Stack Exchange sites are used by people all around the world, from a vast number of cultures. A very large percentage of the users do not have English as a first language. That’s a lot of diversity right there. Furthermore, there are people with different educational levels, different ages, different religious beliefs, different sexualities, and, of course, different gender identities. Stack Exchange’s user-base is diverse.

It’s not as diverse as it might be. The oldest, and by far the biggest, site is Stack Overflow. The rest of the network grew out of Stack Overflow. The core community on Christianity SE is not “Christians” but “Christian programmers”; the core community on Seasoned Advice is “programmers who like cooking”. This is, perhaps, beginning to change, but the influence that Stack Overflow has over the rest of the network is vast. And programmers are, overwhelmingly, men. Well educated, well off, white men. Or, increasingly, Indian men. (This in itself is a result of a long history, which includes men conspiring to drive women out of a job which was originally overwhelmingly female, on the basis that this would increase the apparent prestige and thus the average pay of the role. This worked, which is a bit depressing.)

This adds up to the fact that SE has a diversity problem. On the tech sites, it reflects, and to an extent perpetuates, the lack of diversity in the field itself. And, given that newcomers can be afraid to join Stack Overflow, and newcomers who are members of minority groups report being particularly disinclined to jump in, Stack Overflow is less diverse than it should be. And this spills over into the other sites.

The global reach of Stack Exchange means that it’s very diverse in some ways, but not nearly as much as it should be. They have, of course, made some very public moves to rectify that. The Welcoming initiative was about making all newcomers more welcome, but particularly women and minority groups. There have been partnerships with programmes which work to get more women in tech. And there has been a strong indication that a forthcoming update to the Code of Conduct will specifically mention trans issues.

And yet, at least one trans mod has resigned because she felt that the company did not support her, and that she was targetted for being trans. Another mod has raised concerns that the new Code of Conduct, by being too specific in its rules, will actually make it worse for trans people, and harder for a mod to enforce rules against transphobia.

Many of SE’s moves toward increasing diversity feel more like box-ticking exercises than anything coming from full understanding. They are also very very very American, which is fair from an American company, but it looks very much like they care more about how they look to prospective shareholders than to how things will actually play out with their existing global userbase. The motivating thought isn’t “How will this make our communities better?” but “How will this make us as a company look good?”. Particularly, the Code of Conduct does not acknowledge that many of the users, especially on the tech sites, are not native English speakers. It was not written with that in mind.

There is a performative aspect to many of SE’s moves recently, which make me wonder how much they actually know internally about diversity initiatives and codes of conduct. Do they have experts on staff, or have they consulted with experts? These are fields which are actively studied, and there are people have real academic credentials and practical suggestions.

I am Irish, a native English-speaker, hearing, able-bodied, white, gay, male, geek, programmer, atheist with a religious upbringing who hangs out on the Christianity site a bit, a linguistics nerd. This is to say that I will be immediately aware of some bigotries and mostly blind to others. I try my best to learn.

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    To be clear: How do you think that such issues would affect quality content at all. That kind of discussion is completely useless and unproductive. – πάντα ῥεῖ Oct 6 at 21:01
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    Well, I disagree with your fundamental premise that Stack Overflow has a diversity problem. Stack Exchange only has a diversity problem if you believe that Stack Exchange must do whatever it takes to change the makeup of the user base so that it represents the same proportions of every group with an identity that are present in the general population. That's clearly an unworkable idea. – Robert Harvey Oct 6 at 21:03
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    How about this instead: why don't we treat everyone with equal respect and consideration, and then let people decide for themselves whether or not such an environment is worthy of their time? You don't need diversity experts to make this idea work; you just need people with common decency and a little bit of patience. – Robert Harvey Oct 6 at 21:05
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    @πάνταῥεῖ You cannot fix problems you cannot see. – TRiG Oct 6 at 21:07
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    @RobertHarvey Sorry to say this but you do not really have an idea what diversity issues are, do you? Please note that this is not a criticism, but just to let you know that there are issues when some groups feel being marginalized, or feel they do not belong to some group. I am neither an expert nor do I claim this is a problem that has a simple solution. – Schrödinger's cat Oct 6 at 21:10
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    It's very easy to call someone names or tell them they don't know what they're talking about, isn't it? It's harder to have a substantive conversation about it. What you're describing is at the root of all identity politics; it is a scourge on our society, and SE would do well to stay completely out of it. – Robert Harvey Oct 6 at 21:12
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    @RobertHarvey. You don't recognise that diversity is in itself a value and a strength? Would someone like you or me be able to answer this question? – TRiG Oct 6 at 21:15
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    That's not what I said. Read my comments again. – Robert Harvey Oct 6 at 21:16
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    Yeah, that really isn't what I said. – Robert Harvey Oct 6 at 21:18
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    And with that, I'm out. I can't argue with straw men. – Robert Harvey Oct 6 at 21:19
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    Thanks for the thoughtful question. I've stared this post and will consider anwering later, but this issue already ate most of last week and I have pressing life concerns. Just a leading thought though... I don't think the issue is whether they have experience with diversity as how they define diversity. – Caleb Oct 7 at 5:17
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    @Renan I'm not saying there were no women in the early computing science history. I'm only asking for source for the "overwhelmingly female" bit. That TRiG was talking about the memory weaving sweatshops was only my best guess. And for the record, I'm not saying that women didn't have any significant impact, or that that I want to discredit the impact they did have!. – John Dvorak Oct 7 at 7:39
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    @Joelty Because it is the community that curates the questions and answers. It's the community that upvotes good questions and answers. It's the community that edits questions to get them into an acceptable shape. It is the community that flags bad questions, and it is the community that judges over them. You may consider high quality questions and answers a given as soon as you click on a Stack Exchange link on Google, but it is the result of precisely this community. – MechMK1 Oct 7 at 11:42

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