Reducing barriers to make technology conferences diverse.

Enabling participation from women and persons of non-binary gender.

As someone who has curated over 50 tech conferences in eight years and seen more than 2,000 individuals grow (in their careers and personal lives) as a result of sharing their work, I am always stuck at the point where I find few to no women (and persons of non-binary genders) submitting proposals to speak at conferences.

“Take the extra grit to open yourself up for criticism (on your talk at an upcoming conference) even when you are already having a tough time proving your technical expertise at work. Be your own power.

The purpose of this post is not to repeat the reasons why women don’t speak at (and attend) conferences. Instead, I want to suggest some pointers which you — as a manager, as a founder, as someone who is in a decision-making position in your organization — can do to promote diversity and enable greater participation from women and non-binary genders at technology conferences:

  1. Speaking at a conference helps a technologist become a better practitioner. At HasGeek conferences, we put every shortlisted proposal through a review and mentorship process. This helps (potential) speaker(s) to think through problem-solving approaches and articulate the problem (they are trying to solve) more clearly. This feedback process reflects on the speaker’s practice, and gets better when a speaker repeats her talk in more conferences and gets more feedback from the community.
  2. Mentorship, especially from women, for women, has a positive impact for diversity. If you are in a leadership position in your organizaton/community, offer to mentor women and persons of non-binary gender who want to speak at conferences.
    If you can’t mentor, nudge your colleagues periodically to submit proposals to conferences. A nudge goes a long way, especially in moving beyond the initial inertia and imposter syndrome.
  3. Give critical feedback, not criticism. A potential speaker actively seeks feedback and mentorship. As colleagues, offer frank and threadbare feedback. But be watchful of your tone (and intent) to prevent the feedback from coming across as harsh, negative criticism. Negative criticism is debilitating, and mars self-confidence.

As women and persons of non-binary genders, here’s what you could consider when it comes to speaking (and attending) conferences:

  1. Speaking is a path for self-growth, even if it does not result in immediate career advancement.
  2. As a former (woman) speaker mentioned this morning, “take the extra grit to open yourself up for criticism (on your talk at an upcoming conference) even when you are already having a tough time proving your technical expertise at work. Be your own power.
  3. Speak for the community. When a woman and/or person of non-binary gender gets on stage to speak, they inspire others like themselves. As recently as January 2019, we found that Arwa Lokhandwala’s talk at ReactFoo Mumbai inspired Navya Agarwal to present her work with GraphQL at JSFoo Pune.

If you are inspired to submit a proposal to speak (and put out a word in the communities you are connected with), here are women you can reach out to for review and feedback for your abstracts/talks:

  1. Pavithra Kodmad — https://twitter.com/PKodmad
  2. Jyotsna Gupta — https://twitter.com/imJenal
  3. Preeti Wadhwani — https://twitter.com/pwadhwani2592
  4. Ankita Goyal — https://twitter.com/goyalankita35
  5. Manjula Dube — https://twitter.com/manjula_dube
  6. Dipti Gandhi — https://twitter.com/MellowDipti

On that note, we are accepting proposals for a host of conferences. Check out the list of upcoming conferences on https://hasgeek.com

Write to us on info@hasgeek.com if you have questions about the submission/review process.

[With gratitude to Jyotsna Gupta, Pavithra Kodmad and Abhishek Koserwal for their inputs in shaping this blog post.]