Congrats, But …

Two little tweets in an ocean of tweets. What harm can they do, especially when their message feels overwhelmingly positive?

Last week, Indian Type Foundry (ITF) sent out the following tweet in reaction to this showcase of type designers who also happen to be women:

On the surface, it’s a supportive message … wrapped inside a harmful message, wrapped inside a ball of good intentions. ‘Who said there’s no gender equality in type?’ Many women in type design have said gender equality is still lacking. Our community, like many, is struggling to accept that systemic oppression of minorities exists. And this tweet provides proof of that because it doesn’t take the issue seriously and perpetuates the myth that gender equality is not a problem. But more on that in a minute.

Imagine if a Fortune 500 company composed this same tweet — claiming gender parity because of their roughly equal numbers of women and men. What if the reality was that all the women were receiving lower salaries for the same work as their male counterparts and less than 10% of leadership roles were held by women? The tweet would be worse than disingenuous. The company used the banner of diversity for their own marketing ends when the truth was very different. Counting numbers of men and women doesn’t necessarily mean a company treats its employees equally, nor does a single company with equal representation show that gender inequality has been vanquished.

Back to the original tweet. Ben Mitchell responded with an uplifting note that 95% of registered attendees to his upcoming type design workshop were women. On the face of it, it’s encouraging but on further reflection, what does workshop attendance say about the state of equality in the industry?

Imagine that I enroll in a workshop to learn JavaScript and it turns out that 70% of the attendees are women and only 30% are men. It’s a bit of a stretch, but we can extrapolate that a healthy number of women are interested in coding. Let’s imagine once again those numbers are from a real workshop and we apply them to the very real, male-dominated tech industry. What happened to all those women and why didn’t they enter or remain in the workforce?

Workshop numbers point to interest and are a good sign but they aren’t evidence of parity all on their own. Women entering the workforce, women in leadership positions, women with equal pay, work circumstances that account for employees with children — these are better indicators of equality.

Ours is an industry high in camaraderie with many fair-minded individuals including the two in this article (the ITF twitter account is run by Satya Rajpurohit). Given that, I’m not entirely comfortable singling out anyone to make a point. Besides, these are two tweets among, literally, billions whose underlying message is supposed to be heartening. Why parse them out?

Because those types of tweets are how we learn to ignore the problem. We ingest these tiny messages everyday, that there’s not a problem, that we are equal, that there are no obstacles to a woman’s success and there is evidence to support it, and on and on. If there’s not a problem, we won’t work to fix it. We should point out successes and victories but not at the expense of the larger issues and the women we are trying to help. Good intentions don’t equate to good outcomes, and equal numbers don’t always equal parity. Let’s not forget we have work to do.

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