gendispatch                                                      F. Gont
Internet-Draft                                              SI6 Networks
Intended status: Informational                                  K. Moore
Expires: August 26, 2021                                Network Heretics
                                                       February 22, 2021

                Diversity and Inclusiveness in the IETF


   This document discusses a number of structural issues that currently
   hinders diversity and inclusiveness in the IETF.  The issues
   discussed in this document are non-exhaustive, but still provide a
   good starting point for the IETF to establish a more comprehensive
   agenda to foster diversity and inclusiveness.

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on August 26, 2021.

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   the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as
   described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  DISCLAIMER  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   3.  Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   4.  Perceived Return of Investment (ROI)  . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   5.  Effects of Current Participation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   6.  Diversity in IETF groups and leadership roles . . . . . . . .   5
     6.1.  IESG  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     6.2.  WG Chairs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     6.3.  NOMCOM  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   7.  Processes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   8.  Difficulty in Joining the IETF  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   9.  Economic Constraints  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   10. Educational Constraints . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   11. Cultural Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
     11.1.  Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
     11.2.  Using email effectively  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     11.3.  Comfort zone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   12. IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   13. Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   14. Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   15. Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12


   For the most part, many of the topics discussed in this document are
   the result of on-list and off-list conversations with a number of
   IETF participants, and are based personal experiences of said group
   of colleagues, and what such group believes are some of the
   structural problems hindering diversity in the IETF.

   As such, it is very likely (and possibly guaranteed!) that there are
   aspects that are partially (or even totally!) overlooked.  If you
   feel that is the case, please do contact the authors, and feel free
   to educate us on what we may have missed.  The authors will be happy
   to incorporate co-authors where needed, include ideas from others
   while giving due credit, or even include ideas while anonymizing the
   source or author of the proposal.

   Please refer to Section 3 regarding the terminology employed
   throughout this document.

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2.  Introduction

   This document tries to raise a number of structural issues that
   currently hinders diversity and inclusiveness in the IETF.  The
   issues discussed in this document are non-exhaustive, but still
   provide a good starting point for the IETF to establish a more
   comprehensive agenda for the IETF to address the issue of diversity
   and inclusiveness.

   We have grouped structural issues in these categories:

   o  Perceived Return of Investment (ROI) (see Section 4)

   o  Effects of Current Participation (see Section 5)

   o  Diversity in IETF groups and leadership roles (see Section 6)

   o  Processes (see Section 7)

   o  Difficulty in Joining the IETF (see Section 8)

   o  Economic Constraints (see Section 9)

   o  Educational Constraints (see Section 10)

   o  Cultural Issues (see Section 11)

3.  Terminology

   Throughout this document, whenever we refer to "diversity" or
   "inclusiveness" we imply including or involving people of:

   o  a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds

   o  different genders

   o  different sexual orientations

   o  different countries and regions

   o  different types of organizations (companies, non-profits, etc.)

   The above list is non-exhaustive, but should make it evident that
   "diversity" has multiple axes, and this document does not limit its
   discussion of diversity to any particular sub-set of them.

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4.  Perceived Return of Investment (ROI)

   While many IETF participants engage in the IETF for the sake of
   improving the Internet or as a personal hobby, IETF participation
   involves an investment, whether participation is done independently,
   or supported by an organization (e.g., company).

   As with any investment, the question of what is the return of
   investment (ROI) is often asked both by participants and their
   supporting companies (if any).

   In the case of companies, the possible ROI will typically depend on
   the specific sector, but might include:

   o  Benefiting from Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs)

   o  Benefiting from leading technologies, with e.g. improved "time to

   In the case of independent participants, ROI could be in the form of:

   o  being able to make a difference in improving Internet technologies

   o  better career opportunities

   However, these benefits can only be realized by a small subset of
   companies and participants.  For example, in order for companies to
   benefit from IPRs and improved time-to-market of products, they need
   to be in the business of manufacturing such specific products.  In
   order cases, companies might deem the ROI of IETF participation as

   In the case of independent participants, the ability to realize
   better career opportunities generally depends on the availability of
   companies that might benefit from the IETF in the same country or
   region.  In other words, lacking local companies or organizations
   that benefit from IETF participation essentially means that IETF
   participation and the associated skills will result in a negligible
   ROI for independent participants.  And, when processes are biased
   towards a specific community, even the possibility of improving the
   Internet "for the common good" might seem unfeasible.

