3 things that helped to diversify the lineup at .concat() 2015
On March 7th the first ever .concat() web development conference took place in Salzburg, Austria. After sharing some insights on “How much it cost us to make more attendees feel safe and welcome”, I want to focus on 3 things that I believe helped to attract diverse and high quality speakers.
Really caring about a diverse lineup, we knew “A Code of Conduct [would not be] Enough”. What we, as a first-time conference, did to get some trust, was to invite speakers right from the beginning, so both attendees and potential speakers could grasp the direction we wanted the event to go in.
In contrast to the Call for Papers, this was the point where we did not try to remove our biases from the selection process. We paid extra attention to get a fairly balanced lineup, in terms of backgrounds and genders, so that people expected and further submitted both technical and cultural topics — and so that they knew that there would by far not only be men speaking.
We as conference organizers told people that we care about diversity and cultural issues. If we — after personal curation — would not have been able to come up with something different than men speaking, plus smurfette maybe, we would have revealed ourselves as either incapable or lying. Ending up with all speakers of the same kind would have meant that we did not care, that we did not try and that we did give in too early.
Announce diverse speakers before your Call for Papers starts so people know you are serious. Your future speakers will recognize the work and dedication this takes and will be inspired by the different backgrounds.
There are a lot of things that make public speaking even scarier than it already is. Speakers might have to withstand a very long ten minute Q&A session after their talk, or perform on stage for an entire hour. There are also substantial things like if they will be able to afford travel and other living standards. It takes enough willpower to finally decide to speak at conferences, so we tried to be as specific about these things as possible. We knew: When people read through our Call for Papers, every single additional source of self-doubt could have driven them away.
Not mentioning travel cost could have created the impression that we were only interested in well situated, professional or commercial speakers. Not mentioning the specifics of the talk slot would have implied that they need to have some kind of routine so they can adapt to various situations. Us being able to quickly reply to individual queries via mail or twitter was an important part, but we knew once a question reached us that we had not been specific enough.
A conference that is not able to pay a salary or at least travel and accommodation will be unlikely to get members of marginalized groups to speak. Whatever your conference is able to offer their speakers though, be very specific about it, because, on top of that, every unanswered question is the direct cause of an inspiring and important story not being told.
The key point of the whole procedure is an anonymous talk selection. That means you evaluate each proposed talk on the title and abstract of the talk, but not on who submitted it.
Our Call for Papers was open for quite some time and quickly we felt the lust to peak at the name fields and the pressure to announce even more speakers.
We thought it through: When we are trying our best so people can believe we are choosing the best talks solely based on the content, how is it possible to select those before all submissions are in? How is it possible to contact potential speakers before the deadline ends, if personal information should have been hidden?
Given that a lot of the accepted talks came in relatively late, choosing to infringe our own rules could have driven lots of them away. Announcing only some speakers early is the equivalent of not anonymizing submissions in the first place. If you want people to feel welcome, taken seriously and willing to speak at your event, do not mess with your own rules. It is critical to be trustworthy.