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Improving diversity at XML Prague

Improving diversity at XML Prague

XML Prague is an awesome conference, very well organised and with great talks… but there's one point were it could do better: having a more diverse speaker line up.
For instance in 2017, for the 2nd year in a row, all the speakers of the main track where (white) males. Diversity is not only about having more women presenters, although that would be a good start.

This documents intends to present some thoughts and suggestions for improving the issue. Comments and commits welcome!
(disclaimer: I don't claim to have all the right answers, nor to say that it's an easy endeavor. If you feel this document is useless or otherwise wrong, please comment!)

We can surely do it!

First, let's start with the positive sides, which show that there's good hope the situation can be improved:

Suggestions wrt the speaker line-up

  • XML Prague should adopt a formal policy on diversity, adopt a Code of Conduct, and explicitly link to it from all the pages on the web site. This would be a good signal that the conference is welcoming to all.
  • XML Prague organisers should work towards reaching out to minorities when the CfP is announced:
    • by explicitly acknowledging (on the web site and Twitter) that they'd like to improve the diversity of the speaker line-up
    • by reaching out to well-known potential speakers and inviting them to submit (like Jirka recently did on Twitter with Debbie, Beth, Magda, but it should be re-done when the 2018 CfP is announced)
    • by asking the community to spread the word and suggest name of speakers from underrepresented groups
  • There could be a number of slots reserved to first-time speakers, to encourage newcomers (or people affected by the impostor syndrome, which is known to affect minorities more than other populations).
  • Topics could be more extensively described (e.g. with subtopics, details or examples), to encourage people who would think their ideas are not a good fit (submitted by @franziiska)
  • There may be a policy to prevent one person to speak more than once
  • The program committee could be updated to present a more diverse group (it currently consists of 16 people including 14 males)
  • Propose short talks (~20 mins), especially for first-time speakers (submitted by @Robbert)
  • Make it crystal clear that speakers don't have to pay the conference fee. Possibly, provide some estimates and cover part of the travel costs for low-income speakers (submitted by @Robbert)

Suggestions wrt the attendance

Diversity is not only about women. We also want to be inclusive to people from any minority, which may include people who are actually not meat-eating, alcohol-drinking males.

  • Provide a list of suggested vegetarian restaurants (or with decent vegetarian options)
  • Provide a list of suggested non-smoking restaurants and/or bars
  • Advertise alternative options to beer
    • I guess beer jokes are fine, but they can also be the opportunity to remind people there are alternative options!
    • Ensure that a variety of soft drinks are available at the social dinner (might be the case already, hum, the author of these words doesn't know… but for instance an alternative to the welcoming liquor shot?)
  • Ask for sponsors to provide a scholarship targeted at people from underrepresented groups (something like le-tex's student sponsorship, but extended to other sponsors and/or targeted to minorities?)

Useful Pointers

Thank you very much for your suggestions. I totally agree and would like to add one point. What I often hear from women (and man as well) is that they are afraid that their talk would probably not achieve such a high theoretical level as some talks presented at the conference. First I think it's good to emphasize that talks about practical projects are desirable, too. Second it would be good to encourage people by directly asking them if they want to contribute a talk. This might solve not the major problem of a male dominated (XML) tech industry but it could be a good start. So we should also discuss how we can involve more women in our companies and our community...

Thanks again for this list, it's a very good start!

One thing is that having someone from a minority be present as a speaker will motivate others to submit papers the following year.
Maybe it could be an idea to extend the topics list to make more people aware of having something relavant for XML Prague (similar to Martin's suggestions).

elvogel commented Feb 14, 2017

Opening up the conference to more technologies & platforms (.NET, anyone?) might help out quite a bit. Maybe to get a more diverse crowd XML Prague can offer some 100, 200 etc. level conference items - the more people interested in learning and using XML, the better!

Owner

@mkraetke @franziiska thanks for your comments!

I tried to cover this aspect with the following point:

There could be a number of slots reserved to first-time speakers, to encourage newcomers (or people affected by the impostor syndrome, which is known to affect minorities more than other populations)

In my understanding XML Prague's list of topics is already very wide, and I don't know to which extent it could be extended. The issue of perceived irrelevance of not-so-technical topics might possibly be worked around by communicating that papers don't have to be PhD-level to be accepted?

Owner
rdeltour commented Feb 14, 2017 edited

Maybe to get a more diverse crowd XML Prague can offer some 100, 200 etc. level conference items

@elvogel I'm not sure I understand your suggestion, can you please refine?

@rdeltour thanks!
Maybe my comment was misleading. I didn't mean the 'width' of topics itself but the extend on how they're described, like adding sub topics, details or examples.
I do think the topic range itself is wide enough.

Robbert commented Feb 15, 2017
  • 20 minute talks would also be helpful, especially for first-time speakers.
  • Ask speakers if they would be comfortable with a public Q&A or prefer to answer questions informally. Ask them again right before the talk.
  • Inform speakers proactively about covering expenses. Don't expect speakers to have disposable income. I know it was a struggle for me to attend XML Prague and XML London after my paper was accepted. XML London provided something like £ 200, but did not do so in advance and it certainly didn't fully cover expenses for flying to and staying in London.
  • Is writing a paper really necessary? At least explain what the use is. In the end it is much more useful to design engaging slides. It took me over three weeks to pen down, and I know of only three people who read my XML Prague paper. Got no feedback at all from the XML London paper. All I got was lots of spam from Elsevier SCOPUS.
Owner

@franziiska thanks for the clarification, I edited the list and added your suggestion!

Owner

@Robbert thanks for the suggestions!

20 minute talks would also be helpful, especially for first-time speakers.

Added.

Ask speakers if they would be comfortable with a public Q&A or prefer to answer questions informally. Ask them again right before the talk.

What do you mean? Make post-presentation Q&A optional? It sounds like a fundamental part of any talk to me, I don't think removing it would be a good idea? Maybe I'm missing the point.

Inform speakers proactively about covering expenses.

Added.

Is writing a paper really necessary?

This is controversial, and has been raised earlier on Twitter. Some people said that proceedings were very helpful to them, even more than talks (especially for remote attendees). I concur that writing a paper is a hurdle or at least a chore to some of us (myself included), but I can't see how to make that optional and still get useful proceedings for those who like them.

I know of only three people who read my XML Prague paper

make it 4, I for one very much enjoyed reading your paper :-)

kosek commented Mar 16, 2017

Hi all, thanks for valuable comments.

For 2018 we will provide shorter speaking slots and also very short slots (5 minutes) for ignite talks. Hopefully this will motivate more people to actively attend and present something as entrance barrier will be much lower. Also full paper for proceedings will not be required, but probably only speakers providing full paper will get free pass, others just some discount. It's about money -- as you know we try to make conference affordable (try to compare XML Prague fees with any other conference) so we are limited in number of people we can let in for free. It's same with sponsoring expenses for speakers/attendees -- unless sponsors will cover it there is not much space -- but both LeTeX and AH did this.

What I disagree with is having CoC and formal diversity policy. We are not discriminating anyone, we tried and now trying even more to encourage anyone to submit and present. In past 12 years I'm not aware of any case of offensive behaviour during the conference (I'm not counting few bitter comments about Javascript and JSON here ;-). I don't think we should start regulating something what is well working now.

Regarding to non-bacon/non-beer minorities -- there were vegetarian meals and non-alcoholic drinks available both for lunches and social event.

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