   As a result of this, there is a whole range of individuals and
   organizations for which IETF participation might not result
   attractive or feasible:

   o  Individuals from developing countries

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   o  Service- and consulting-oriented companies

   o  Un-affilieted open source developers

   o  Operators

   o  Universities

   That said, there is always the case of individuals and/or companies
   that might still try engage in the IETF.  However, other issues, such
   as those discussed in Section 5, Section 6 and Section 9 typically
   discourage such participation.

5.  Effects of Current Participation

   The IETF is far from achieving diversity in many (if not most) axes.
   For example, the IETF is far from having gender parity in the number
   of participants, or in having a truly diverse geographical

   The lack of diversity in current IETF participation essentially means
   that decisions and the perception of structural problems is biased
   towards in favor of the realities of current participants, and
   hinders the participation of those not "in the club" of large
   Internet tech companies.

   For example, face-to-face (f2f) meetings are held in regions
   reflecting current participation levels.  But this in turn
   facilitates participation from those regions, and makes participation
   from other regions less accessible.

   Similarly, the lack of diversity in current participants is in turn
   reflected in the lack of diversity in IETF groups and leadership
   roles (discussed in Section 6) which, again, tends to bias processes
   in favor of the current participants.

   Finally, how new work is considered by the IETF is also generally
   biased in favor of those "in the loop" -- that is, participants that
   are already engaged in the IETF and that generally belong to the
   reduced groups for which a ROI from IETF participation is feasible
   (see Section 4).

6.  Diversity in IETF groups and leadership roles

   Lack of diversity in IETF groups and leadership roles has a direct
   effect on IETF participation, as a result of:

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   o  Process fairness by having a very small number of interests
      judging WG consensus, community consensus, and appeals.

   o  Leadership selection fairness by having a limited number of
      interests participating in the NOMCOM and IAB.

   o  Arbitrary decisions produced and enforces by such groups, without
      getting community consensus on them (see e.g.,

6.1.  IESG

   While one might expect greater diversity in IESG members, there are
   at least two possible causes for that:

   o  There is reduced diversity in many axes of IETF participation

   o  There is (allegedly) a reduced number of possible candidates with
      the necessary skills

   As noted in Section 5, it is probably obvious that IETF participation
   is not as diverse as one would expect -- and this certainly
   constrains diversity in IETF leadership roles in general.

   It is also commonly suggested that there is a limited number of
   candidates with the appropriate skills set for IESG positions, and
   that one of the common missing skills is IETF management experience.
   However, there does not seem to be a concrete effort to produce an
   increase in the number of participants with appropriate skills to
   volunteer for such roles.  For example, fostering diversity in WG
   chair positions would be an obvious choice for increasing the pool of
   potential candidates for IESG positions, as discussed in Section 6.2.

6.2.  WG Chairs

   Most WGs have permanent WG chairs which only become rotated when:

   o  A WG chair takes a higher responsibility withing the IETF (e.g.
      WG Chair becomes an Area Director)

   o  There are personal issues affecting the WG chair (e.g., WG chair
      retires, changes jobs, etc.)

   o  There is evident malfunction of a WG which leads to an WG chair
      being replaced

   However, if the IETF adopted the convention that chairs are rotated
   in all cases, this would certainly:

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   o  Increase diversity in WG chairs positions.

   o  Increase the pool of IETF participants with IETF leadership
      experience, which could in turn help increase diversity in other
      leadership roles, such as the IESG.

   o  Makes WG chair changes less stressful and controversial, since WG
      chairs are rotated *by default*

      NOTE: One could envision a policy where each WG has three co-
      chairs, with different experience levels, and where one of the co-
      chairs has no previous WG chair experience.  Every two (or so)
      years the most experienced WG chair leaves his role, which is
      occupied by the second-most experienced WG chair from the group.
      And a new un-experienced WG chair is incorporated by the WG.

