How to Ensure a Diverse Tech Event - SXSW Interactive 2011


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  • Welcome to How to Ensure a Diverse Tech Event.
  • I'm Erica Mauter. You can find me everywhere on the internet as swirlspice.I’m giving this presentation today because I have my own experiences as a member of various underrepresented groups. As a mixed race person of color, as a gay person, as a woman.I also belong to plenty of overrepresented groups. I am able-bodied. I am cis-gendered. As a person who is able to pay my own way to attend SXSW I certainly have some class privilege.I go to tech events. Big national ones like South By and BlogHer. Local ones like the many flavors of barcamp.This is not my vocation but my avocation. I’m selfishly here to improve the experience for myself.The things I’m going to talk about today are things I have experienced here and elsewhere.
  • There are three related, yet different, terms that people who work in this field use to talk about diversity. The literature in multicultural education, social justice education, and the like help to make clear the distinction between these terms.Diversity is creating awareness and appreciation of others. Cultural competency is developing skills to relate across cultural lines. Social justice is working to remove the structural barriers to marginalized groups participation.All three of these are important, but only one - social justice - addresses structural barriers that limit whole groups of peoples access to resources - resources like conferences and technology in general. That is really what is at issue here.
  • So what are these structural barriers that limit some groups and advantage others and why are they there?Oppression – also known as “the isms” - is the power that some groups have over others based on variables like race, gender, class, etc. combined with prejudice toward those groups. Prejudice is our attitudes and behaviors, conscious or unconscious, towards members of other groups. We all have power at an individual level; we do not all have power at the cultural and institutional level. Individual acts of discrimination are not oppression unless they are backed by cultural or institutional power.Oppression is the ideology that one group is inferior, combined with the power - the big institutional power - to back that up and to act on that prejudice.These processes, after centuries of existence in the US, have led to long-standing structural barriers in education, employment, and housing amongst others. Over time, all of these have made it more difficult for some than others to get to a conference like SXSW and into the technology field in general This leads some to have more opportunities than others. For example, if you deny tech education and employment to some groups, then there are more jobs for the dominant group.That is privilege.
  • Privilege is an unearned advantage that a dominant group has over marginalized groups. Conversations on diversity usually start with awareness and appreciation, might get as far as developing cultural competency, but usually don’t get as far as addressing structural barriers and certainly don’t use the word privilege.Dr. Peggy McIntosh created the concept of the Invisible Knapsack to characterize the unearned advantages of dominant groups.To quote Dr. McIntosh: “I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.”
  • There are many derivative works describing the invisible knapsack for dominant groups other than white people. Just Google “invisible knapsack.”
  • The way privilege manifests itself, especially in the context of a conference like this, is as the ability of one group to control the cultural norms.Power dynamics don’t come into play when talking about diversity and cultural competence. Power comes into play when you begin talking about social justice and addressing structural barriers to participation.In all that, hopefully you can see how privilege and oppression are two sides of same coin. We often talk about oppression, but we need to talk more about privilege.
  • Understanding privilege and oppression helps us understand the societal barriers that are in place that then serve to make conferences and other events less accessible, or even inaccessible, to whole groups of folks. And so keeping that in mind, let’s transition now into conferences and the technology field as a whole and the goals we have regarding diversity.
  • You might think your goal for your event is either to attract a more diverse audience to the content that you have or to create more diverse content for your existing audience.By content I mean info on screens and that NECESSARILY includes presenters.By audience I mean butts in seats as well as readers/viewers from afar watching livestreams and YouTube clips, reading blogs and tweets, sitting at companies hearing reports back from employees.Seems like two fair and reasonable, different approaches to meet your goal. The thing is it’s a trick question. Because you can’t just do one or the other. They both feed off each other.
  • There are three parts to diversifying any event or initiative. Awareness around the issues of marginalized groups, the skills to talk about those issues, and a plan of action to address those issues.I’m going to spend most of the rest of my time on the action part, but you should absolutely begin by educating yourself.
