Diversity, Inclusion and Representation in the EuroIA Community
For the past year I’ve been planning the EuroIA conference with my fellow co-chairs Jason Mesut and Katharina Staszkow. The events of 2020 mean the digital event we’re running in a few weeks is very different from the one we envisaged. Those events continue to impact so many people in so many different ways. As is hopefully clear from the title, I’m not going to try and address all of them here.
The death of George Floyd (and countless others), the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests around the world and the continuing public outcry over racial injustices have rightly affected all of us.
I can’t even begin to understand how it feels to be a victimised due to the colour of my skin and am still early in my own anti-racist learning. This blog post isn’t intended to be about signalling allyship, it’s about what we’re doing in our own communities to try and make a difference.
Recognising the challenge
Our first meeting as co-chairs at the 2019 conference in Riga was with Vanessa Foss of Kunverj. In that first conversation, we talked about diversity amongst both our speakers and attendees. Although EuroIA doesn’t currently conduct any kind of diversity and equality monitoring, Vanessa said:
“When it comes to people of colour we don’t need a survey. We can see with our eyes. They aren’t here.”
Vanessa also raised the fact that “diversity” can be interpreted in many ways beyond race, especially in Europe where each country has its own communities and culture.
As co-chairs, we took note and resolved to be extra strict with the double-blind talk review process to mitigate any unconscious bias for the 2020 event.
Then, a pandemic
We’d opened submissions in early 2020 and were due to close them in late March. Covid-19 threw all of our deadlines out of the window. Submission and review deadlines for programme talks and workshops were quietly extended.
Before we even looked at the talks and workshops shortlist, we’d already shortlisted our Keynote speakers based on their track record of delivering inspiring, thought provoking content at previous events. The fact that two of them happened to be people of colour barely registered in our decision-making process beyond recognising that it was a good thing.
When we finally selected the highest-rated programme submissions and revealed their identities, it quickly became clear that racial diversity was almost non-existent. We were faced with an uncomfortable truth: that having a double-blind review process is useless if your pipeline is non-diverse from the outset.
To be sure, I doubled back and went through every person on close to 200 submissions. As far as was possible, I looked them up online to search for Black, Brown or other ethnic minority faces. I found almost zero.
We couldn’t stand by and do nothing amidst everything that has happened this year. We knew we needed to take action in time for the 2020 event so that the community could start becoming more diverse in time for a physical event becoming possible again.
Over in the USA, our friends the Information Architecture Conference (IAC) shared their thoughts on diversity and inclusion. They reiterated the solution we were discussing: to create the opportunity for more people from diverse backgrounds to attend EuroIA and become part of our community.
The EuroIA Scholarship Programme
EuroIA already runs a student scholarship programme funded by donations our community. For 2020, we are expanding the scholarship programme so that at least 50% of the funds raised will cover attendance for people from underrepresented groups.
We know that this won’t be a solution to the imbalance currently present. Fostering a truly diverse community will take considered action for the foreseeable future. For this reason, I’m making two additional commitments:
- After my tenure as co-chair is over, I’ll continue to volunteer my time to developing and supporting the scholarship programme (until at least the conclusion of the 2021 event).
- We’ll introduce diversity and equality monitoring for the 2020 event, and publicly publish the results. The goal is to give the EuroIA advisory board and the 2021 co-chairs some real information to address the question of what diversity means for our community.
We have a long way to go. We won’t get this right all the time, and we definitely won’t even get close to “getting it right” until the community better reflects people from every corner of society. We hope this is the start of that.
You can read more about and apply for our scholarship programme over at the EuroIA website.
Special thanks to everyone that has already donated to our scholarship programme, including David Aragones, Liisa Benmergui, Peter Boersma, Hertje Brodersen, Rainer Sax and plenty more who wish to remain anonymous.
If you would like to donate to our scholarship programme, you can do so as part of your registration, or independently by selecting the “Scholarship donation only” ticket type.