[ARIN-consult] Community Consultation on Increasing the Size of the ARIN Board of Trustees

Bill Woodcock woody at pch.net
Fri May 12 00:04:52 EDT 2017

Acknowledging up front that I’m yet another middle-aged white dude from the U.S., I’m going to talk about some things that sometimes make people uncomfortable.  Because it’s my job as a Trustee, and because the issues are important and have been unresolved for too long. I’d very much like to see serious discussion and some consensus on a reasonable way forward, that we can actually try to make happen.  So, if you think I’m wrong about things that I’m saying here, please educate me.  I won’t be offended, and I’ll be happy to see the conversation proceeding.

> On May 12, 2017, at 4:49 AM, Bartlett Morgan <bartlett.morgan at gmail.com> wrote:
> What kind of diversity in background is ARIN trying to achieve? Is it gender, regional or economic diversity?

I think the two kinds that have seemed the most achievable are gender and regional.

In my observation, people are much less resistant to the notion of “regional representation” (meaning that the seats on the board would be divided into a certain number elected by Canadian organizations, a certain number elected by organizations from the U.S., and a certain number elected by organizations from the Caribbean) than to, for instance, gender or ethnic representation quotas.  I think it’s less controversial for a number of reasons…  Canadians are not a minority in Canada, for instance, and it leaves Canadians free to do what they want with “their” seat(s), and it doesn’t leave the impression that someone of lesser merit has been selected solely on the basis of, for instance, Canadian citizenship.  So it substitutes “representation” for “tokenism” in a way that’s a lot more palatable.  For this to work, it really needs to be about segregating the _electorate_, rather than labeling the _candidate_.  i.e. all Canadian organizations vote for whoever they like to fill the seat(s) that they elect, rather than all (including US and Caribbean) organizations voting for someone who identifies as Canadian.  Once you get in to the labeling of candidates as appropriate to fill specific quotas, the tokenism ick-factor comes back into play.

So, that can work, without offending anyone too badly, to achieve regional representation, which is probably close enough to regional diversity for the difference not to matter.  It’s notable that this is one of the things that AfriNIC has gotten really right, over the years, and it’s really helped keep the politics there balanced, and keep recriminations to a minimum.

On the other hand, if we tried to apply the same approach to gender representation, I think most people would think it was weird and creepy.  Besides which, in ARIN, organizations vote, not individuals.  And organizations don’t have gender.  So it’s not really an option anyway.

Which brings us back to tokenism, the gender-labeling of candidates, and quotas.  

One of the things that seems to make people most uncomfortable is tokenism.  Quoting from the Wikipedia article on the topic:

Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of racial or sexual equality within a workforce. The effort of including a token employee to a workforce is usually intended to create the impression of social inclusiveness and diversity (racial, religious, sexual, etc.) in order to deflect accusations of social discrimination.

Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter asserts that the token employee is usually part of a socially-skewed group of employees who belong to a minority group that composes less than 15 percent of the total employee population of the workplace. By definition, token employees in a workplace are few; hence, their heightened visibility among the staff subjects them to greater pressures to perform their work to higher production standards of quality and volume and to behave in an expected, stereotypical way. Given the smallness of the group of token employees in a workplace, the individual identity of each token person is usually disrespected by the dominant group, who apply a stereotype role to them as a means of social control in the workplace.

On the one hand, we have the position that’s described in the Wikipedia article on tokenism, which is indeed my knee-jerk reaction to the issue…  That quotas demean the people who are selected to fill them, by implying that they are not individuals in their own right, but instead merely exemplars of a minority (or in the case of women, majority) group which they were coincidentally born into, and that they were unable to achieve the seat on their own merits.  And, indeed, I’ve certainly seen plenty of really unfortunate examples of people being treated that way.  But this is a problem statement, not a way forward.  Saying that it’s an uncomfortable position doesn’t propose a solution. 

So, on the other hand, there are places where gender quotas have been very effective:






…and a long-term consequence of quotas, is typically that they succeed, and become unnecessary, spreading equality of representation to other venues, as a matter of cultural habituation and expectations:


And the real kicker is that the tokenism objection is only advanced in places that haven’t actually tried using quotas:


Our research also revealed a contrast between Danes’ and Americans’ expected impact of quotas and the actual impact of quotas as reported by the board members we spoke with from countries where quotas are already in place. We found that the imposition of quotas and goals has resulted not just in greater gender diversity, but to a more professional and formal approach to board selection.

As one former male CEO and director in Norway remarked, “In my opinion, what happened in Norway when affirmative action was introduced was that the entire recruitment process of boards was sharpened. The requirements were clarified, the election committee’s responsibility was acknowledged. And the focus on the composition of the boards in general was improved. With that law, the importance of the board was upgraded, and the composition of the board. That is positive. And it might also be because you don’t have to go far back before you see that the recruitment to boards and board members was heavily influenced by a sort of networking mentality, and the close network that you belonged to yourself.”

In contrast, the U.S. board selection process still relies heavily on social networks. As a U.S. female director described it, the lack of board diversity in that country is part of a general lack of rigor in succession planning: “A really thoughtful board should give as much airtime to succession of the board as of the CEO.  That is not the status quo. Most boards do a hand-wave on it.  They don’t discuss board succession planning. If you really give it some thought, then you would have a plan and gender diversity would be part of that plan.”

In looking at this with respect to the ARIN board over the past decade, I came to the conclusion that my knee-jerk position (tokenism is demeaning) is incorrect, that that’s just what most middle-aged American white guys who think of themselves as liberal think.  That instead, the correct way to deal with this is through data-driven policy-making.  The data say that quotas work, that they increase professionalism and quality, and that they ultimately make themselves unnecessary as everyone ups their game, and that’s what long-term success looks like.

So I think we need to get past whatever squeamishness we have about gender quotas, and just do it.  I think that in a few years, we’ll look back, and ask ourselves why we took so long.

In combination with regional representation, which may in turn improve ethnic diversity.

Finally, to address the last point in your question, economic diversity, the theory is that ARIN board members are individuals represent the ARIN membership as a whole, rather than representatives of their day-job employer organizations.  So that would sort of answer the question of whether the economic diversity you’re referring to is organizational (which would make sense, since ARIN is an organization of organizations, rather than an organization of individuals, but is not what our current board structure would accommodate) or individual.  And if it’s individual, I don’t think we want to do that, since I don’t think candidates probably want to release their tax returns, and being the “poor candidate” or the “rich candidate” doesn’t really speak to ability to do the job, nor to ability to represent large or small _organizations_.  So, I think it’s best to punt on economic diversity as long as individuals serve not representing their employers.  If that were to change for some reason, and board members were elected to represent their employers, I’d definitely support re-visiting this question.  In the mean time, I think there’s a good argument to be made that regional representation will also yield some benefit with respect to diversity of day-job organization size too, in that the size and nature of Internet organizations in Canada, the Caribbean, and the U.S. are fairly different.


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