Another week, another report of a great meeting at Schloss Dagstuhl, this one about designing and evaluating programming languages. I would probably have enjoyed being there, but as I wrote last year, invitational meetings trend toward “them’s that got shall get”: if you aren’t in the right school at the right moment in your career, you don’t get invited, which in turn means you won’t be part of conversations that can increase your chances of winding up at one of those “right” schools a few years down the road. It’s a situation that women and other under-represented groups in science are all too familiar with: lack of access engenders lack of opportunity, which in turn leads to existing inequalities perpetuating themselves.
I don’t think we’ll fix what’s wrong with computing unless we fix that. I’d therefore like to suggest (again) that meetings like this adopt a buddy system: each time they give a place to someone from one of “those” institutions, they should also offer a place to someone from somewhere that isn’t on their list of usual suspects. Doing this will help level the playing field, spread knowledge and good practices to more places, and perhaps most importantly, give event sponsors insight into the issues that academia’s “other 90%” face.
Later: in response to a question about how organizers can identify buddies, my first suggestion would be for organizers to identify institutions, and then have those institutions propose people. Alternatively, each person from a high-profile institution who was invited could be required to find a buddy of their own, which would encourage them to do some outreach.