Improving Long Tech Events: #2 Priority

#2 Priority: Participant And Speaker Diversity

[Fair Warning: The verbiage of this post will likely be revised over the next week to be more accurate and sensitive to the issues, which is different, I hope, than just trying to be politically correct. My apologies in advance for all misleading statements, poorly worded opinions or misinformed viewpoints about a topic that is a hot button for many people, especially those who have been harmed by unfair industry practices or discriminatory social prejudices.]

diverse groupA wide variety of participant and speakers at an event is generally a good thing. That wide variety is often called diversity.

Improving diversity in the USA has traditionally focused on including people from more ethnic backgrounds and women. Although ethnic background still has significant attention, there has been an especially strong focus on “gender equality” in tech for the past couple years. I’m not sure that gender equality is the best or correct term to use at the moment, both in terms of what the specific goal is and what’s politically correct. But the concept is that the best opportunities, jobs, recognition and pay in the computer technology field in the US for the past fifty years or so have been given primarily to white males. And most academic, industry or community tech gatherings were composed primarily of white males.

Gender equality includes issues related to sexual orientations other than heterosexual males and females.

Diversity: More Than Just Gender And Ethnic Group

wheelchair by stepsIn addition to gender and race or ethnic group, participant and speaker diversity criteria include age, nationality, native and secondary languages, physical disability, economic status, work and education backgrounds, and a whole lot more as broken down on Ashe Dryden’s blog post “Increasing Diversity At Your Conference.” Two more blog posts that are good starting points for increasing the diversity at your events are “How To Create A More Diverse Tech Conference” and “How to attract more women to tech conferences.” Google can fetch scads more thought-provoking ideas on this topic. Although many “diversity at tech events” will focus on gender issues, you can often replace the word “women” with the other diversity criteria such as “age” or “ethnic group” and the strategies for attracting a diverse group to the event will work across the whole spectrum of classifications.

Today’s blog post doesn’t attempt to tell you tactics for how to ensure a diverse group of people at your event. The goal of the post is to emphasize the importance of having that diverse group. When an events wrangler wants to make a step change in the diversity of their next event, they should Google for specific diversity issues they’ve prioritized for improvement. Pertinent hits from that Google search will point you at specific ways to address those priority diversity demographics.

In addition to knowing what should be done to attract a diverse population to an event, it helps tremendously to have representatives of the various groups on the event planning team. Trying to be empathetic and imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes helps you see another person’s point of view. But if you fit into one or many of the diversity criteria listed above (not a young, heterosexual, male, white American), you’ll more clearly understand how to attract a more diverse group to an event. If you want more women at an event, have women help plan and promote the event. The same goes for other diversity factors.

Benefits Of Diversity

There are many reasons to have a diverse group of participants and speakers. Those reasons include:

  • benefits of diversityDifferent perspectives as formed by educational background, work experiences, countries/cities/neighborhoods where they’ve lived, social circles in which they grew up, and a whole host of other factors. The different perspectives can help see hidden opportunities, non-obvious solutions to problems and can help you see things in a different light.
  • Varying abilities to relate to and communicate well with certain people or groups.
  • Significantly different people bring more resources and a broader knowledge base to the group.
  • There are very few true Renaissance people; usually people are most effective in one or a few areas and seldom bring deep knowledge and advanced skills in all topics of relevance to the event in which they are participating.
  • Discussions and group projects less likely to have echo chamber effect with diverse participants.
  • Monocultures are detrimental to themselves and to the world around them.

One last suggestion for today is for events wranglers to look at conferences that attract significant numbers of the types of people you want to attract to your event. Conferences that attract many women might have planning, marketing and messaging components you can use to improve your event and attract more women to it (likewise for ethnic group, age groups, etc). Examples of this to consider are WisCon, Open Source Bridge, All Things Open, ORD Camp and FlowCon.

Put extra effort into pulling together as diverse a group of participants and speakers as possible. You might find that extra diversity is one of the keys to your best event ever!

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Posts in this “Improving Long Tech Events” series:

Making Long Tech Events Better
Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities
Improving Long Tech Events: #1 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #2 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #3 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #4 Priority
Improving Long Tech Events: #5 Priority
#6 Priority: Follow-Up For Greater Impact
Priority #7: Storytelling & Documentation
Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities #8 – #13

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