If someone linked you this post is probable you are organizing an event where diversity and inclusivity is an issue and they want to help you fix that. If you want, you can jump to the subsection that better adjust to your case. Remember: diversity is not a TL;DR, you probably need to read the full article to get a better grasp of what you need. As usual: I'm going to focus on the gender gap because it's easier for me to talk in those terms, but similar strategies can be applied to any other under-represented group.
“The time is always right to do what is right.”Martin Luther King
I was told I have a manel, what’s that?
A manel is a panel full of men (usually white and middle aged). Usually this manel is the main panel or the keynoters panel whose members are the most relevant/the most advertised speakers. They are the display case of your event and they may tell more about your event than you probably suspect.
Bonus track: Have you heard about the Techdel Test?
But I had no women speaker candidates for my event!
It doesn’t matter if it was a set of speakers chosen manually or if you sent a call for papers to the internet waiting for proposals. If you have few (or none) proposals that improve your diversity line-up, something went wrong. Because there are women (and PoC and functionally diverse speakers) out there. You just didn’t met them. But don’t worry, there’s many things you can do to improve it.
The main key is on your network. It could be through personal face to face relationships, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or even Instagram. But somehow you advertised your Call for Papers or searched for speakers and that was using a network. If your network is not diverse enough, you will never reach those people you want to reach.
If your network is based on a community or company, you can take a look at some hints.
A network grows slowly. Don’t rush here. You will have to invest time looking for the right connections to extend your reach.
Start with random seeds
It may be that your current network is so homogeneous, you don’t know where to start reaching out for under-represented voices. A quick way to work around this is to add random under-represented seeds to your network. Take a couple of hours to search for women (or members of your target under-represented group) on the internet that are related to your field/area. They may not be the most relevant. They may not say something you don’t already know. Those women can even be juniors and not very good at sharing what they know. But through them, on time, you will meet other members of that under-represented group which will be more relevant to you.
Even more: those juniors that doesn’t seem relevant right now, with proper sponsorship and mentorship, can become relevant figures on our industry in a couple of years. You can even help them yourself so they become the kind of speaker you are looking for. Remember: this is not a sprint, this is a long run.
Am I too late?
As said, your network will grow slowly. You can take some shortcuts but they won’t help you in the long run. Those shortcuts will probably take you to tokenism, on the best case. They may be patches that work for your current event, but don’t be fooled: we know they are patches. And that sums to your bad reviews.
Diversity and inclusivity is like security or accessibility: if you don’t design your architecture with them in mind, you will get a hard time later adding it.
As a general rule, if you start worrying about diversity after you launch your Call for Papers or you announce your first keynoters, you are too late. Inclusivity should be one of the main topics since the beginning. If it is not, you may make some decisions that will make your inclusivity harder to reach.
One common flaw is to choose a venue that is not accessible. You are already limiting the kind of people who can attend your event on the first steps. And ableism and ageism are other rabbit holes you don’t want to enter.
I’m reaching my target groups, and still no talk proposals!
It could be that your network is fine, you are just dealing with bad fame, impostor syndrome or similar traits. Be patient, you can also work on them.
There is some manual work you can do to attract speakers and break the curse. You have to dig into your networks, ask around, look for under-represented speakers that are interesting to your event. Do not ask them to talk about diversity. You want them to shine on their expertise.
Take your time into searching for this potential speakers and approach them personally. Tell them why you think their work is interesting. Tell them if you have seen some previous talk they gave that you liked. Explain to them how important is their presence in your event.
Do not tell them you need them because they belong to an under-represented group. Remember: do not tokenize. If that’s the only reason you want them to be on stage, you didn’t find the proper person.
My line-up of speakers is diverse, but not the attendees of my event
Usually, your event will have a better diversity after a few editions if you keep a consistent diverse set of speakers. If that’s not enough, consider if there’s something else you may be missing. It could be something simple like missing a Code of Conduct (see below) or it could be something more complex, like bad fame gained over the years. Don’t panic, all this has a solution.
“If I stop preaching to the choir, they would stop singing”Martin Luther King
The most important thing is to be coherent and persistent. That will override any bad opinions your potential attendees may have. And it will generate good reviews that (don’t doubt it!) we will share among our peers, making them more favourable to join your event.
How do I know what is my flaw?
