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10 Things you can do to Foster Diversity and Inclusion at Your Next Tech Event.

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The Stats, Importance, and What you can do About it

As event organizers we give back to the community a lot. Often through our own set of ideals and goals. Personally I try to involve the LGBT community in everything I create. In the tech industry, however, there is a massive gap in representation of women, and even further gaps for other demographics. There are things we can be doing in addition to our own goals to help close those gaps.

The Statistics of Women in STEM

Statistics Canada released a new report focusing on Women and their education, and another on STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and computers).

A lot of effort has gone into encouraging young women to pursue more degrees than ever before and the stats show it’s working. The proportion of women with a degree has grown from 15% in 2005 to 35% in 2011(Source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14640-eng.htm)

However, STEM degrees are much lower: 33% of the Canadian women population with degrees have one in STEM (Source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14640-eng.htm)

Further concerning to these stats is the breakdown of where the STEM degree holders are working:

“Among STEM graduates aged 25 to 34, women accounted for 59% of those in science and technology programs, but accounted for 23% of those who graduated from engineering and 30% of those who graduated from mathematics and computer science programs.” — http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11874-eng.htm

Let’s recap: 50% of Canadians, all ages are female, 35% of women 25–64 have a university degree, of them 33% have a degree in STEM, of them 30% are in Math and Computers. That is abysmal! This makes it very difficult to sustain a gender balance at events with a niche focus within computers.

These low numbers however haven’t stopped events from trying to close that gap with existing talent and encouraging new talent! Many events in the last few years have implemented policies to foster diversity and inclusion.

How much it cost us to make more attendees feel safe and welcome at .concat() 2015

Why is closing the gender gap important?

There are two main economical wins for getting more women, and more representation in STEM, especially in Computers.

“[..] skills lead to improvements in the standard of living and are central to innovation and productivity growth.”- http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14640-eng.htm

Increasing the standard of living affects us all; think of this in terms of innovation, what does a woman bring to the table when it comes to innovating on products? Especially on tech products! How does their unique perspective bring on a new era of products and services that help them and us all? When we make life easier it makes it easier to start focusing on the next pain point, or even ripple effect to helping everyone!

“[..] a STEM degree would lead to better labour market conditions and higher earnings, especially for those with a background in engineering and computer science.”- http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14640-eng.htm

The other part of the economy that comes into play is, money. STEM careers pay well, getting more people into STEM and more money flowing is a great thing. More money going towards initiatives to teach girls to code, get young women into apprenticeships, and more can all happen through people who support these iniatives having more money to spend on them.

Fostering Inclusion through Diversity

The other important factor to closing the gender gap and having better representation from the typically underrepresented is inclusion.

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A lot of companies and events have initiatives to increase their diversity, great! These fall short if the people you are attracting don’t feel included. (http://www.growthbusiness.co.uk/growing-a-business/human-resources/2540531/why-hiring-minorities-wonand39t-help-your-diversity-cause.thtml)

It’s important for the sustainability of closing the gaps that we are continuously working towards inclusion. When we work to promote safe spaces, spaces that are accessible, spaces that are accommodating to the needs and differences of others, along with listening — then we really start to make a difference.

10 Things You can do:

Credit: https://unsplash.com/@flenjoore

As a leader there are some very easy things you can do to make sure your event is inclusive.

