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Created April 15, 2014 16:27
What would you like to do?

During the PyLadies lunch here at PyCon, I heard 5 people stand up and say that they would not have given a talk if an individual (in many cases Jessica McKellar) hadn't pestered them repeatedly to give a talk. I saw later that someone else had heard this from 10+ people at the lunch.

Increasing speaker diversity is both about sending emails "to the right mailing lists" but it is also largely dependent on individuals reaching out to new (and veteran) speakers to get them to submit talks.

So - a lot of this work has to happen on multiple fronts at the same time - the CFPs need to go out to lots of lists, and individuals need to reach out to lots of individuals.

The only way I have seen this be consistently successful is if many people on the conference committee are all making individual requests to speakers, and the people making the requests are trusted by the talk submitters. It's a systemic issue involving visibility, trust, mentorship in general, talk submission mentoring, and mentorship of talk creation, rather than something that can be solved with adding additional places for CFPs to be sent. Several women commented that they might have cancelled their talk after arriving in Montreal if they had not had support from PyLadies and other community members hours before they gave their talks.

More diverse members of the conference committee, that have time to do outreach, that can reach into new communities that trust the person who is asking, is a critical step in the process of increasing diversity.

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timoni commented Apr 15, 2014

I agree 100%. I'm about to give my second talk, but I would NEVER have given my first if @nrrrdcore hadn't sent me an invitation (with a handwritten note and hoodie!), and made it clear she really wanted me to talk. Even then, it was daunting.

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Do you think the kinds of day-of support stuff is something that can and/or should be handled by a conference? Or is it something better handled by long-running, outside communities like PyLadies that a conference could maybe facilitate or aid in doing that speaker support? Not... that I'm a conference organizer or anything.

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merwok commented Apr 15, 2014 might help, but it needs someone to drive it.

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@timoni: thanks for commenting!

@benhamill: What a good idea! Day-of support might be handled by having a buddy to check-in with a new speaker when they arrive and offer to answer questions, show them around, help them feel comfortable at the conf. The best way is likely to ensure that new speakers know one or more other speakers before they arrive at the conference, and to make that mentorship as informal and friendly as possible through existing relationships. Building up "speaker help guides" to point to and then checking in with speakers regularly (without pushing any particular kind of help, just saying Hi and asking if they have any questions about process/talk/conf) works great. One thing OSCON has offered is a "how to make a great presentation" talk given by an experienced presenter on the night before the conference. Something PyCon and Linux.Conf.AU do is have a speaker orientation where they go over expectations, timelines, Code of Conduct and answer any questions speakers have about anything.

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From twitter: Garann asked about just "asking people to speak" rather than asking them to submit talks.

I think that's a different kind of solution to the problem of lack of women speakers. I'm specifically thinking about in bias in selection of available talks because not enough diverse speakers submitted.

And I'll say something that runs counter to the "diversity will undermine quality" argument: Selecting for diversity also seems to improve the overall quality of talks selected.

What I've found for OSBridge, and pretty much every other conference I've been involved with that does diversity outreach, is that women consistently provide higher quality talk submissions and thus their talks get selected by the committee at a higher rate than men's talks. See: for more information about some reasons why this might be.

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This is a great quote by Selena: "and the people making the requests are trusted by the talk submitters. It's a systemic issue involving visibility, trust, mentorship in general, talk submission mentoring, and mentorship of talk creation".

It gets to the heart of some issues we are having at PyOhio. We're a regional conference, and many of the organizers don't have a lot of close ties to the wider Python community. We know people, or know of them, or know them secondhand ... but not well enough to be in that comfort zone. So as we start to reach out and do asks, we get a lot of maybes (with an undercurrent of 'who the heck are you?')

I would love to see submissions in the range of 25% women this year, and I think we match PyCons 33% accepted talks easily, without messing with selection, due to the 'higher quality submission' effect.

But I'm running out of people to ask, and of ideas. Advice, anyone?

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@bcostlow: I've been thinking about this but I don't have much more to offer other than recruiting people who are part of more diverse communities to your organizer group. There are a few people whose work is increasing diversity in organizations, and I think it is often worth paying them for a few hours of consulting to look at the specific opportunities and needs of an organization like PyOhio.

The good and bad news is that change like this takes time. PyCon took 4 years and the work of a very dedicated team, whose most important leaders are so committed to changing the diversity of Python language development itself, that they make divisive public statements like "I will only take Q&A from women in my keynote" (Guido van Rossum).

So, my other piece of advice is to make the change process take less time, get a commitment from the leaders of the organization to make statements publicly that address the change in culture that comes with having women be involved. You may already be on this path, I don't know.

A common issue in organizations that are divided politically over the value of diversity efforts is that part of the organization will state that they "want more diversity" but then another part of the organization will undermine those efforts quietly but effectively in the background. I'm not saying that's happening at PyOhio -- I'm just pointing out that there are lots of factors, a lot of social forces at work, and having someone whose focus is on diversity change in organizations come and offer advice can be a way forward. And I'm not that person. :)

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