  • Can I get a show of hands?How many people here have or will be organzing a conference or other event?How many have sponsored an event?How many have presented at an event?How many of you just show up?
  • Here’s what I recommend for people belonging to underrepresented groups:When I say SHOW UP I mean sometimes you’ve got to suck it up and be the diversity. Someone’s gotta do it. I understand if you are often the only one, it gets old. As a person of color living in Minnesota, this happens to me all the time. But while it is lonely and frustrating, you are also a beacon for others like you.When I say SPEAK UP I mean when you participate by asking a question or making a comment, if your experience is informed by by your status in a marginalized group, say so, because it helps bring about awareness and appreciation for everyone else.When I say OBSERVE I mean look around you, count people who are like you, look for yourself in conference materials and communications, be very aware of your in-person experience. Building awareness means quantifying the experience.When I say COMMUNICATE I mean talk about exactly what you observed. Whether it’s positive, negative, or neutral; short or long. Give feedback to the organizers whether it’s solicited or not. Make your observations around diversity part of your report back to your company, part of your wrap-up blog post, part of your barrage of tweets.For people belonging to overrepresented groups:When I say OBSERVE and COMMUNICATE I mean almost the same thing. Look around you, notice people who are like you, notice if you feel represented in conference materials and communications. Talk about what you see whenever you talk about your conference experience. If you’re not practiced, it will feel really foreign to you to notice how you are the same as everyone else. Your observations will be very different, but make the effort to be conscious of them. A critical step in building awareness of privilege and power dynamics is simply being aware that they exist....
  • These actions on the part of all attendees help to build individual and collective awareness and help you develop the skills to talk about them.
  • As a sponsor or potential sponsor, you should first look to build your own awareness around the event and organization you want to work with. Be aware of the issues both organizers AND attendees face.Build your skills by communicating and collaborating with every group attached to this event that you can connect with and find out how you can best meet their needs through your sponsorship.One concrete action you can take as a sponsor is to provide scholarships for attendees who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. This addresses a barrier that people lacking in class privilege face.Another action you can take is to provide featured content and by that I mean present on other stuff your company does well besides product or service you’re known for. Lots of companies sell themselves with their company culture; if you have a business process or cultural attribute that you’ve developed and cultivated, use this as an opportunity to teach people about it.
  • For presenters there is a lot of overlap with organizers and attendees in a conference experience, but you have unique opportunities as a presenter.One is, as part of or as a result of your self-awareness and education process, you seek diverse content for your presentation. Presentations are where the rubber meets the road in a conference diversity intiative, so presenters, do your part. SXSW has a fantastic mnemonic they use as a guideline which they call VOWEL. They strongly encourage you to consider variety, opinion, women, ethnicities, and location. The first four are largely self-explanatory, but I’ll pause to point out the importance of location. There are lots of great things happening in places outside the usual hubs of tech activity. They may not be getting attention in your bubble, but they are serving their local communities well.As a presenter, you have the opportunity to lift as you climb. When you achieve new opportunities, see what you can do to pay it forward and spread the love around. I would not be here today if a friend hadn’t handed me an idea for a proposal and said “I think you can do this.” Share your ideas, share your experience, and support them through the process.And lastly, don’t tokenize. Tokens make the baby jesus cry. Tokenizing is inviting a member of a marginalized group to talk solely about their issues related to their marginalized status....
  • If you can only find one person of color to sit on your panel about Ruby development, DON’T expect or put them in a position to talk about being a POC Ruby developer; they’re there to talk Ruby just like everyone else.
  • As organizers, there are lots of opportunities to introduce and encourage diversity. There’s the concept, the marketing, the content, and the audience.These steps cover just one year or one event. This is an iterative process. You need goals and metrics so you can measure, revise, and continuously improve.Your event will evolve, it will develop a reputation, and your efforts will propagate within and without.
