Diversity and Speaking

I'm hoping to do some small part to encourage conference diversity.

Diversity and Speaking

I just returned from NDC London 2017 and, as always, had a lovely time. The conference is consistently well-run and I can’t recommend it enough.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed was the qualititive difference in the energy this year. The NDC team decided to do more this year in terms of addressing gender diversity, and I feel like it showed. They also adopted a very nice code of conduct that didn’t mince words:

NDC is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference without a refund at the discretion of the conference organizers.

In addition, I found one of my favorite people, Jon Skeet, has created a list of requirements for conferences he’s been asked to speak at:

If conferences and user groups don’t want to make any efforts to improve diversity, that’s their choice – but I hope that they’ll find it increasingly difficult to attract good speakers, and I’m going to be a tiny part of that scarcity.

I completely agree.

Endorsing and Adopting These Requirements

I’m completely aware that I’m no Jon Skeet, but I do get invited from time to time to speak at various conferences. Some have done well, others have been a complete mess (in terms of diversity). I want to do what I can to push conference organizers into the “done well” category.

So, to that end I will join Jon in this, and if you’re a speaker I would urge you to consider something similar:

Code of Conduct

Something must be written or published that engages diversity issues of all kinds (not only gender), including what will be done to resolve any problems that arise. The CoC must contain instructions for what to do in case of a problem, who to contact and how. In addition, the existence of this CoC needs to be made prominent. Ideally attendees should be made to agree to this in order to attend. Everyone should feel safe at a conference and if a conference CoC 1) doesn’t exist or 2) isn’t worded in a supportive way I won’t be speaking there.

Posted Reminders for Support

At Øredev this year (a conference in Sweden), I saw notices posted around the venue with a simple sentence:

Feeling harrassed or embarrassed? Need someone to talk to? Just send a note to [email]. For more information, see our Code of Conduct at…

This is an excellent reminder during the course of the conference that 1) help is available if needed and 2) the CoC exists. I will actively encourage (and help as needed) conferences to post signs similar to this throughout the venue.

White Male Panels

I won’t take part in panels (3 or more speakers) that are all white men, even if “just for fun”. There are always ways to include diverse voices (which I’m happy to help with, see below).

Active Steps To Increase Diversity

Diversity issues are deep and complicated. The worst thing you can do is to ignore the problem and shrug it off. If you’re a conference organizer, urge your team to reach out to as many speakers as possible. If you need help finding diverse speakers, ask for it. There are a number of experienced speakers (myself included) who are more than happy to lend a hand, offering names and giving up slots in order to support your efforts.

Prior to accepting any speaking engagement, I will be asking organizers what they’ve done to increase diversity at their conference for both attendees and speakers. I’m more than happy to offer any help I can in this way. If I can be replaced by an under-represented speaker, I will do my best to make it happen.

Helping As I Can

I’ve had the privilege of speaking at a number of conferences over the years. In fact I’ll up that and say that I’m just privileged period. All the same, I’m in a position to help.

To that end, I’ll follow Jon’s lead:

  • Offer to help find diverse speakers for any conference, not just the one’s I’m invited to. I know a number of talented speakers (some seasoned, some just getting started) and I’m happy to refer or, better yet, to replace myself at your conference.
  • Help prepare/fine tune abstracts, slide decks and presentations. If you feel you’re under-represented and need some help, please email me and I will help you as much as I can. If you’re an organizer and would like to send people my way, please do.
  • On-site mentor/co-presenter. If we’re at the same conference and you would like some help, please know the answer is “yes”. If I’m speaking at your conference and you want to offer my help to an under-represented speaker, you’ve got it.

A Thought For The Snarky

As Gary Bernhardt puts it:

… I guess I can say this part directly: I’m very afraid of social justice advocates whose goals are the same as mine

Dont’ be that person. The one who parses/snarks/complains that someone else isn’t helping the right way. I came accross this at the last conference and it’s insanely annoying.

Let’s be supportive on this! We need to come together and snark is bullshit. If you have thoughts or objections on anything you’ve read here, I encourage you to reach out to me and let me know.

If you’re a speaker, I would strongly encourage you to adopt a similar set of requirements. As Jon points out regarding conferences with low diversity:

I hope that they’ll find it increasingly difficult to attract good speakers, and I’m going to be a tiny part of that scarcity.