  1. Consult with the demographics you’re trying to attract
    There is a lot of work you can do on your own within your organization to solicit change, however, you should always keep in mind the privilege you may have blinding you. Keep yourself and your organization in check by consulting outsiders that belong to the demographics you are trying to attract, ask them about their pain points with events like yours and work with them to develop ways you can improve. Even include them on your organizing committee.
  2. Have a Code of Conduct
    A code of conduct acts as rules and guidelines for everyone in attendance at an event to follow. These should outline prohibited activities, provide reminders of how to behave, and provide instructions for people seeking protection to get help. Most importantly make sure all of your volunteers, staff and speakers know how to enforce the policies. Here is an example code of conduct you can implement: http://confcodeofconduct.com/
  3. Complete Diversity and Inclusion Training Programs
    Put yourself, staff, speakers, and volunteers through a diversity and inclusion program. These programs are designed to teach you about the concerns of other underrepresented groups that you may not have been aware of. They teach you about respecting differences, and dealing with hard situations. There are many free resources online and courses available through Toronto’s 519 Community Centre: http://www.the519.org/education-training and don’t forget your requirements by law in Canada for accessibility: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/learning/working-together-code-and-aoda
  4. Reach Out
    You have to put some extra work into reaching out and spreading your call for proposals, or job description to resources that help spread the word to the underrepresented. You may even have to get some help from outside of the country to inspire more from inside the country to submit and pursue public speaking. Here are a few services you can utilize to increase your chances of receiving a more diverse set of submissions: http://www.callbackwomen.com/ , https://www.ziversity.com/ , http://lgbtq.technology/
  5. Be Accommodating
    No one should be expected to come speak at your event for free, or attend alone. If you really care about closing the gap you need to put your money where your mouth is and budget. Cover travel and hotel for your speakers and allow them to bring their family. Have areas available for nursing, and if possible day care services. Set aside a budget for accommodating the needs of the underrepresented.
  6. Market Appropriately
    Images of people enjoying events, or on the job are used all the time in marketing materials, however, did you stop to think about how that shows off your event to others? Avoid using imagery in your marketing that will deter people from attending or submitting; such as all white males. At the same time don’t exploit someones demographic for your gain either.
    Everyone wants to be appreciated for their talent. A great example of how to market for inclusion is to advertise with content attached; such as their talk title or the company they work for. This showcases to younger audiences that a career is possible especially with the dream names like Google, Twitter, Microsoft, etc.
  7. Keep Track of Progress
    Keep data on how you are doing, track how many submission you have over previous years from every demographic, keep track of how people are identifying over time, and any other data point you can. However, be careful on sharing statistics about your efforts. Ensure just like with marketing you aren’t excluding representation with your share. Most importantly when it comes to your statistics ASSUME NOTHING, never guess someones gender, never guess if they identify as a person of colour, never guess, always ask, always collect this information in an appropriate opt-in fashion, here is a resource on collecting more inclusive demographic data: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/geniuss-report-sep-2014.pdf
  8. Foster Champions, Connect People
    A big part of closing the gaps is showcasing to younger audiences that they can make a difference in a STEM role, and showing other adults they can too. Work with the speakers and attendees that you have to connect them with initiatives and people who focus on education for younger audiences or public speaking. To sustain your business you need to ensure younger generations are being educated. Great initiatives to get connected with to share information across are: http://ladieslearningcode.com/program/girls-learning-code/ , https://www.womenwhocode.com/ , http://techsdale.ca/
  9. Stay Strong
    Tackling these issues isn’t easy, it’s an extremely bumpy road. There will be haters along the way that spread misinformation, folks that want to force their goals on you, and people that ignore all the work you’ve done and plan to do. You have to stay strong, when called out take time to reflect, what’s working and what’s not, consult your plan and make sure it’s on track, and consult others all over again. It’s important to have a process you trust to keep you on track, don’t get discouraged. Spend your time on making a difference.
  10. Care
    Last but not least is to care. You’ve read the stats, you know there is an issue, you’ve seen the research, you know increasing representation will lead to boosts in the economy and boost in how people feel at your event or in your company. Feeling included and having money to spend are great things for your business and others.

It’s not going to be easy trying to create an inclusive space, however, with hard work and working your way forward it is possible. Remember these things take time, nothing changes over night, and never lose sight of how far you have come, and your goals for an inclusive environment.

Let me know what you’re doing!

Please leave a comment about what your organization has being doing to build and inclusive tech community!

Further Reading