From the Archives: Diversity in Making

From the Archives: Diversity in Making

This edition of From the Archives showcases one of our earliest posts about diversity in the maker movement. This has been on my mind a lot lately, as Emily and I just returned from presenting about diversity in makerspaces at the National Diversity in Libraries Conference. I will have more to say about this next week, but explore this post for now. This was originally written in 2013; do you think much has changed since then? What has your experience with diversity and inclusion in the maker movement been like?


Originally published November 4, 2013 by Emily Mitchell

Here’s something I learned today:

Of all the people featured on the cover of Make Magazine to date, 85% have been men or boys, 15% have been women or girls, and 0% have been people of color.

I woke up to those numbers in my email inbox (by way of EdSurge’s article “MAKE’ing More Diverse Makers”) and then spent a chunk of my morning watching the FabLearn closing keynote they’re referencing: Leah Buechley’s “Thinking About Making.”

Buechley’s case for the importance of Make displaying makers’ true diversity is a compelling one. Here’s the crux, especially as it pertains to those of us who care about getting making into schools and libraries: Make is the public face of the Maker Movement. Its brand is a powerful one, and it’s one that is used to forward the non-profit, educational organization that Make sponsors: Maker Ed. The Make brand, as demonstrated by its magazine covers and the people writing its articles, is that of essentially a white boys’ club. That brand does not jive well with Maker Ed’s slogan: “Every child a maker.” Every child, if you’ve not noticed, is not a white, male child. We need to brand the Maker Movement as being inclusive of everybody who’s interested in making things.

A few months back, Make started a Twitter conversation asking for people to tweet their favorite tv/movie makers. This was a day-long conversation. By 5 p.m., I had seen two examples of women makers tweeted. I sent out a request for more, and ended up with a total of four. Four fictional female makers, after a whole day of watching fictional male makers pour in. This doesn’t make it easy for a girl to have a heroine/role model to inspire her to tinker! What’s more, of those four fictional women, one appeared to be nothing more than eye candy for the car-repair scenes of Knight Rider. (Has anyone watched more than a few episodes and can tell me Bonnie is more than that?)

I wasn’t watching for makers of color in that Twitter conversation, but if I had to guess, I’d guess that representation there was at least as bad as, if not worse than, representation of women.

Buechley has some suggestions for ways we can make the Maker Movement more accessible to a wider range of people. The one that most struck me was when she suggested extending the kinds of activities that we consider to be at the core of the movement. Making is not just about robots! We need to publicly celebrate all kinds of making–including those traditionally practiced by women (spinning, sewing, etc.) and those practiced by cultures outside the US mainstream (Carnival costumes, pottery made in traditional styles, etc.). In short, we need to make a point of searching out maker traditions from around the world, including minority groups close to home, and broadcasting their achievements just as loudly as we do the achievements of the people building robots.

If you’ve got 50 minutes or so, I cannot recommend enough that you check out “Thinking About Making.” If you’re in a hurry, the early part of the talk focuses on Buechley’s own projects. Her projects are awesome, and well worth your time–but if you want to hear what she has to say about diversity, you can safely skip to minute 17. Do stick around for the Q&A at the end, though; it’s worth hearing. If the topic interests you, you should also check out our Ada Lovelace Day: Women In Maker Culture post from a few weeks back.

Do you agree with Buechley? Disagree? Somewhere in the middle?


Image Credit: “Leah Buechley” by Flickr user Jean-Baptiste LABRUNE

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