Be The Change
The short story is: I have resigned from my position as Community Manager with Codemotion Dublin.
The long story is as follows:
I believe all humans can and should participate in technology.
I believe technology is at its best when it’s connecting people.
I believe participation and inclusion matters.
I believe representation matters.
In Wiccan circles, there’s a call and answer, a kind of mantra, for beginners:
Do you believe in magic?
Do you believe in chairs?
The idea being that magic is as obvious, tangible and definite as the objects around us, like chairs and tables and breakfast food. It does not require belief, but rather is.
I not only believe that representation matters, I aim to move representation into the realm of the obvious, tangible and definite. Belief in representation is not enough. Actions that create it are what matters.
I aim to move this conversation from “Why do we need diversity?”/ “3 women were on stage!” / “Do women have talent?” / “Not all men” to “A technology conference happened.” Inherent in that statement would be that all types of humans were represented, valued for their work and were also present in the room at large. It would be so unremarkable as to not even have a remark on gender/race/age/able-bodied vs. not, because true representation is the norm and the remarkable thing would be the intellectual output and shared experiences.
It’s a tough road and we’ve all got a lot of work to do before that’s true.
Codemotion is an internationally run conference with a solid track record of working with communities in the cities they land in. It’s a tech-focused conference, language agnostic and grabs some of the biggest, brightest and best speakers from the circuit.
I love their t-shirts and their tagline:
It resonates with the open data work I did out of the People & Code offices alongside many groups in Toronto (these stickers were everywhere):
When I was recruited as Community Manager, the Dublin Codemotion site had 4 speakers listed: 2 ladies, 2 men. Excellent!
The Ireland Project Manager who reached out to me had worked in Cork at a major tech company there and was well-versed in the Irish tech scene. The Ambassadors we had working with us were actively involved in diversity work and were also vital members of the Irish tech community.
I was overjoyed and excited that Codemotion had such a great history and such an excellent team in Ireland and was ecstatic that I would be the Community Manager.
As we got out in the community, the initial feedback was great: many people had had wonderful experiences at other Codemotion events across Europe.
While I was sitting in Inspirefest, absorbing all the good vibes, excitement, inspiration and serious meaty material on stage, this tweet came through my feed:
And, after some chatting about it, this:
DigiWomen is a strong, vibrant, transparent social enterprise talking and taking action on all things ladies and tech in Ireland. You can learn more here. I’ve personally run into the formidable, lovely and very articulate Pauline Sargent, who is a face and voice of DigiWomen. When the feedback came through, I immediately brought it to the attention of the organizers.
The organizers did 2 things:
Hi @DigiWomenIRL ! Right now we have 2 women keynoting and working on free slots. We support women! http://dublin2016.codemotionworld.com/code-of-conduct/ ... @Naomi_Freeman
2. Explained to me that women speakers hadn’t submitted to the conference.
My immediate feelings and reaction to both of these went something like this:
See, here it’s no longer even just about diversity. Now we’re getting into the heart of my title: Community Manager.
To understand the role, we have to first understand what community is.
Trusty old Wikipedia has a couple of thoughts on the word:
Community: a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common
Community: the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common
The title says most of it upfront: community managers build relationships, within a community. It’s not about just talking at the community and selling them something. He goes on to say,
The most important part of the role is advocating for the customer, or potential customer. This is why I like the title “Advocate”, it cuts both ways. You are an advocate both to, and for, your customers and potential customers.
As an advocate, you are the person (or one of the people) closest to your customers. You attend the same events, you go out to eat and drink together, you attend the after parties together, and you commiserate the early morning afters. You also have conversations, about life, news, the weather, and work.
You hear their gripes and you are the conduit for upcoming news that affects them, negatively or positively.
I firmly believe that the most vital part of the role is creating a feedback loop,
directly from your customers to your product team. Your job is to aggregate requests (“I’ve been 14 events so far this year and every time someone has asked about X”), spot trends (“Lots of people are starting to talk about Y, here’s what it might mean for us”), and raise concerns (“People find this part of our product confusing because Z”).
If your community team does not have a direct line back to your product team you are missing out on the most valuable information they are collecting.
In our case, with DigiWomen and the organizers, I played my role as a Community Manager and as the link in the feedback loop between the two. The response I got back directly ignored the feedback of the community.
This was not the only case of this kind of feedback from the community via the team in Ireland to the organizers being ignored. We heard concerns regarding privacy, the timing of the event, the lack of Irish Senior level engagement, among other things.
In my role, the community voice is all that matters, and as far as I’m concerned, the community has spoken and leaving is the right decision in the face of Codemotion taking no action.
The entirety of the community team in Ireland, both above and below me, has dissolved, each of their own accord and for their own set of reasons. This post reflects where my decision is coming from.
Now you’ve read my story, what can you do for your events?
And then Sabrina Dent has a few good ideas in this blog post from last spring:
1. Organizers: Invite women to speak
2. Organizers: Stop Recruiting from the Boys Club
3. Speakers: Open Your Mouths
4. Sponsors: Close Your Wallet
5. Organizers: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
(you can read each of the points in full on her blog)
Geek Feminism also has some tips on getting ladies in to speak. See here.
Finally, as organizers in community events: listen to your community.
It seems simple, but to truly listen is to be as ready to change up the event as an entrepreneur needs to be ready to pivot in response to customer validation feedback. That’s tough — short timelines, managing lots of humans and schedules and needs, but it’s necessary to create the best events.
As for me …
I live and breathe the work of adding representation to tech every day.
I Coach and speak for Rails Girls.
I mentor 6–12 year olds in programming at CoderDojo.
I walk into code meet-ups, hackathons, conferences and sometimes my own Department (and one time, my entire workplace) every single day as the only woman, or 1 of the 10% in a 600+ person space.
Participation in the space is not the only part of this that matters. Representation around the space, on the stage and in leadership matters.
DigiWomen is right.
This is how I put my money where my mouth is, even when it’s not so easy.
Today, I advocate for women. I advocate for the Irish community that spoke out against a myriad of practices by the organization. I advocate for community management as a 2-way feedback loop.
As a person in tech, I will not contribute to the systemic and structural challenges we are already facing, complicitly or otherwise.
We all have space to learn and grow every day, as people and as organizations.
I sincerely wish Codemotion the best in their future endeavours.
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