Reach to the current attendees that belong to under-represented groups and ask for feedback. They are the ones that survived to go to your event, but may give you some clues on why their pairs are not there. Don’t be afraid to ask, the worst thing that can happen is that they can’t help you.
Check things like time and date chosen, place, even the options for food and drink. Maybe your event is not child-friendly? Maybe your event collides with normal working time? There are many reasons why your potential attendees can’t attend. Is your venue accessible? Is it reachable by public transport?
Check how you look from the outside
Maybe you are advertising it on a way that is not attractive? It could be that your inclusivity is not clear. Or even worse: maybe your inclusivity is obviously missing. Use inclusive language and photos. Try to make your event attractive. Make it clear that you are open.
Maybe you already have some members of your targetted under-represented group in your network. But they suffer from Imposter Syndrome. You can sponsor them to make sure they are not left behind.
If all this fails, you can try other strategies like offering free tickets to under-represented groups. See next section for this.
There are no magic solution for diversity, each community has its idiosyncrasy that has to be taken care of. This is not an exhaustive article that covers everything, this is just a head up on where to start.
I was told I told need a Code of Conduct, is that so?
We are all civilized rational folks and we all understand what is right and what is wrong, right? I wish we were. That may work if you are on an homogeneous group. But different cultures have different points of view of what is a social acceptable behaviour and what is not.
For example, in Spain it is very common to give two kisses when saying hi to someone, even if it is the first time you meet that person. But that, as common as it is in Spain, is not a general rule on the rest of the world and it may be seen as aggressive. Never assume that your social rules are universal. Even if you run a local event, different social environments run by slightly different rules.
Why not write them down, just to make sure we are all on the same page? Why not write them down, so if someone is crossing the line, it is easier to point their behaviour and ask them to improve?
You can learn more about how to write a good CoC here.
Free tickets on my event for under-represented groups!
This is a good approach to attract some under-represented group members. But don’t sell yourself cheap. Try to make some kind of competition, make yourself hard to catch, gamify it. The idea is not to have any under-represented folk in your event. You want them to participate, you want them to be there because they are interesting.
If you just offer free tickets on your website and social networks and don’t do anything to reach the under-represented groups, that’s a red flag for us. It means that you heard you have a problem, but are not really into fixing it. You just wait with your doors open to see if we enter, not really caring why is it we are not entering your event.
You may be tempted to offer the tickets to some community of under-represented folks and then delegate on them to place the tickets. Don’t just give them the tickets and assume it will work. Our communities are usually hand-full with many things, we may not be able to focus on your problem. Specially if you just delegate and forget.
We are not here to solve your problem. We can help you solve your problem. Because the problem is yours, not ours.
If you are running a national or international event where your attendees usually travel, you might consider offering travel grants to your under-represented groups. This means: you may want to pay their travel costs to make sure they can make it to your event.
When you are trying to reach to under-represented communities that are somehow linked to having economic issues (for historical reasons, usually), this can come in handy. But it can be helpful for other under-represented groups that may need a last push to want to join your event.
Travel grants require some work. Not only to decide who and how much are you going to give, but also you require to collect the money first. You would be surprised how good a donation campaign may work. Some companies are also willing to donate and sponsor as long as they have some visibility on your event. Don’t see it as selling yourself to those companies: a mention thanking the donation is usually enough.
Hey, you are a woman in tech, do you want to join my event?
Could be. Let’s talk.
But beware of tokenizing that female speaker (me?) you just reached. That won’t fix your problem and it will make us feel uncomfortable.
Consider that if we have to travel and it has to come from our own money, we have a limited budget. And many events we may want to visit. So be prepared to receive a “no” if you can’t pay for the expenses (see travel grant section).
Even if you can pay for the expenses, preparing a talk is also a work that will come out of our free time. Don’t assume that just because we are WiT activist we are going to be on all events filling all the slots.
Can you help me fix the diversity problem of my event?
That’s a fair question. After reading this article you are sure you have a problem and are a bit overwhelmed. So you want someone who seems to know how to fix it to take the lead.
Let me ask you this: Why would I want to help you fix your problem?
If you have a good answer to that question, let’s talk.
Consider, as in the previous section, that WiT activists are usually busy fighting against the gender gap. I am not going to waste my time with some group who don’t really care for inclusivity and diversity. But if your answer is good enough, I may be able to help you.
And if you don’t have a good answer right now, are you willing to pay for the consultancy? Or give something in exchange? There are people that can help you out there, you just have to wake up their interest.