Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Diversity at NDC Oslo 2016

In light of the diversity discussion around the Agilia Conference (which I won't care to mention any further as the organizers are making asses of themselves), someone mentioned that the ratio of female speakers at NDC Oslo 2016 is no better. And sadly, it's not.

I've complained about the (lack of) female speakers at NDC Oslo for the last couple of years, so this year, instead of just complaining, I wanted to do something about it. I send the organizers the following email:

"To support the focus on women in IT, I believe all conferences should do everything they can to get at least one women onboard their agenda committee. By doing this, they are positive that the diversity aspect will be taken care of (to some extent). If you agree and would like a woman to contribute, I volunteer.

Please think about it and get back to me"

Pretty naive, don't you think? The belief that bringing a woman on board the agenda committee will magically make more female speakers show up? Right.

Well, I was accepted onto the committee and we had a blast. Before our agenda meeting, I had calculated the percentage of female speakers in 2015, which was 7%. My goal was to bring this percentage up to around 15%. In Sweden, most conferences are able to reach 20%, they have a black belt in attracting women and we'd all like to learn a thing or two from them. But I thought 15% would be doable in our case.

We started out by pre-booking speakers, and all the speakers I suggested (except two) were women. Some did not have a good enough track record to get a vote from the rest of the committee ("I've heard she's alright" just doesn't cut it), and some were invited. Sadly, many of them were already booked or busy... We did this in February, the conference is in June. So, first lesson learnt:

When pre-booking speakers, start early!

We spoke about diversity throughout the selection process, without accepting every single woman and minority speaker, because accepting them only because of their demographics would be wrong as well. Looking at the submitted papers, I was stunned though. I've always blamed the organizers of conferences for not attracting enough female speakers, but now that I was on the "inside", I saw that we (read: women) need to push it to the next level! Because there simply were not enough submissions from women. Second lesson learned:

As a female speaker, encourage more women to speak up! Don't simply tell them to submit, offer to help with writing abstracts and mentoring them. And then follow up, make sure they actually submit. 

After we had selected the right amout of talks, I counted the number of female speakers. We were at about 12%, two tracks not included as those were in the hands of someone else. So we didn't reach my goal of 15%, but we did quite a lot better than last year. Of course, including the two other tracks we're down to just below 8% again...

On the bright side, we did one thing I think is really cool. The pre-party speaker is a woman who originally submitted a regular talk. We found her so interesting though, that we decided to ask her to do the pre-party session instead. Third lesson learned:

If a really awesome woman shows up, don't be afraid to ask her to do multiple talks, a keynote or a pre-party talk. 

All in all, I wish there were more women on the agenda but given our prerequisites and the short amount of time we had, we tried our best. Next time, we'll try even harder! And at some point, we'll have figured out what the Swedes are doing right and we'll reach 20%.

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