Binders full of Women

You’re looking to improve the diversity of your technical conference. Well, let me google that for you!

Two years ago, I organized a conference called Confident-Coding. We had an open CFP, but only self-identified women responded to it. In one week, 12 women applied to speak.  You’re saying that not a single woman replied to your CFP? You’re obviously doing it wrong.

Only women applied to speak at my conference because of where I promoted the CFP. Where are you announcing your CFP? Reddit? If you promote your conference or job to white males, you’re only going to get white males applying.

With Confident-Coding, I successfully proved a point: If you only promote a CFP to an insular group of people, you are only going to get members of that population to apply.

The Conference wasn’t actually intended as a woman-only event. I just wanted to show it was possible to find AMAZING female presenters.

I promoted the conference thru my regular channels of promoting conferences: I asked my multi-gender network to promote it for me. The interesting thing: most of the cis-men who promoted it did so as a women’s conference. There was nothing that read “women only” on the website. They assumed it was “women only” because of the demographics of the speakers.

Yes, all male lineups look to us women just like all female lineups look to you men.

How do you think your male-only conference makes me feel?

“So, if this all female lineup is for women only, are all male lineups for men only?” I asked.

“Well, that’s different,” was the response I heard from the clueless ones.

“Holy shit, you’re right” was the response I heard from those for whom this was a teachable moment.

Yes, all male lineups look to us women just like all female lineups look to you men.

Are you intentionally leaving out entire segments of the population? Yes, you need a diverse lineup. (see Ashe Dryden, and more from Increasing Diversity at Your Conference also by Ashe Dryden). And, no, don’t ask me to do the job of finding your speakers for you.
Please do your own research instead of asking us to do it for you. Sorry to be snarky, but I already have 3 jobs. Yes, being a woman in tech is 2 jobs. There’s the tech part, and the woman part. I code for 40+ hours per week. That’s my first job. I am also writing 2 books and speaking at a multitude of conference: that’s my second job — which, admittedly, most engineers may not have. My third job? I spend an inordinate amount of time identifying potential speakers for conference organizers who don’t take the extra 5 minutes to do it themselves.

Are you intentionally leaving out entire segments of the population?

“If it takes 5 minutes,” you ask, “why is it a full time job?” It takes 5 minutes to find the right people to refer. It takes a couple hours to compose the email explaining that just blasting these other people who also have 2 full time jobs is not going to work. Then I spend another couple hours making my original email sound more polite than this post.

I take the time in my email response to teach conference and meetup organizers how to ask these not-so-random strangers to speak, and to inform the recipients that this wouldn’t be such a difficult issue for them if they actually had female or otherwise non-cis-white-male developers and developer evangelists at their place of employment whom they can ask. Yes, it’s fine to ask your own co-workers to help you find developers: they’re paid. Don’t have women and non-cis-white-male co-workers? Please hire some. Not only will it improve your working environment and your product, but then you can ask them, instead of expecting all the rest of us “women in tech” whom you haven’t employed, to do it for free.

When we spend that 5 minutes searching, the hours writing the email, and the days writing these blog posts, or educating you on Twitter, that’s time we are not spending writing books/talks or ‘coding for cash.” It costs us money.

Don’t just identify potential female speakers, make sure you ask them to present correctly. For example, only ask me to speak if you’re interested in what I have to say. Tell me why I am of interest. Don’t let me assume that it’s just because you haven’t filled your boob quota.

And don’t just look for boobs. Do you think because you have 20% white women and 80% white men, your conference or employer experience is diverse? Nope. Sorry. Even if you live in Australia, where the population is 92% caucasian, you’re still not reflective of society. You’re still not inclusive. Not even close.

Diversity isn’t just a male versus female thing: it’s a people thing.

You already know if you have no speakers who identify as female, you’re doing it wrong. But you should also know, if all your speakers are cis-gendered white men and women, you’re still doing it wrong. You can still improve. If all you’re speakers were born in the 1980s, you’re doing it wrong? The more diverse your lineup, the more diverse your attendee base will be. The more diverse your conference, the more interesting the conversation will be.

Do you know what an all under 30 line up look to those who are over 60? It looks just like what a lineup of all 60+ year olds would look like to someone under 30. Yes, ageism is rampant in our industry too.

