Striving for diversity

We try to create a diverse conference at DevConf. Not only does it mean that we want to bring more women to the conference. It broadens to diverse opinions, backgrounds, and points of view. Variety creates a welcoming space for everyone and provides a platform for pushing the industry forward. That’s what we believe in.

It’s not easy though. It won’t happen on its own without external help. Here are a few things we do at DevConf to improve our chances.

  1. Reach out to specific groups
    There are organisations which work to promote women and other groups in our industry. Reaching out to them is a thing we do every year to let them know about our CFP. Some of the organisations we know are: Callback Women, Geek Girls Carrots, Women in Technology.
  2. Actively search for people from underrepresented groups
    At the point of reviewing CFP, we already know if we will face a lack of diversity in our agenda. We know it because either 1) there are too few diverse submissions 2) there are too few diverse submissions we’d like to accept. We receive many talks of high quality, but not all of them are suitable for the profile of our conference.
    When we know after CFP that we will lack diversity we leave a number of slots in agenda to actively look for great speakers from underrepresented groups. It includes viewing other conferences’ lineups and searching at sites like Women who keynote, Women Tech Speakers, The 100+ tech & business women speakers you need at your next event
    There are lots of sites like that, and it requires some effort in reviewing if the subjects those people talk about will fit nicely into your agenda.
  3. Take care of speakers
    The other thing you’d like to do is to take care of speakers. Providing transport and accommodation, helping them in logistics of being in a new place, communicating well what they can expect at the conference, scheduling their session as convenient as possible and once again, communicating well about all of the above and often. When they’re at the conference, it’s nice to accompany them when possible (if they’re not already occupied by tons of attendees exchanging knowledge with them). Taking care of speakers is a thing we do regardless of anything but it gives all speakers a confidence that they’re welcomed.
  4. Create a welcoming environment at the conference
    The conference should be welcoming to all participants as well. What’s not acceptable is harassment of any kind. When creating a welcoming space at the conference, the first thing you do is communicate with attendees via email. This communication gives the early signs of the attitude you have and the relationship you build with each. It then amplifies at the event. It starts with the language, goes through visuals, marketing material, what’s in the welcome pack (remember about women T-shirts!) and ends up at the after-party which should be welcoming to all participants.
  5. Diverse tickets
    We decided to provide some discounts on diverse tickets this year. Man and woman registering together for the conference are given the lowest possible price of tickets (this is the price of blind tickets before announcing any speaker). We’re doing this as an experiment this year and we will hopefully learn something for the future. Maybe we’ll be able to help more in the next years.

Thinking of diversity as a cross-cutting concern gives you some ideas how to organise a conference as a whole, starting with an agenda, through participants and communication with all of the involved parties. It’s a lot of things to think through.
Caring for a more diverse conference serves many purposes:

  • it gives an example to underrepresented groups that they too can be speakers; they too can attend a conference, it’s not reserved for a particular group of people,
  • it gives participants more points of view and therefore more possibilities to learn,
  • it promotes people from underrepresented groups, giving them more chances to speak and attend.

Of course, conferences are the tip of the iceberg of the problem happening here. People are underrepresented in the industry because of a variety of reasons, and many of them start as early as childhood or at primary school. Nevertheless, at the point of professional careers and conferences, we should aim to help solve this problem even a little.

We don’t think that every conference should fight for diversity. It’s not an obligation. We would not shame (especially publicly) any conference for creating its lineup with whoever organisers wanted to invite, that’s their business.

Creating a diverse conference is not easy even if you try. We decided to provide excellent content and fight for diversity at the same time. That’s not exclusive at all. There’s a lot more we would like to do, but that’s what we’ve established so far.