DjangoCon Europe 2017 - The road to unempathic communities is paved with good intentions

Speaker: Erik Romijn (a Django team member, chair of the Dutch Django Association and co-organiser of various conferences) - also called "a neo-liberal emotional djihaidst"

Imagine somebody falls for a scam - there is laughter, there is mocking. Because we are not empathic with the people caught in the scam - inexperienced people, sick people, … this is heartless. The tech community is very focussed on itself and neglects to be empathic to people different from us, whom we provide products and tools to.


Empathy is both well known and very complicated. It is full of errors, full of bias, full of wrong assumptions. You talk about different things, you don't get the other person's mindset and everything leads to frustration on all sides.

Empathy gets harder the more different your experiences are.

We need to make a distinction between people who act out of malice and people who act out of ignorance. But at the same time, acting out of ignorance, ineptness or without malicious intent does not change your actions, their results, impact and consequences.

Code of conduct

Refusing to adopt a Code of Conduct displays an appalling lack of even the slightest interest in making people safe or welcome in your community.

People tend to think that "be kind, be polite" should be enough, but once you explain the deeper problems to them - they tend to start to understand the sense of a CoC.

Things can be very different when you are a part of a marginalised group. (And this obviously effects empathy, since empathy will be affected by the lack of shared experience).


Communities do not exist in a vacuum: outside a community, things may be much, much worse in other communities and countries. This affects you and your community at the very least due to overlap between those communities.

"Well, I don't want to hurt you for your sexuality!" - yes, but past experiences make it harder for people to feel included or to be trustful towards others.

Fixing communities is everybody's job. We need to strive for diversity and inclusivity in every aspect.


The more diverse your team, for example, the more you will think of different situations, make better products, and include more people in your products. Hire people for 'culture add' instead of 'culture fit'. More diverse teams bring more empathy and more empathic products. (Which makes them better, more on point, more secure, etc.)

Representation and role models

Boy do they ever matter! Role models and representation help tremendously to get similar people into your area, to motivate them, to show them what they can do. And it shows people which ways there are to divert from the norm.

Be an advocate. Use your privilege as an opportunity. Even more important: use your space to make and give space to other, less represented people.

Listen to people different from you. Understand and believe their experiences if they don't match yours.