Inclusion up and to the right: how we’re improving Hear + Now tech talks

tl;dr Square WomEng cares about inclusion, which is why we’re acknowledging how our tech talk series Hear + Now has failed to be as inclusive as we’d like, and committing to improvements.

Hear + Now is a quarterly tech talk series hosted by Square WomEng. When we first started Hear + Now a year ago, we were focused on creating a space for engineers who identified primarily as women to have their voices heard. We’ve had some really amazing women speak about their experiences and their areas of expertise — from first-time speakers to women seasoned on the conference circuit!

At every Hear + Now, we leave plenty of time for mingling and discussion. We know that the women engineers and allies who come to our events are all inspiring in their own right, and we love creating a space for them to meet each other and share their stories.

That’s cool and all, but…

I have really enjoyed both hosting and attending Hear + Now events this past year, but after speaking at AlterConf Portland earlier this month, I began to think about Hear + Now a bit differently.

First of all, I was incredibly inspired by the way that AlterConf approaches inclusion. A few of the things that really stuck out to me:

  • Asking everyone to wear stickers with their preferred pronouns
  • Providing ASL interpreters and live captioning by default
  • Guaranteeing that all physical spaces (including aisles!) are fully ADA compliant and wheelchair accessible
  • Ensuring all bathrooms are gender-neutral
  • Obtaining personal consent from every speaker for the level of media exposure they were comfortable with, and alerting the audience before each talk (i.e., “you can tweet, but please no photos or videos”)
  • Providing free childcare

Needless to say, I learned so much from all of the speakers at the conference, as well as the incredibly thoughtful way the event itself was run.

Reflecting on what I had heard and seen after the conference, I realized with a sinking feeling that the way that we had been running Hear + Now was unintentionally excluding a lot of people who are marginalized and underrepresented in tech.

In particular, I considered the way we marketed the event for “women engineers and our allies,” and realized that this excluded people who identify as non-binary or trans. If we didn’t intentionally indicate that trans women and non-binary people were welcome, would they feel safe and comfortable joining us? With our focus on one marginalized identity (being a woman in tech), were we asking attendees with multiple, intersecting marginalized identities to minimize parts of their identities? Did queer women of color feel that they could bring their whole selves to Hear + Now?

I learned at AlterConf that trans men can lose access to women-in-tech communities and resources as they transition. By reserving our event for women, we were denying trans men access to this space, or asking them to attend as our allies.

What about other men with marginalized identities, like men of color or men with disabilities? They could also use a space for their voices to be heard — and we weren’t providing that kind of platform for them with Hear + Now.

The changes we’re making

I returned to Square determined to make some changes and transform Hear + Now into a more inclusive place.

When I first proposed these changes to the rest of our WomEng leadership group, I was worried I might have to defend or explain them. Instead, each proposal was met with enthusiasm and support from our leadership team, the rest of WomEng members, and our allies. Every individual’s response was, “Yes, this is the right thing to do, and I am so excited that we’re making these changes.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised — Squares are a pretty amazing group of people. So I am excited to announce that we are committing to the following updates to Hear + Now.

We are expanding the scope of Hear + Now to create a space for everyone who identifies as having a marginalized identity to speak and be heard, and for our allies to come alongside us and listen.
  • We will allow and encourage women, men, and non-binary people with marginalized identities to speak at Hear + Now.
  • We will ask that everyone who applies to speak would self-identify as marginalized, but we will not enforce this ourselves or police identities.
  • We will not serve alcohol at Hear + Now to create a more inclusive space for people who choose not to drink, or who are not comfortable around other people imbibing.
  • We will pay all our speakers to support these communities and to stop asking for unpaid diversity labor.
  • We will keep the theme of Hear + Now focused on technical topics, particularly since underrepresented people are far too often asked to speak about diversity only.

One question you may have at this point: what counts as a marginalized identity in tech? The short answer is any part of your identity that results in systematic discrimination or oppression. AlterConf has a pretty great list of marginalized groups in their speaker application. Since we won’t be policing people’s identities, we aren’t going to require you to disclose why you identify as marginalized — we don’t want to negate anyone’s experiences, and we trust our community.

Join us!

Whether you’re a repeat attendee of Hear + Now, or this is the first time you’ve heard of us, we would love for you to join our next event!

We’ll resume our regular tech talk series in 2017, but in the meantime we’re holding a discussion night on Wednesday, November 30. If you are a person with a marginalized identity and/or you identify as an ally, we would love to see you there!

Can’t make it to the next event? Join our newsletter for updates from Square WomEng about Hear + Now and calls for speakers.

Interested in previous talks? Check out a few videos here.

We’re excited about the ways that we’re making Hear + Now a more inclusive space, but we recognize there is always room for improvement. If you have any recommendations or concerns, I would love to hear from you. Find me on Twitter (@mariechatfield) or send me an email (marie@squareup.com).