Improving Event Diversity and Inclusivity

21 Suggestions For Event Organisers

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Event diversity and inclusivity is a big topic at the moment as there is more widespread recognition than ever before of the privileges some people have that others do not. There is now even a Diversity Charter that event organisers, speakers, individuals, employers, sponsors and venues can sign to show that they are committed to making things better for everyone.

As events come to learn that it is important to attract both speakers and attendees regardless of gender, social background, beliefs, or disability they should be aiming to create spaces where everyone feels safe and welcomed.

The suggestions that follow can go some way to achieving that. These ideas could affect the decision of anyone considering attending an event — this isn’t just about making your event accessible and inclusive for particular underrepresented groups. Knowing that an event has made efforts to improve diversity and inclusivity can be an incentive for everyone.

1. Have a Code of Conduct

“A code of conduct is important because it […] acts as a guideline for ethical decision making, enhances the reputation of an organization, prevents negative legal effects, encourages positive relationships, acts as a reference for solving ethical dilemmas and prevents discrimination or harassment. A code of ethics highlights the values which members of an organization or group must uphold.”

reference.com

If you don’t know where to start when writing a CoC for your event, try confcodeofconduct.com which has a pre-written CoC already translated into several languages.

2. Include trans people in your CoC

Fortunately, the CoC at confcodeofconduct.com does use inclusive language regarding gender identity and expression, but if you’re going to write your own, this is something that can be easily overlooked.

The use of inclusive language itself is something that the CoC doesn’t explicitly address (although you could include a clause), but it is definitely something that organisers should encourage. If you address an audience, or recipients of a mail shot with “Hi, guys!”, you’re using language which excludes anyone who doesn’t identify as male — there are many alternatives which are more inclusive: “Hi, folks!”, “Hi, all!”, “Hi, everybody!” — “Hi, Doctor Nick!” — The Simpsons have had a character using inclusive language since 1989!

3. Venue staff must also abide by the CoC

Regarding the labelling of t-shirts themselves and why I choose to call them “fitted t-shirts” rather than “women’s t-shirts”, Terence Eden has written a good blog post on “The Gender Politics of Conference T-Shirts”.

4. Have a visible point of contact for CoC violations

5. Members of underrepresented groups on the organising team

6. Reach out to and discuss with underrepresented groups

7. Special rates for underrepresented groups

8. Host an underrepresented group sub-conference

By welcoming a themed hack day or similar kind of event to be part of your conference and offering the attendees of that free event access to the rest of the conference, you build good sentiment among those attendees. You also offer exposure to a topic they might not otherwise have considered.

9. Name Badges — Titles and Pronouns

Personally, I along with many other non-binary people, prefer the pronouns they/them. The obvious place to make that apparent to other attendees is on the name badges. If you’re going to pre-print badges for everyone allow them to enter whatever they want to be known by in the sign-up process, bearing in mind that the design of an inclusive input form is not trivial. More simply, you can just allow people to write their own name badges.

10. Gender Neutral Toilets

11. Tampon Club

12. Flexible subject matter

This can be remedied by arranging talks or workshops which will be understood by anyone without an in depth background, making it clear that your event is intended for anyone with an interest in the subject. The novice attendees that you educate and inform may be the experienced attendees of the future, and come, in time, to contribute to the community your event serves.

13. Audio loops for people with hearing loss

14. Sign language interpreters

15. Transcriptions & Captioning

Transcriptions can be useful for all attendees who want to go back and review a session more quickly than by re-watching it. It also makes the presentations searchable and more accessible for both people with hearing loss and people for whom the session was not in their native language.

If you want to go even further, there is at least one company that provides a live captioning service which Render conference recently had great success with.

16. Use an accessible venue (and make sure spaces remain accessible)

Flooring can also be a problem — carpets may be a drag on wheels, while surfaces that are too smooth can be a slip hazard and uneven surfaces can be dangerous too (is the entrance to your venue on a cobbled street?). When laying out seating, arranging cables and even when setting up sponsor displays, remember not to block access or create trip-hazards for anyone!

17. Reserved seating for people with mobility issues

Reserved seating should also include gaps for anyone using a wheelchair. Many larger venues may have already defined, accessible seating due to legal requirements but when planning for smaller venues where you may have to organise the seating yourself, this is something that can be overlooked.

18. Out of session seating for all attendees

I’ve been to events where the only common spaces between sessions had sparse (or non-existent) seating — leading to a predominantly standing-only crowd. For those with back problems or any kind of mobility problem this can be a very difficult situation to feel comfortable in (consider that those who use wheelchairs may find that the simple height difference hinders conversation making it socially uncomfortable).

19. Signpost and highlight accessible features

If someone requires a particular feature, they shouldn’t be left wondering where to find it — or if it even exists. Ideally the existence and non-existence of any accessibility features would be highlighted on the event web site, so that the people who require them can make an informed choice over whether or not they are able to attend.

20. Help or encourage speakers to give accessible presentations

Offering to review presentations, and suggesting modifications to make them more accessible, can also help to ensure everyone can equally enjoy the content your event offers to the community it serves.

21. Childcare (Consideration for Parents)

The provision of childcare is something that, through my own privilege of not being a parent, I initially forgot to include. I add it here at the end not because it is least important.

Some people in the community your event serves will have children and a lack of consideration for those parents may prevent them from being able to attend. Ideally this consideration should go beyond childcare (which may be legally and financially problematic for smaller events). Those parents who do attend may not be able to get as much out of your event if, for example, your networking sessions are all after hours when they may have other responsibilities.

This list is most definitely not intended to be exhaustive so I very much encourage people to add to it in the comments.

Written by

Non-binary (she/her), dev and science womble. Loves to learn about a wide range of sciences and see if she can make good use of the things that she finds.

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