Inclusion Rider for tech conferences

Inclusion rider was brought to a broader public by Frances McDormand during her best actress Oscar acceptance speech for a leading role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”.

However, the concept isn’t new — it was originally proposed by Stacy L. Smith, associate professor of communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, in an op-ed for Hollywood Reporter back in 2014. With the help of Kalpana Kotagal of Cohen Milstein, and Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni of Pearl Street Films the full content of an inclusion rider template is public.

The purpose is to counter bias as well as combat a largely homogenous industry, exclusionary towards women (more importantly women of colour), LGBTQI community, people with disabilities and any other underrepresented group.

The contract clause is focused on quantifiable requirements based on general demographical representation that have to be met, otherwise a charitable donation to a scholarship fund for underrepresented groups will be required.

While the inclusion rider has been developed for the entertainment space, the concept can and should be ported to other industries, disciplines and scenarios of everyday life, workplace or professional events.


The diversity of tech conferences

Tech events still suffer from massive representation issues. It’s not uncommon to see a lineup full of white men. Even if there’s an effort to foster inclusion, often it only reaches the extent of one race and binary gender (this is not diversity — while it does cater to underrepresented groups it addresses the most privileged demographics further marginalising black women, Latinx people, indigenous people, individuals with disabilities and the LGBTQIA+ community).

It’s uncanny for organisers to track their diversity data, let alone publish transparency reports to hold themselves accountable (we’ve attempted this at JSConf and CSSConf Australia in 2016 and 2018, however, there is still room for improvement). Sadly, in a lot of cases, diversity only becomes worth investing time into when the conferences are put on the spot on social media, and there’s an urgent need to save face.

While public callouts are often effective, it’s only a temporary remedy failing to address the cause of the problem — structural injustice in the form of racism, misogyny, sexism and homophobia.

It’s dangerous to invite members of underrepresented groups and treat them as token minorities solving the issue at hand in a situation where there’s lack of preparedness in creating safe, welcoming environments.

We can drive meaningful change and raise awareness on those issues through the way we choose to engage with conferences (whether it’s speaking, attending or sponsorships).


Setting expectations

I’ve always had rules for taking part in events, but a while ago I took some time to write them down — this is the base for my inclusion rider approach. When invited to an event that causes any doubts, I follow up with baseline diversity expectations and questions on how actionable the inclusion strategy is.

For conferences that don’t focus on diversity and inclusion, this is a constructive way of informing about their pitfalls and providing actionable feedback.

If enough people shed light on exclusion and refuse to partake in it, it will become increasingly difficult to avoid the conversation, let alone keep a neutral stance.

It’s crucial to make the inclusion requirements quantifiable and specific. We want to avoid prompting minority tokenism or organisers focusing on only one, most popularised angle of diversity.

Here’s an example of an email prompting a few questions about diversity and inclusion.

Hello {$conference organiser | contact person},
Thank you for extending an invitation to {$participate in | speak at | sponsor} your event.
Before we go any further, I would like to hear about your commitment to diversity and inclusion:
- where can I find your Code of Conduct?
- has the event staff been coached on Code of Conduct enforcement and do you have a response guide?
- how many members of underrepresented groups (including, but not limited to women, LGBTQI+, African-American, Latina or Latino, people with disabilities and people facing economic or social hardships) will be presenting at the event?
- what’s your accessibility policy?
I only partake in conferences that have at least 40% women speaking, including representation of women of colour in the lineup. I believe it’s necessary to speak up against the exclusionary nature of our industry and this is one way of doing so.
Thank you for your time.
Best,

You can adjust the template to your needs, and if the inclusion criteria are not being met, change it to reflect where the organisers have failed to do so. Remember, actionable feedback is most likely to spur change.

If you’re invited to a conference before the presenters are announced, make your requirements clear from the very beginning and double-check the lineup afterwards. It’s entirely possible to be assured of inclusion and observe drastically different results.

Alternatively, if you deem the conference environment welcoming and safe (including an enforceable Code of Conduct) consider giving up your spot to a member of an underrepresented group who might not be able to speak otherwise due to biases and systemic injustice.


I hope you will be adopting an inclusion rider approach to the events you’re a part of in the future. Consider taking a more comprehensive policy surrounding conferences at your organisation. Keep your friends in the tech community in check.

Let’s build a more inclusive future, together.


This article is made possible by lovely Patreon supporters, backing my diversity and inclusion efforts. I intend to publish on D&I topics twice a month and create reusable resources, guides, and apps. Support it if you’re inclined.

Special thanks to the following companies: Webflow, Buildkite, Prismatik, Bitgenics and nearForm 💞