6.3.  NOMCOM

   The current NOMCOM member selection rules try to be fair, but are
   still biased in favor of the specific groups discussed in Section 4
   and Section 5.

   For example,

   o  The requirement to have attended X out of Y of the last f2f
      meetings is clearly biased in favor of IETF participants who have
      enough funding to travel to most meetings.

   o  Big tech companies are more likely to be willing to let their
      employees do that because they're more likely to get IESG and IAB
      members who favor their interests.

   o  There is the expectation that NOMCOM members attend f2f meetings
      to carry their NOMCOM duties -- which, again, favors the same
      group of participants (those with funding, which generally work
      for big tech companies).

   o  If the NOMCOM has f2f interviews, the process also favors those
      candidates that are able to attend f2f meetings, who can be
      interviewed in-person.

      NOTE: There are a few obvious things that could be done to improve
      these issues.  [RFC8989] is certainly a step in the right
      direction.  Having the NOMCOM perform its duties only online would
      be another.

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7.  Processes

   Some aspects of WG operation are loosely described.  While this may
   be beneficial in some cases, other times the rules or expectations
   regarding how WGs are meant to operate can be problematic for
   participants, and even more so to newcomers.

      NOTE: [I-D.carpenter-gendispatch-rfc7221bis] is a good attempt at
      clarifying some specific aspects of WG operation.

8.  Difficulty in Joining the IETF

   It is usually hard for newcomers (and sometimes experienced people)
   to see how to contribute effectively or even to find which working
   groups (if any) whose work they would be interested in.

   Similarly there are now so many different groups, committees,
   supporting organizations, etc. involved in running IETF that it is
   hard to understand the big picture, and know which group does what,
   or which people to talk to about any given concern.

   It is also hard for newer people to get "up to speed" on an existing
   working group or topic area.  Reading the WG's mailing list archive
   can be very time consuming and not always very illuminating.  The
   Datatracker and Tools effort have been (and still are) of a lot of
   help here.  But having materials that e.g. provide a summary of what
   the ongoing work of a WG is, and that summaries what recent
   discussions have been about, and what the different views are/have
   been, would certainly help in this area.

9.  Economic Constraints

   The current IETF processes favor participants who have enough money
   to travel to several meetings a year, and/or participants who work
   for companies who can afford such expense and are willing to spend
   that money (which tends to be a specific subset of companies, as
   discussed in Section 4).

   Clearly, work such as [I-D.kuehlewind-shmoo-remote-fee] is a step in
   the right direction.  Other things to evaluate and consider are:
   incorporating fee waivers for f2f meetings and/or adjusting the IETF
   meeting fee to the local realities (i.e., move away from a flat fee),
   and reducing the number of f2f meetings.

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10.  Educational Constraints

   You have to know a lot of technical material to participate usefully
   and effectively in IETF.  How IPv4 and IPv6 work, something about
   routing (at least the need for advertisements and aggregation),
   something about addressing, something about transport protocols
   (probably TCP and UDP, at least), something about congestion control
   (at least that it's needed), something about DNS, something about
   protocol layering, something about applications, something about
   security (at least basics of authentication and encryption), etc.For
   someone with little exposure there can be a very steep learning

   Additionally, improving internet protocols requires skills to assess
   protocols in a critical way.  While there are multiple courses and
   certifications that provide general knowledge about Internet
   protocols and the skills for e.g. configuring internet routers, there
   are fewer materials that try to analyze protocols in a critical way
   (e.g.  [Perlman] and [Day]).  And this represents a barrier to

   While this is not a problem that the IETF could (or should) solve,
   there has been work that has helped in this area, and possibly more
   could be done. e.g., some IETF tutorials have been very educational
   and useful not only to introduce newcomers to IETF work, but also to
   provide context for such work, and ocasionally also discuss
   shortcomings.  There is certainly room for the IETF to expand on
   these activities.

