A few more relevant categories to think about diversity in EA

This is a Draft Amnesty Day draft. That means it’s not polished, it’s probably not up to my standards, the ideas are not thought out, and I haven’t checked everything. I was explicitly encouraged to post something unfinished!
Commenting and feedback guidelines: I’m going with the default — please be nice. But constructive feedback is appreciated; please let me know what you think is wrong. Feedback on the structure of the argument is also appreciated.

Posted on draft Amnesty Day, one day late oops

People who think about diversity in EA or face diversity-related issues in their work often find it helpful to find common labels and identities. It allows identifying common problems, framings and solutions. The EA Survey already identifies common categories that are useful to think about diversity, such as gender, sexual orientation, age, race, education level and financial instability. Here I expand a bit on some other terms that I find particularly helpful.

Some important previous thoughts:

  • This is based on anecdotal use of the terms instead of official definitions (people with a background in diversity studies might have better suggestions).

  • These terms are also huge generalizations that fail to capture individual differences and the use of these terms can also harm diversity by creating “us vs them” narratives or packing people into groups that don’t represent them.

  • If terminology needs to be corrected, this post is also to invite refining these terms.

Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) (as opposed to High Income Countries)

  • Definition: All countries not considered to be high-income. Although there is no universally agreed-upon definition, the World Bank defines high-income countries as those with a gross national income per capita of $12,696 or more in 2020. Upper-middle, lower-middle, and low-income countries are classified as LMICs.

  • Why this category is useful for diversity in EA: I’ve been surprised by how many similarities there are between LMICs, regardless of regions. This seems true outside EA, and Gapminder’s dollar street project perfectly portrays this: they show with a massive collection of photos how income is the main determinant of people’s daily lives, regardless of geography. LMICs meetups in EA events tend to group compatible people with very common experiences.

  • EA is predominant in high income countries and I’ve found that the LMICs category is probably one of the best at capturing a lot of what people care about when they speak about diversity in EA. LMICs groups across the world share a lot in common.This guide, for example, was created by a team from India, Malaysia and Colombia and we all had relatable experiences.

  • Examples:

    • Usual EA framings that address topics like donations or income are unfamiliar to LMICs, such as the usual “you’re the top 1%” assumption (although in relative terms this can still be true at an individual level for high income individuals in LMICs).

    • It captures what is usually referred to as “global north” vs “global south”, which is relevant in many discussions. It might capture that distinction better, because there are some geographically southern countries that are high income (such as Australia) and northern countries that are LMICs.

    • It captures a lot of the historical divisions between colonized and colonizer countries and what that implies: countries often have weak institutions, corruption, poverty, poor responses to emergencies, inequality and all sorts of immediate problems.

    • We share similar questions, experiences and tradeoffs when we think about funding on the EA space. Funding in these countries has way more purchasing power than in high income countries and this has a lot of repercussions that are not immediately obvious.

  • HOWEVER: It might be a worse category than, for example, “financial instability” to capture differences in income between individuals. Realistically speaking, in the short term many “EAs” in LMICs have been high or middle income individuals in low and middle income countries, especially in those in which speaking english is a privilege available to few. Possibly a person with few resources in a high income country might have more things in common with an average person in an LMIC than a high income person in an LMIC.

Non-english speaking groups (as opposed to primarily anglophone groups)

  • Definition: Can include groups whose main language is different from English and people who don’t speak English or don’t speak/​read/​understand it fluently.

  • Why this category is useful for diversity in EA: English is the world’s most widely spoken language (approximately 1.5 billion people). However, less than 400 million use it as a first language, and currently almost all EA content is in english. Therefore, translation efforts represent a huge challenge to diversify EA. It’s worth differentiating between people who have some level of English and those who don’t speak English at all, because interventions for accessibility could be different for both (the former group could participate in EA intro fellowships facilitated in their native language with readings in english and still have a rich experience, while the latter group needs translated materials). Even if there were available translations, realistically speaking the latter group would still be constrained to participate in other global EA spaces like the EA forum, would find it harder to apply to jobs and funding and would be at a huge disadvantage to participate in important decisions and events. This is why this category encompasses not only translation efforts but also community building, content creation, and building infrastructure in non english speaking settings.
    Non English speaking countries include both high income countries such as France and many LMICs like Latin American countries. There are also LMICs who use English as at least one of their main languages, such as Ghana or Nigeria.

Non-western cultures (as opposed to western cultures)

  • Definition: Copying from Wikipedia: ’The Western world, also known as the West, refers to various regions, nations and states, depending on the context, most often consisting of the majority of Europe, North America, and Oceania.”

  • Why this category is useful for diversity in EA: EA is very embedded in western philosophy and many have raised the importance and challenges of studying questions relevant to EA from the lens of non-western cultures. People sometimes refer to the “individualism vs collectivism” difference which can capture some important aspects of EA thought in different cultures.

  • However, this category fails to capture that what often falls under “non-western” countries is a broad range of countries with different cultural traditions and it is also unclear how to place many geographically western countries like South Americans under that division (these countries are in the west and they are highly culturally influenced by the US or Europe, but they could also check boxes of “collectivism” or family orientation that are common in some non-western countries, among other similarities captured by other categories like “LMICs”).

Some thoughts:

  • Sometimes the diversity-relevant groups overlap (there are many LMICs that are also non-English speaking and non-western). It’s important to coordinate efforts to be aware of those intersections. For example, translation and original content creation efforts might also need to have some cultural adaptations in many settings.

    • Also recognizing where they don’t overlap might visualize opportunity areas for diversity: there are many “non-western” “LMICs” that speak english fluently; that should make access to ideas way easier!

  • However, putting all categories in the same basket can lead to irrelevant efforts and unnecessary generalizations (for example, creating content for “non-western” countries and assuming that it will be equally relevant for all LMICs, or making translations in spanish/​french and assuming that it will be equally relevant to Spain/​France and to spanish-speaking South America or francophone Africa).

Possible actions:

  • Recognizing those categories can facilitate creating meetups in events, sub-groups on Slack or other platforms. Allowing these spaces can promote initiatives from members in order to solve the bottlenecks that might not be obvious to people outside of these groups. For example, a sub-slack group for non-english-speaking-groups facilitates exchange of knowledge between groups who think about translations.

  • Collecting data about these demographics can help track diversity issues and promote efforts to improve it.