Organizing Inclusive Community Events

Ideas for local community organizers inspired by Ela Conf.

I had the opportunity to attend Ela Conf for the 3rd year in a row last month. Ela Conf, is “a safe, inclusive tech leadership conference and community for adult (18+) women (cis and trans), trans men, and genderqueer people to connect with and empower one another.” The annual conference is a weekend filled with inspiring talks and valuable leadership workshops. The online community that continues year-round on Slack and in person is what makes Ela Conf one of a kind. Inclusivity is at the heart of the mission and the conference this year was no exception.

I spend my free time organizing events and classes for Girl Develop It NYC. Our mission is to create a judgment-free, learning environment where all our attendees feel welcome and included. As an organizer, I know it’s easy to get caught up planning the logistics of an event and forget to focus on the smaller details. One of my many takeaways from Ela Conf is how important it is to prioritize creating a safe, inclusive atmosphere for your attendees. I spotted so many examples of this at Ela Conf this year and it was awesome to see what a difference this made during the conference. Whether it was the audience cheering for first-time speakers or attendees feeling comfortable enough to share their vulnerabilities on stage, it was refreshing to be apart of an event like this.

Here are just a few of the ways Ela Conf goes above and beyond to organize inclusive community events:

1. Speaker selection

Speaker selection is a huge part of any large conference. The speaker lineup at Ela Conf was extremely diverse and there was a focus on leveling up first-time speakers. This started with the CFP which you can read about here. Speakers were offered lodging, travel and childcare stipends. Also, speaker mentors were available for new (or experienced) speakers.

2. Registration

The first in-person contact attendees have with your event is usually the registration table. The registration table can set the tone for your whole event when attendees first walk in. I was greeted by smiling faces, candy and emoji stickers at the Ela Conf registration table. My favorite part was providing pronoun stickers for people to add to their nametags.

They also included different color lanyards if you didn’t want to be included in pictures or videos during the event. This made it very easy for the photographer and videographer to respect attendee’s privacy.

3. Conference Environment

Having dedicated a gender-neutral bathroom on site is an easy way to make sure your trans men and women attendees can feel comfortable.

Another thoughtful detail was having the bathrooms stocked with basic toiletries.

4. Code of Conduct

Finally, having a Code of Conduct that states what attendees of the conference are agreeing to and outlines the consequences of breaking this agreement is incredibly important for all events and organizations to have. It is sad that organizers need to state “We do not tolerate harassment of participants in any form.” But this is something that organizers need to be prepared to deal with and having this in written form can really make a difference if a problem occurs.

I also want to give a huge shoutout to the Ela Organizers, volunteers and all the speakers at this conference! They were all incredible and there was an overwhelming theme of “you belong” radiating from everyone. I’m so proud to be part of this community and have the opportunity to share the impact they are making in this post!

If you are an organizer for a local meet up or run larger events in the tech community, I challenge you to prioritize diversity and inclusivity as you are planning your next event. Being “too risky” is never an excuse for not doing the right thing. Let’s keep this conversation open, what are other suggestions for creating more inclusive community events?