11.  Cultural Issues

   There are a number of cultural issues that also hinder diversity and
   inclusiveness in the IETF.  The following sub-sections discuss some
   of these.

11.1.  Language

   Language can be exclusionary in many different ways.

   For example, IETF participation requires and implies use of English
   language.  While English language has become the de facto
   international language (with attempts such as Esperanto failing
   miserably), communication in (any) non-native language can be
   challenging for a number of reasons.  This tends to be more
   challenging when oral communication (as opposed to written) is
   involved when expressions or phrasals that are unfamiliar to non-
   native speakers of the language are involved.

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      Consider expressions such as "red herring", "knee jerk", and

   Additionally, use of terms that may have a political or social
   connotation may result offensive to at least part of the community
   (see e.g.  [I-D.knodel-terminology] or

11.2.  Using email effectively

   Email is still the best way for IETFer's to communicate at a
   distance, it's vendor-independent and avoids vendor lockin, it's
   universally available, there are many providers and email user agents
   to choose from, it lends itself to searching and archiving, etc.
   It's the medium of choice partially because it doesn't impose many
   barriers to IETF participants using it.  But there's a bit of an art
   to using it effectively.

11.3.  Comfort zone

   Willingness to leave one's comfort zone is usually a necessary
   condition to participating effectively in IETF.

   Anyone who participates significantly is going to run into other
   people who disagree, who think about the problem differently, who
   have completely different contexts.  This might be because they're
   from a different technical background, different kind of company,
   different culture, or all of the above.  This is normal and even
   necessary.  Trying to sort out differences between people with
   different points-of-view is often uncomfortable precisely because it
   often forces us to question our own assumptions.  It follows that a
   desire or demand to be "comfortable" at all times is

   And sometimes one runs into overt personal prejudice on the part of
   others, and we have to deal with that too.  It's part of the
   landscape.  Often people aren't aware of their prejudices or accept
   them as natural or correct, and don't know how to turn them off even
   if they wanted to.  With increasing familiarity and a willingness to
   respect fellow participants, it can diminish over time.  But it takes
   work, and that work is also often uncomfortable work.

12.  IANA Considerations

   There are no IANA registries within this document.  The RFC-Editor
   can remove this section before publication of this document as an

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13.  Security Considerations

   The security implications arising from this document.

14.  Acknowledgements

   This document has been motivated by discussions with a number of
   individuals, both on- and off-list.

15.  Informative References

   [Day]      Day, J., "Patterns in Network Architecture: A Return to
              Fundamentals", Prentice-Hall 1st edition, 1999.

              Farrel, A., Crocker, D., Carpenter, B., Gont, F., and M.
              Richardson, "Handling and Adoption of Internet-Drafts by
              IETF Working Groups", draft-carpenter-gendispatch-
              rfc7221bis-01 (work in progress), October 2020.

              Carpenter, B., "Open Letter to the 2020-21 IETF Nominating
              Committee", draft-carpenter-nomcom2020-letter-00 (work in
              progress), September 2020.

              Gondwana, B., "Effective Terminology in IETF drafts",
              draft-gondwana-effective-terminology-01 (work in
              progress), August 2020.

              Knodel, M. and N. Oever, "Terminology, Power, and
              Inclusive Language in Internet-Drafts and RFCs", draft-
              knodel-terminology-04 (work in progress), August 2020.

              Kuehlewind, M., Reed, J., and R. Salz, "Open Participation
              Principle regarding Remote Registration Fee", draft-
              kuehlewind-shmoo-remote-fee-02 (work in progress), January

   [Perlman]  Perlman, R., "Interconnections: Bridges, Routers,
              Switches, and Internetworking Protocols", Addison-Wesley
              Professional 2nd edition, 1999.

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   [RFC8989]  Carpenter, B. and S. Farrell, "Additional Criteria for
              Nominating Committee Eligibility", RFC 8989,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8989, February 2021,

Authors' Addresses

   Fernando Gont
   SI6 Networks
   Segurola y Habana 4310, 7mo Piso
   Villa Devoto, Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires


   Keith Moore
   Network Heretics


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