The most diverse and inclusive tech conference of its kind?
With the first State of Open Con just around the corner, it’s time to reflect on our original goal of making it “the most diverse and inclusive tech conference of its kind”. Have we been successful? Will the conference reflect the inclusive and accessible community that represents the diversity of the tech industry? Or will the conference be a series of “manels”?
Of course, we won’t know how successful we would have been with regards to our ambitious objective until the conference’s conclusion. Meanwhile, let me share some observations and lessons learned.
When you contemplate running a “diverse” conference, you may, like me, think first of speaker diversity. While some conferences have a specific track dedicated to “community” or “DEI” sessions, we decided to go beyond and to include Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the fabric of the session content, starting with the proposal evaluation.
Sessions that promote community inclusivity (which is, after all, one of the core benefits of Open Technology) and sessions submitted by individuals from underrepresented groups would get extra points during scoring.
We would also gently encourage white male co-presenters if one of them could give way to, let’s say, an equally competent female colleague (“manels” are not inevitable – they are just lazy).
The result is a conference line-up that is not only made up of excellent speakers but is particularly diverse (considering the overall demographics of the tech industry).
We are not satisfied though – the line-up could do with more people of colour and is still dominated by men. For SoO 2024, we will start earlier to actively seek out and invite speakers and attendees from underrepresented groups.
Once you’ve got a diverse set of speakers, you start thinking about the practical attendee experience – will there be food catering for various food requirements? Will the venue be accessible (yes, the venue itself was selected because of its accessibility facilities – parking facilities, disabled toilet facilities, induction loops, etc…)? Is there a Code of Conduct (yes)? If something happens, how can attendees report violations of the code of conduct (by-email or by contacting any member of the event team)?
Having a diverse organisational team matters when planning a conference. Several members of OpenUK are neuro-divergent and highlighted the need for a quiet room (for people with neurodivergent conditions like dyslexia, autism and ADHD, the bustle and noise can be a great hindrance). We have both a quite corridor and a space where people can relax with appropriate lighting as well as co-working spaces.
What we may not think about is the people who won’t be there. I am not just referring to the folks who are remote and cannot join – the sessions will be live streamed and recorded – but the people who won’t be there because…they were not invited.
I am referring to the demographic that may not even hear about the conference (if you only promote it on LinkedIn, you will miss out on students who don’t tend to consult this social medium).
I am referring to the parents of young children who may not be able to arrange or afford childcare.
I am referring to the folks who simply cannot afford the fee, perhaps because they have been impacted by the recent tech lay-offs.
This is why you will find a creche, a nursing room and even a doggy day care facility at the venue. This is also why we decided to give away 100 tickets to folks that are between jobs and why we will be hosting a job board throughout the conference.
While we know we have room to get better, we were delighted to have recently been awarded a Gold Badge from CHAOSS, for our efforts towards Diversity & Inclusivity.
See you all next week!