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6 steps to a more diverse speaker line-up

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If you’re an event organizer in tech, and you’ve not felt the pressure to deliver a diverse lineup of speakers, you’re choosing to live under a rock. The pressure is getting so high that recently GitHub postponed their event after receiving backlash for their all male speaker line up.

What is your duty as an event organizer?

First and foremost your event is a business, it needs to at least break even (such as a non-profit) or make you money. In order to do that you need to attract people to your event. How do we attract people to your event? With great content.

However, it seems most event organizers stop there, and use that as an excuse for why their content offering is skewed primarily to straight white males. It is proven that having a diverse line-up of speakers will bring more people to your event, will give your event a more diverse thought offering, and is a step in the right direction to inspiring others in the typically underrepresented demographics to enter the field or give them courage to submit a talk.

Quite frankly, your obligation as a curator and an organizer is to provide a platform for bringing non-homogenous perspectives to your paying audience.

I believe, as a person who has both had privileges denied because of my sexuality, and also as a person of privilege because of my size and skin colour that it is my moral duty as an event organizer to ensure that I am using my privilege for good to provide a platform to those who don’t normally get one, while still fostering high quality of content.

Here are 6 steps to achieve a more diverse lineup of speakers

  1. Know your content
    Great content is your business, know what you are looking for, write it down, and make it public. This will help you get submissions that align better with your event. Ensure that this submission page has inclusive wording (The Human Rights Campaign has a few articles on this depending what you intend on collecting), encourage the typically underrepresented to submit, and outline how people will be protected at your event.
  2. Identify what diversity looks like and thinks like
    Diversity is more than skin deep, it also means finding a diverse thought offering, and bringing in people from all walks of life that relate to your desired content. This will give your attendees different perspectives, for example if you are looking for a talk on Web Accessibility, why not try and find someone who has to deal with the struggles of an inaccessible web daily? If you’re looking for talks on launching products why not include product people from female, trans, and male demographics and get the different points of views from each? There are resources out there to help you like the Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion.
  3. Reach out
    Just opening up submissions won’t get you more submissions from the typically underrepresented, you actually have to do the leg work and reach out to the communities the people you’re trying to attract are active in. Such as the LGBT Tech slack channel, the CallbackWomen twitter account, and numerous other groups dedicated to providing women, people of colour, indigenous, LGBT and more dedicated spaces and opportunities to grow their career and share their knowledge.
  4. Set your goals
    If you’ve been running a male dominated event for a while it may take you time to get to a goal like equal representation for female/male or for having someone from every walk of life at your event. Even our event is not fully there yet, but you need to show progress. Equality is important. Now this may get you accused of setting quotas and doing whatever it takes to meet them, so this next step is very important.
  5. Content first, speaker second, together third

    Sort through your content and eliminate the content that just doesn’t fit with your event, be a good curator; get help if this isn’t your strong suit.
    Sort through the people who submitted, make sure your submission form provided you with their twitter, or some sort of social so you can investigate how these people act online, eliminate those who’ve used negative language towards women etc. Mark those submissions with bios from speakers who have showcased being on a journey higher than others.
    Put them together again and look at the person and the presentation together, mediocre content can be made better by a speaker with an amazing story to tell and vice versa. Reevaluate your acceptance or decline in relation to your goals for your event.
  6. Nurture the talks you declined from the typically underrepresented
    After all of that, take a look back at the talks that you declined that are from people that identified from underrepresented demographics and give a good hard look into why the content doesn’t work. Ask yourself what would need to change to make this better, and then ask someone else that doesn’t look like you, or sound like you, or come from the same background as you. What would they want to see/hear? Reach out to the speakers and suggest your changes. There is nothing wrong with using your curation expertise to help people better their proposals and potentially get you more content that’s exactly what you’re looking for!

After this process I hope you feel that you have selected someone for their content and story not just their skin colour or implied genitals, that you reached out to ensure you got more submissions from the typically underrepresented demographics, and that you prioritized diversity of thought. Acknowledge that your privilege is not others privilege and everyone has a unique perspective, but it’s time to hear someone else's story for once.

Now it’s important to note that just having a diverse line-up isn’t enough you also need to make sure your event is inclusive. You can read more about that in my other post.

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

This entire process is about temporarily prioritizing other demographics over straight white men until we reach equality. It’s time for someone else to shine, they can’t do that if not given a platform.

Thanks for reading, let me know what you think in the comments, I am sure there will be who don’t agree but please be civil and let's think of ways to make tech events great for everyone! #WhenWeAllWinWeAllWin