Supporting Conferences That Commit to Diversity

Ada Lovelace by mediamolecule

If you pay any attention to my twitter stream or the Development Hell podcast, you probably know two things about me: I love to hear myself talk, and I’m concerned about the extremely low number of women who participate in open source.

In the PHP community, where I’ve done most of my open source stuff, we’re lucky compared to a lot of groups. We have a strong, supportive group in PHP Women, and I’m not aware of any incidents of harassment at the events I’ve attended. But I still think the participation of women is much lower than it should be, and I want to help change that.

To that end, I’ve provided a little financial support to organizations like the Ada Initiative, and I’ve tried to raise awareness of the issues on the Development Hell podcast by having guests like Selena Deckelmann, Elizabeth Naramore, and Ashe Dryden.

One place I haven’t addressed it much is in conference participation. I don’t speak at a ton of events every year, but I do get to speak at a few. So this year I’ve decided to pursue attending or speaking at conferences that do the following:

  1. Adopt a public anti-harassment policy / code of conduct
  2. Make a strong, concerted effort to get female speakers and panel participants

This shouldn’t be taken as a threat or boycott of events that don’t choose to do these things. Rather, I’m choosing to support events that prioritize these issues. If you’re working to improve the participation of women in open source, then I want to support you. I want to be part of what you are doing.

Specifically regarding the number of female speakers, I don’t really want to attach numbers to the percentage that’s acceptable. I think the goal should be 50%, but going from 0% to halfsies is probably not reasonable at this time. I do think that having no female speakers is not okay, and I think doing better than last time around is a very doable thing.

It’s my hope that more and more conferences deal with this stuff up-front. Because CFPs frequently precede a conference by 6 months or more, some of this stuff might not be decided. I’d ask that if you’re involved in organizing a conference, you bring it up early on, because it does matter to many of us who would respond to your CFP.

If information is not already publicly available, I intend to ask privately about these issues. I think that most conference organizers are well-intended, and I’d much rather bring up these issues in a private, less threatening way. If they haven’t put much thought into it, or if they’re not sure how to address it, I’ll point them towards resources available from the Ada Initiative and other groups.

I hope that if you’re thinking about attending or speaking at a conference, you’ll ask about these things too. Make it clear that these issues matter to you, and support events that are trying to do the right thing.