  • Starting with your event concept, you should absolutely have a diversity policy. O’Reilly is famous for their diversity policy. What’s great about it is that the policy is clear about their goals and it also tells you how you can help. It sets the tone and communicates that this is an important and fundamental component of all of their events.You should absolutely have diverse voices at the organizing table. It really helps your awareness and appreciation process if you have people with different cultural competencies handy from the get-go.Eventually you should be able to integrate your diversity policy with your event concept and make broad-based diversity a central component of the event.Of course no one knows you have these goals if you don’t tell everyone about it and that’s where marketing comes in. Everything you say about your event should mention that you’re looking to be inclusive.When looking at broader channels, think again about marginalized groups creating their own spaces in which they can have control and influence instead of trying to gain power they don’t have in a mainstream framework. There are organizations created by marginalized groups that, assuming you’ve built awareness and appreciation of other cultures and have built your skills to communicate across cultural lines, you should be able to work with without tokenizing them or depending on them to provide diversity for you without changing anything from within your organization.
  • As organizers, you have a large role to play in the content of your event. There should be both a crowdsourcing and a curation component. Even if the crowdsourcing element is not open to the public, you should be actively seeking out the problems your attendees have and the questions they need answered anyway. Building your awareness and appreciation of marginalized groups and developing your skills to communicate across cultural lines will help you determine how to meet the needs of those groups and address their barriers to participation. Along that vein, the curation piece is another part where it’s critical to have a diverse staff.A lot of bits and bytes have been traded on the internet with suggestions on how specifically to both crowdsource and curate more inclusive content. I won’t spend my time on that but I have an accompanying blog post and there are links there. There are some really terrific suggestions and I strongly encourage you to read through them. For now I want to emphasize that dual approach.Similarly, as you work to diversify content, help your presenters to do the same. Make them aware of your inclusive approach and encourage or even incentivize them to follow it, and help your presenters to diversify where they can’t do it themselves.In looking to diversify your audience, if your conference is mobile, consider locating it somewhere outside of the usual places. That goes for both national and local events. If your conference is typically in the same place, consider bringing in people that live and work outside of the usual places.Another option to diversify your audience is to consider your ticket distribution mechanisms. Give partner groups – say nonprofits that work with entrepreneurs or technology training – give those groups tickets to distribute. Give attendees the option to sponsor (perhaps anonymously) another attendee who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to attend. This may not scale to a big-ticket national event, but for your local events that cost $20 for lunch and a t-shirt, this can be very effective. These ideas will largely address cost barriers, but can also improve outreach and build relationships with both potential new attendees and other organizations that can be sponsors, attendees, or sources of content.
  • So why would we even bother with all of this work – and it is a lot of work - on top of the challenge of putting on an event in the first place?The first is to make money. Money from more attendees at your event, more consumers of your product, more interested sponsors. Companies sell the story of themselves as much as their product b/c people will buy when they get a warm fuzzy from the seller. You can market your diversity efforts (and your results which you’ve carefully measured!). Not to mention you improve the quality of your product by including diverse perspectives at all stages of the process.There is intellectual impact. Mono-dimensional producers and mono-dimensional consumers are boring! Introducing diversity necessarily complicates matters and makes it more interesting for everyone.Lastly there is social impact. I say “use your powers for good not for evil.” We all have individual power. Some of us have cultural or institutional power. We can leverage that power across our spheres of influence to make change.
  • To recap: Diversity, cultural competency, and social justice. Awareness, skills, and action.We often say diversity but the word "diversity" has a connotation "inclusion" and "representation" are better descriptors of what we're trying to accomplish. The way to improve inclusion is to remove the structural barriers.Educate yourself. Do your best to build your awareness and appreciation of the marginalized groups around you. Part of this process is observing and naming the dynamics of the dominance and marginalization you see.Be brave enough to ask questions in your learning process, and be humble enough to respectfully listen to answers and take feedback. This is not about your guilt! This is about awareness of the dynamics.Your awareness and appreciation and your ability and willingness to communicate across cultural lines will help you take action to remove the structural barriers that prevent marginalized groups form participating in your event and help ensure your tech event is more diverse.
  • Thanks for your time. Please feel free to follow up on this topic or with me.
