Hey, have you been a woman in tech around the Internet/Twitter over the last 48 hours? You might have heard about the not-so-small flap involving Edge, a one-day conference on advanced web technologies, which has only one woman on its roster of 24 speakers. Matt Andrews, a web developer at the Guardian, called it out in a blog post, and Rebecca Rosen at the Atlantic highlighted it and upped the ante with a pledge “I will not speak on or moderate all-male panels at technology and science conferences.”
All of this hit me in a giant, personal-feeling, direct whirl because of a couple big things:
- I am a woman (ta-da!)
- I speak at tech conferences.
- I head up the organizing committee of MinneWebCon.
There are a lot of things in my life that make me feel proud, but being involved with MinneWebCon consistently tops the list. In 5 of the 6 years (the 2013 conference included), MinneWebCon has featured women in keynote slots. In 2012, 10 of the 24 speakers were women – 41%. Going to MinneWebCon in 2010 literally changed my whole career path, partly because of the awesome quality of the speakers, but also because there were women speaking, and I thought to myself, “Self, you have ideas to share. You could do this too, and there’s a place for you.”
I got involved with the planning committee, made up of awesome men and women, who all see having more diversity as a responsibility of our conference to the community and the tech industry. I have never felt like I was a “token woman,” or that I am filling some kind of diversity quota.
MinneWebCon welcomes diverse speakers by having diverse speakers. We make it a point to let folks who have never presented before that they are more than welcome to submit a presentation. What do you do? What have you learned? What’s better/worse? What can others learn from this? We want everyone to be able to share this kind of stuff – its how we all grow.
In looking at what can be done, I’m offering my perspective as a conference organizer: sharing and transparency. Conference organizers need to talk not only with their organizing committee, but with other conference organizers. Don’t treat your whole event like a “trade secret.” Sit down with other organizers and talk through your processes. Learn from each other. Not every process is the best for every event, because not every event is the same, but you gain tremendous insight in hearing how other people make things work, where they’ve struggled and stumbled, and how they’ve gotten better.
And be transparent with your selection process. Here’s ours:
MinneWebCon has a two-part process: one is anonymous voting, where each member of the committee reads over the proposals and ranks them from 1-5. The votes are totaled and the proposals sorted. The second part is the whole committee gets together for a giant 4+ hour meeting where we review every proposal as a group, with the voting as a guide. This where the big discussion about the overall schedule happens: what will the conference looks like, what are we talking about (as a conference), what’s present and what’s missing. Each proposal gets a review no matters its ranking, and folks who didn’t make it in can get more constructive feedback on a non-selection than just “Sorry, nope.”
Including people is important. Diversity in perspective and opinion is what drives us forward, and makes us better, both in our work and as human beings. It is really, really hard to unpack privilege, to challenge your own views. It’s hard and it’s messy and sometimes you screw up – but it is always worth it to try, and to make good change.