An all young white male lineup looks to a non-young-white male similar to what a lineup of all eldery Korean women would look to a young white male. No, it’s not “different.” Young, white, straight male is not a norm. It is only the norm for those who are young, white, straight men. Leave out the age, and in the US, it is the norm for about 26% of the population. That leaves out 74% of the population. Why are you intentionally leaving out 74% of the population?

It’s not just about your male to female ratio. It’s about gender, age, race, sexual orientation, body size, social comfort levels, technical abilities, income, everything! Different perspectives provide for much more interesting conversations.

But don’t just pull speakers from other conferences. We don’t need to hear more of the same prominent voices. There’s little value in the view that only those who have spoken before are those who are worth listening to. Instead of asking the same speakers to give the same talk (that is available on Youtube), find out who those speakers listen to. Look at the speakers you were intending to ask: who do they follow on Twitter? Who do their followers follow? Found someone great with imposter syndrome? Take the extra time to encourage them. They’re still said no? Look at who they follow, there may be an uncut gem in there.

Now that you know you have a problem, it’s time for you to solve it. (Yes, you. Sorry, I can’t do it for you.)

There’s little value in the abysmal view that only those who have spoken before are those who are worth listening to.

Ask diverse people in your own company where to target diverse speakers (and where to help recruit other diverse employees). Ask them to cross promote to their LGBT chat list, breast-feeding support group, and women in tech groups. Do you think some of those groups are irrelevant? You likely don’t realize what the average technical woman thinks of Reddit!

Ask your eldest employee. Ask your youngest employee. Ask the transgender woman in your DevOps team. Ask the Latino man in your front end team. And, if you don’t have transgender, Latino or African American persons in your organization in positions of responsibility, fix that too. For example, pay your interns. This will ensure that your interns can be there on merit — yes, that’s a faux “meritocracy” we don’t really have–not just because they can be there because they have a wealthy parent who can fund their eternal education.

Remember, being your personal Google is not part of the job description of any other employees in your agency. When you ask them (and you should), you are burdening them with additional responsibilities. They just did you a favor. Don’t forget to appreciate that appropriately, and return the favor somehow.

Go thru open networks to find diverse speakers. If you get rejected by the 10 most popular female presenters in your industry, keep asking? If you asked the 10 most popular men in your industry and they said no, would you cancel the event or would you continue to looking? Same thing!

If you asked the 10 most popular men in your industry and they said no, would you cancel the event?

Find the top 20 speakers you want for your conference, of all genders, and look at the people they talk to or RT on Twitter and other social media: likely, you’ll find an abundance of qualified people to target. When you ask them to speak, be very specific about why you asked them. I don’t reply to recruiters — for jobs or CFPs — if it’s all about them and not about me. Nope, not narcissistic. I just don’t want to put more thought and time into answering their email than they spent on their initial request.

Make sure your developer evangelism team is diverse, and has no bad apples. Even if he’s an awesome, funny speaker, get rid of the douchebag that discourages other people from applying or staying on in the role. Not getting enough diversity in your application pool? (If you didn’t have an open application procedure, you really fucked up.) Where are you posting?

  1. Do NOT post your job or CFPs to YCombinator or Reddit, because that is what your application pool will look like.
  2. Do NOT “ask your friends” only: they tend to look like you and have similar life experiences.
  3. Do NOT try to target your event for ninjas, cowboys or hipsters.
  4. Do NOT promote your conference as a party. Don’t promote the drinking. Have (and announce that you are going to have) quiet spaces, non-alcoholic beverages on par with the alcoholic ones[1], etc. in addition to the MANDATORY code of conduct.
  5. And, for goodness sakes, do NOT have strippers or “booth-babes” at your event.

There are resources all of the Internet. Take the time to look for them.

P.S. Pay all your employees what they are worth, not more to people simply because they asked for it. Otherwise, you’re compensating people for being assertive not skilled.

[1] If you are serving wine and beer in plastic cups, serve water, juice and soda in those cups too. If the beer is in glass bottles, serve high end non-alcoholic drinks in glass bottles: Perrier, Mexican Coca-Cola, even IBC Root Beer (in the USA), whatever. Make your non-alcoholic drinks on par with the alcoholic ones. If you’re offering cocktails, offer mocktails and fresh squeezed orange juice.

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Estelle Weyl

My name is Estelle Weyl. I an open web evangelist and community engineer. I'm a consulting web developer, writing technical books with O'Reilly, running frontend workshops, and speaking about web development, performance, and other fun stuff all over the world. If you have any recommendations on topics for me to hit, please let me know via @estellevw.