Supporting Diversity at Tech Events

As a speaker, as an event organizer, and as a person working in our industry, I’m concerned with diversity. In my view, diversity is an aim unto itself. (“Because it’s 2015,” as Justin Trudeau famously quipped.) Also, in my experience, diverse teams perform better and products and services designed and built by diverse teams are better at addressing the needs of a diverse range of users (i.e. humans).

As noted by Stephen Foreshaw-Cain (then Executive Director of UK Government Digital Service), “there is a gender diversity problem in the digital industry.” I was inspired by Stephen’s post and by GDS’s commitment to diversity. That’s because as an event organiser myself I’ve seen the difference that paying attention to gender diversity can make. At the Over the Air event which I have been co-organising for the last 9 years, we found that when we made gender diversity amongst speakers a priority we ended up with a more diverse set of attendees. Tech events are a highly visible face of the tech industry. They’re also a place where people go to further their careers and to be exposed to new ideas. And yes, although this post focuses on gender diversity, we know that gender is not the only axis for which diversity is an issue in tech. These events need to be inclusive and need to feel welcoming to all people no matter their gender, race, religion, national origin, disability or any other factor. Any organisation that participates in tech events needs be pay attention to these issues and work to make these events more diverse and more welcoming.

That is why we have signed up to support the Diversity Charter for technology events.

Specifically, we intend to support gender diversity in the following ways (cribbed heavily from Mr. Foreshaw-Cain for which I hope he will forgive me):

  • Our team will not take part in panel discussions of two or more people unless there is at least one woman on the panel, not including the chair.
  • We will not speak at or sponsor an event unless the event’s organisers are clearly working hard to address gender diversity on stage.
  • We will not participate in or sponsor events unless they operate under a published code of conduct, such as the crowd-sourced conference code of conduct or hack code of conduct.

We’ll try to hold ourselves to the same standards where our team is the host, for internal and public events as well.

This team is just starting out. In two weeks, we’re going to be sponsoring our first conference, ffconf in Brighton. It’s an event that makes a point of supporting diversity and has a strong track record of doing so. We’re proud to be a supporter and we look forward to supporting more conferences and events that take a similar approach.