities, there wil... (read more)
While I thoroughly appreciate your thoughts here and I'm glad you voiced them, I think you started on a miscommunication:
I don't think the fact that there are costs to this, as anything, is controversial (though I know its cost-effectiveness is), and it sounds to me like Tyler just meant "intrinsic benefits," in addition to the instrumental benefits to EA community-building. If he thought improving diversity and inclusion in the community had no cost, I would think he'd say its case is irrefutable, not that these benefits merely "strengthen" its case.