Should Tech Conferences Be More Inclusive?

Code Of Conduct

  • A code of conduct is a must have; not only that but it must be enforced by the organisers. It’s very rare that bad behaviour gets reported, but reporting it needs to be encouraged. Organisers can do very little about an incident if it’s not reported at the time. Organisers need to take all code of conduct violations seriously and when necessary act to ensure delegates feel safe.
  • There are loads of examples online that you can use or adapt to your specific event. Here is everything you need. (Thanks Ashe Dryden!!)

A Representative Line-up

  • A representative and diverse line-up of speakers is also a non-negotiable requirement. If an individual chooses to attend an event and is confronted by a line-up of “experts” that are all from a single demographic that they themselves don’t belong to, they are less likely to feel they belong at that event. Imposter syndrome affects us all sometimes, but we can do a hell of a lot to make it better! It’s hard in an industry that is dominated by one demographic but there are plenty of minority speakers out there; it just takes more effort to find them.
  • As an aside, I also don’t think that speakers from underrepresented groups should feel obliged to comment on what it’s like to be part of an underrepresented group. For example women in technology don’t always want to be asked about what it’s like to be a woman in technology. It’s up to them if they want to talk about that.
  • To ensure a diverse line-up you need to do outreach. Plain and simple. If you leave it up to fate, CFP (call for proposals) submissions skew towards the majority and that’s not what you want. Do your research and talk to folks from minority groups who you would like to hear from.
  • TheLeadDev does a great job of this. Meri Williams, co-curator of that conference, has shared her advice on how to broaden your CFP responses here.
  • After that I personally feel that the submissions should be anonymised and then rated by a diverse panel or committee. This creates your shortlist which is then developed into a schedule. You could do a 100% curated event but that will always exclude new voices who have not spoken at conferences before. In my opinion this approach provides a good balance between rating talks based on merit and addressing the need to provide a diverse line-up.

Accessibility

  • The whole event (including socials) should be step free and wheelchair accessible. If you want to create an event where everyone feels equally welcome there should be no spaces which are inaccessible to any delegate.
  • For deaf or hard of hearing people, facilities like live transcribing, sign language interpreters and hearing loops are a necessity. Be sure to provide them.
  • You should also ensure there are non-flimsy chairs including some without arms, for heavier/wider people.
  • Make it clear on the website that you are doing these things to improve accessibility. This will encourage people to think again about attending, where previously they might have dismissed it as an option.
  • Jenny Wong has done an incredible job of this at WordCamp London. You can find Jenny’s slides from FOSDEM on this subject here.

Food and Drink

  • Food should include options for vegetarians, vegans, halal, kosher, gluten free etc. Cultural, religious and ethical differences affect these decisions for individuals and for many it’s non-negotiable (you cannot ask a vegan to eat meat). Therefore it should be non-negotiable for you too. If you want everyone to feel welcome, and if your budget allows, I think catering for everyone is the best option. If budget doesn’t allow it’s better to find a few things that satisfy most requirements (Note: gluten free vegan food will likely be acceptable to almost everyone).
  • Think again about the role of alcohol in your social events. There are a lot of reasons why people don’t drink alcohol — medical conditions and treatments, mental health, religion, pregnancy and breastfeeding to name a few. Your social events should be fun for everyone not just those who want to drink.
  • Breaking news: Fun can be had without alcohol! Why not have a selection of activities at your social to ensure everyone can get involved? For example board games, bowling or lego?
  • Getting drunk can lead to inappropriate behaviour. I have been guilty of having one too many in the past (it’s easily done when you feel like you’re hanging out with old friends) but it’s when the roles were reversed I realised what a problem it could potentially be. I’m quite sure that the guy that followed me around at a conference last summer wouldn’t have behaved like that without the influence of alcohol.

Respect differences and make effort to welcome minorities

  • You need to respect all religious traditions. Try not to schedule your event during Eid or other religious festivals for example. If your venue is large enough set aside one room as a prayer room or mixed religion room.
  • Gender neutral bathrooms help non-binary and trans people feel more comfortable. For many of us this doesn’t even cross our minds, but for those who do worry about it this can be a massive source of stress. By having a gender neutral bathroom, or making all bathrooms gender neutral, you help ensure everyone feels welcome in your technical community. This may require exclusive hire of the venue so you can implement your own signage.
  • Not all of us are great at networking and whilst the listening part of the day can be educational and enlightening the in between bits can be daunting for many of the more introverted people in your community. Provide a quiet space for people to take a time-out. Even I (and if you know me you will be surprised by this) need a few minutes to myself to recharge. Conferences are amazing and exhausting in equal measure.

Folks with Children

  • When childcare is provided on site it removes a barrier for folks with children to attend. This is especially important at weekends, but also should be considered on weekdays for families with young children. Events and conferences can be as much for the kids as the adults if the right facilities are provided.

Finally…

 by the author.

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#HumanOps champion, #HugOps evangelist and recovering #DevOps consultant. Product Manager at @ServerDensity and #DevOpsDays London Organiser

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Hannah Foxwell

Hannah Foxwell

#HumanOps champion, #HugOps evangelist and recovering #DevOps consultant. Product Manager at @ServerDensity and #DevOpsDays London Organiser

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