  • How to Ensure a Diverse Tech Event - SXSW Interactive 2011

    1. 1. How to Ensure a Diverse Tech Event#diverseevents<br />Erica Mauter<br />SXSW Interactive<br />March 12, 2011<br />
    2. 2. Hi, I’m Erica<br /><br />@swirlspice<br />I have under- and over-represented identities<br />
    3. 3. What is Diversity?<br />Diversity = awareness/appreciation of others<br />Cultural Competency = skills to relate across cultural lines<br />Social Justice = structural barriers to different groups’ participation (aka 'isms')<br />
    4. 4. Oppression and Structural Barriers<br />Dominant vs Marginalized Groups<br />Race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, class, gender ID, ecosystem-specific categories<br />Oppression (isms) = <br />Prejudice (Attitudes/Behaviors, conscious/unconscious)<br />+<br />Power (Individual, Cultural, Institutional)<br />
    5. 5. Privilege<br />An unearned advantage that a dominant group has over marginalized groups<br />Invisible Knapsack<br />
    6. 6.
    7. 7. Privilege<br />The ability of one group to control the cultural norms<br />Prejudices of dominant groups creating and otherwise participating in an event + Cultural/Institutional Power of being the dominant group = Structural Barriers to the participation of marginalized groups<br />
    8. 8. Help! Help! I'm being repressed!<br />
    9. 9. What’s Your Goal?<br />Same content, more diverse audience<br />OR<br />Same audience, more diverse content<br />FALSE DICHOTOMY!<br />
    10. 10. How To Diversify<br /><ul><li>Awareness around issues
    11. 11. Skills to talk about them
    12. 12. Plan of action</li></li></ul><li>
    13. 13. Attendees<br />Underrepresented/Marginalized Groups<br />Show up<br />Speak up<br />Observe<br />Communicate<br />Overrepresented/Dominant Groups<br />Observe<br />Communicate<br />
    14. 14.
    15. 15. Sponsors<br />Awareness<br />Do your homework! Be aware of the issues attendees and organizers face<br />Skills<br />Develop an action plan – communicate/collaborate with organizers/attendees/presenters/etc to meet their needs<br />Actions<br />Make broad-based diversity a component of your sponsorship<br />Scholarships<br />Featured content<br />
    16. 16. Presenters<br />Seek diverse content for your presentation<br /><ul><li>SXSW’s V.O.W.E.L. guideline – Variety, Opinion, Women, Ethnicities, Location</li></ul>Lift as you climb<br /><ul><li>Give your friends ideas, help, courage</li></ul>Don’t tokenize<br /><ul><li>Make the underrepresented talk about issues related to their underrepresented status</li></li></ul><li>
    17. 17. Organizers<br />Many points in the process<br />Concept<br />Marketing<br />Content<br />Audience<br />Iterative process<br />
    18. 18. Organizers<br />Concept<br />Have a diversity policy<br /><br />Tells you what their goal is and how you can help<br />Have diverse voices at the organizing table<br />Integrate the policy with the event concept, place broad-based diversity at the center of the event<br />Marketing<br />Communicate the policy everywhere<br />Broaden outreach and advertising channels<br />
    19. 19. Organizers<br />Content<br />Crowdsource<br />Curate<br />Support presenters<br />Guidelines<br />Help find other participants<br /><br />Audience<br />Event location<br />Ticket distribution<br />
    20. 20. Why bother? IMPACT!<br />$$$<br />Image + Quality > Marketing > Sales<br />Intellectual<br />Mono-dimensional is boring<br />Broaden reach of tech<br />Social<br />Use your powers for good not for evil<br />
    21. 21. In Summary<br />Diversity = awareness/appreciation of others<br />Cultural competency = skills to relate across cultural lines<br />Social justice = Actions to remove structural barriers to marginalized groups’ participation<br />Inclusion<br />Representation<br />Structural Barriers to Participation<br />
    22. 22. Follow Up<br />Rate this panel<br />SXSW Go app<br />Follow the topic<br /><br />#diverseevents<br />Contact me<br />Erica Mauter<br /><br />@swirlspice<br />