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#ObviousNotObvious actions to create an inclusive tech event

Photo showing a woman of color speaking at an event

Inspired by the OURSA conference which took place this week, we started collecting ideas for creating more inclusive tech events. Some are for the event organizers, who clearly play an important role. Some are for speakers and attendees, who can also make a big difference.

Here are five we couldn’t wait to share. Some seem so obvious, which makes us wonder…why the heck isn’t everyone doing them?

1. Find diverse voices for your event

Earlier this year, the RSA security conference announced their 2018 speaker lineup. 19 keynotes by men. Only 1 keynote by a woman. And the woman was Monica Lewinsky, who would speak not about technology but about “The Price of Shame.”

Out of frustration with that lineup, the OURSA conference was born.

At OURSA, every single speaker was from a background that is typically underrepresented in privacy and security. And it was organized in record time. Clearly the diverse voices were out there, ready, willing, and more than able to share their technical expertise.

We hear the impact was palpable. As reported by Wired,

“The diversity of the speakers, organizers, and attendees created a noticeably different environment.”

A diverse organizing committee invites and attracts a diverse set of speakers. Those speakers, in turn, attract a diverse group of attendees. And that, my friends, leads to an inclusive event.

Well done, OURSA.

2. Offer mocktails with those cocktails

Want another idea to create an inclusive event? Take a look at your beverages.

We loved this talk on alcohol and inclusivity in tech by Kara Sowles. Our takeaway? If we’ve got budget for fancy cocktails and craft beers, we’ve got budget for mocktails, kombucha, bubble tea, etc.

The next time we’re planning an event with beverages, we’ll provide an equal number AND quality of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink options.

And we also learned from Kara to not ask someone why they’re not drinking. There are myriad reasons, and none of them are any of our business.

3. Use stock photos of people of color in professional settings

Think about the subtle messages you send wherever you use images. In presentations and pitch decks. In user personas. In marketing collateral. In blog posts. On your web site.

If you’re showing only white people, what stereotypes are you reinforcing?

It may be understated, but the simple act of using stock photos of people of color could make a difference.

We’ve been fans of WOCInTechChat and The Jopwell Collection for a while now. And recently we heard of another great source: UK Black Tech.

All three of these sites have great high-res photos. And all are free of charge, with attribution.

Give ’em a try.

4. Got a code of conduct?

Everyone deserves to feel comfortable and safe within a community. And a code of conduct is one indicator that the organizers of a conference want to provide a harassment-free experience for everyone.

Before accepting a speaking engagement or registering for an event, ask if there’s a code of conduct.

Of course, it’s not enough that they just have a code of conduct. They need to also enforce it. Ask them about that, too.

If you’re an organizer looking for an example to follow, check out the OURSA Code Of Conduct.

5. When meeting someone at a tech event, assume they’re technical

Imagine meeting someone at a tech conference or trade show. And the first words out of their mouth are, “Do you work in HR?” While there’s nothing wrong with HR, it is wrong to assume someone isn’t technical at an event for techies. And if you’re a woman, you’ve most likely lost count of the times this has happened to you.

You know what else? There are too many stories where people of color are assumed to be part of the catering staff.

The next time I meet someone at a tech event, I’ll assume they’re technical.

How about you?

Photo of person of color looking puzzled. Caption says “When meeting a person of color at a tech event, I assume they’re technical…not members of the catering staff.”

Becoming an ally is a journey. Want to join us?

Together, we can — and will — make a difference.