Considerations for more diverse conferences

I have been thinking about barriers to diversity at conferences a lot recently. This is sparked by a few things, including my own recent conference submissions, an experiment that I carried out recently that let people encourage their friends to speak and a some conversations on the topic. Here is the round up of some of that thinking and some things for conferences to consider to reduce some of those barriers.

My thinking has stemmed from gender diversity at tech and agile conferences. As I am a women who goes to and speaks at these types of conferences, it is what I can easily relate to. But diversity isn’t just restricted to gender, it’s about having a broad range of people, experience and opinions represented, this means better conferences for everyone.

As a very quick and dirty thought experiment, I took eight (Europe based) tech and agile conferences and counted what appears to be the gender diversity of speakers at them. This is quick and dirty because it’s my assumptions from a handful of websites that currently have schedules up, not from extensive research or finding out what gender those speakers identify as.

The stats aren’t surprising, it ranges from 7.5% to 50% female speakers (the 50% one being my own conference) and average at around 25%. One interesting factor that seems to skew the stats is sponsor slots, many of which appear to be filled with male speakers.

This graph just one view on diversity and as I mentioned, this post isn’t just about gender.

Based on my current thinking and own experience from attending and running events, here is an initial list of barriers that I believe that organisers should be addressing to create more diversity. It is a long list and full of questions rather than answers. I’m sure that I’ve missed some things, so I will update over time.

Considerations for more diverse conferences

It’s very important to consider both those speaking and those attending as they directly affect each other, so I have included both in the list.

I’d be really interested in hearing from organisers and conference participants about their experience in the comments below.

The List of considerations

Awareness of Opportunities and the event

You can’t have a diverse event if you are not reaching a diverse range of people in the first place.

Speakers

Widening the pool of high-quality submissions will help create a diverse programme.

  • If the event is an open submission, are you reaching a diverse range of people to tell them about the event?
  • Are you making additional effort to reach outside of your network to find new speakers?
  • Are you building a list of routes to find new people?
  • Do you have mentor programmes for new speakers or are you connected to people that do?
  • Do you encourage conference sponsors to consider diversity for speaking slots?

Audience

Having a more diverse audience will encourage diversity.

  • Are you reaching a diverse range of potential audience members?
  • Are you making additional effort to reach outside of your network to find new audience members?

Submission process

  • Is the submission process geared towards a diverse range of people?
  • Is your submission criteria inclusive?
  • Are you making the offer clear? (e.g. expenses, free ticket etc)
  • Are you reviewing your submission process with real users?
  • Do you offer support / mentoring through the submission process?
  • Is your submission panel diverse and is the review criteria appropriate?
  • Are you anonymising submissions for review? If you are is that helping?
  • Is diversity part of your event principles / vision?

Affordability

Speakers

It can be expensive to go to and speak at an event. Getting a free ticket is a nice incentive, but not covering costs can make it impossible for some people to speak at events. Organisations may not cover travel and accommodation costs and freelancers they have to also factor in the cost of not working on days they are at the conference.

  • Are you offering costs to cover expenses for the whole conference?
  • Are you offering any additional payment or offers?

Audience

  • Is your price affecting people’s ability to come?
  • Are you offering discounts or incentives to encourage diversity?

Confidence in content

Speakers

Does the potential speaker feel confident in their content?

  • Do they know that they have an interesting story to tell? A lot of people don’t think what they know is interesting to other people, so they don’t speak at conferences.
  • Are they confident in the way they are telling the story?
  • Are they confident in putting together a slide deck?
  • Do they have opportunities to practice and get feedback on content if they need it?
  • Do you offer mentoring for speakers?

Confidence on stage

Speakers

Does the potential speaker feel confident being on stage in front of lots of people?

  • Do they feel physically confident on stage, do they know how to stand, where to put their hands or how to project their voice?
  • Are they able to understand and deal with the physical reactions of being on stage? Do they understand what they can do to help them relax?
  • Are they confident with the audience? Do they know where to look, do they have an idea of how to read an audience?
  • Are they ok with being filmed or having their voice amplified?

Relating to audience members

Speakers:

Looking out and seeing a crowd of people when none of them look like you is daunting.

  • Do they recognise themselves in the audience?
  • Are they comfortable answering questions from the audience?

Audience:

  • Do they feel confident networking with other people in the audience?
  • Do they feel comfortable asking questions of speakers?

Relating to speakers

Speakers:

  • Do they relate to speakers in previous years? Not feel like a token person.
  • Do they relate to the other speakers on the programme?

Audience:

  • Do they relate to the people on stage? Could they see themselves there one day?

Understanding the value for me

Speakers:

  • Are you making it clear what the benefits are for speaking at an event?
  • Are you sharing stories from former speakers about how it helped their networks, confidence, careers etc)

Audience:

  • Are you making it clear what the benefits are for attending an event?
  • Are you sharing stories from former audience members? (blogs, tweets etc)

Inclusive language

  • Are speaker, presenters at the event using inclusive language? Are you making this part of the terms and conditions of participating?
  • Is the marketing material using inclusive language?

Venue / event meeting my needs

Diverse audiences may have needs that you haven’t considered and aren’t catering for.

  • Does the venue meet the needs of your speakers and participants? Have you done any research to find out what these are?
  • Is your catering inclusive for dietary requirements?

Feeling safe

It’s really important that your participants feel safe, there are many things to consider, here are some of them:

  • Do you have a code of conduct and are you prepared to act on it?
  • Are your event staff focus on creating a safe environment?
  • Is the environment inclusive?
  • Are you welcoming people and making it easy for them to ask questions?
  • Is your signage clear?
  • Can your participants relate to your venue staff?

This post originally appeared on my own blog