After attending The Future Of Web Apps, I looked around for fellow attendee bloggers and while searching found Chris Messina’s post about the lack of diversity in the speaker lineup. Several commenters then started getting riled up to the level of a virtual lynch mob with comments like:
Damned if I’m going to give hundreds of dollars to conference organizers who couldn’t get off their butt and mix things up a bit.
In interest of full disclosure, I do need to point out that I am a white male. OTOH, anyone who knows me well knows that I really seek out diversity, especially in my personal life, and that generally the type of people I least like spending time around are white males! But as I already posted, I loved this show. And I think the Carson did an excellent job with such a small staff, so I posted this comment:
I agree in principle with this post, but I have a different view of it (which is ironic, because I would normally be pushing hard for diversity.) I found this conference to be one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended, and I lost count at 50 conferences in my professional life.
It was also by far the best value at $147.50/day (and I even got a special offer for a 15% discount!) Lastly, his company is tiny (3 people?) and they are attempting to do a tremendous number of things for such a small company. I have seen many other conferences run by much larger companies do a much worse job in almost every area so I was AMAZED at how damn good this conference actually was, white man or not.
Could they have done a better job in diversity? Hell yeah. Did they do an incredible job in what they did? ABSOLUTELY! Did Ryan come across on stage as being sincere about wanting to address concerns and constantly do a better job? It appeared so to me. Were they probably overwhelmed by getting the conference implemented and possibly had the stress of organizing it cause them to accidently overlook some idealistic and feel good but hard to implement aspects? Probably. Do you think, now that it has been made a point that they will look to improve the situation in advance and do a better job of recruiting diversity for their next conference? Almost definitely.
So I would propose that before you collect up a lynch mob for this one oversight (”She turned me into a Newt!” “A Newt?!?” “Well…I got better.”), maybe you could consider this post and thread a suggestion for improvement that I’m sure Ryan & Co will see, and then give them the benefit of the doubt until and unless they fail next time. Fair?
A little while later I got an email from someone at Carson thanking me for my comments and saying:
You got it bang on the money, except that we are a 75% female company, soon to be an 80% female company ….
So I took the opportunity in reply to give my suggestions both to address this issue and also generally to improve the conference, as follows:
Thanks for writing. You are welcome. You guys did an excellent job, as you know my opinion already.
- Ask the community to nominate speakers via a forum, and then use some kind of poll software to let the community vote on who gets to speak with the caveat that not everyone voted for will accept or be able to so they should vote on a larger pool than you actually need. That will also cause the community to notify the speakers and make your job of contacting them a lot easier. If the community nominates 90% white male when you announce in advance you are looking for diversity, well then…
- Have a conference that ONLY has people other than White Males speak. Enage the community that is bitching about this to help you promote the conference. Have this conference in Atlanta at The Fox Theatre: I can help; I live across the street. :) This could offer a serious challenge to the community to put their money where their mouth is. Get them all to do referrals and then we can track who has the most referrals and shame the vocal ones who have few or no referrals. If you don’t do this, I might. :) BTW, here is a list of women speakers in tech.
- The worse part of your conference (for me) was lack of person-to-person networking opportunities. It was totally hit & miss. Some thoughts (admittedly random):
- Set up a tagging system in advance for attendees where they can tag both their involvments (what they work on), their experience, their attributes (who they work for, their title, etc.) and their interests for the conference.
- Announce meeting locations (you could call them "A", "B", "C" or use some other naming system) so people could coordinate in advance to meet or coordinate during the event to meet.
Have the system make suggestions on who they should meet based on their tags in order to kick start the meeting process.
- Set up "birds of a feather" sessions for 1/2 day based on the interest tags where people could gather to meet each other. Appoint moderaters who would announce ground rules, keep things going, get everyone to say who they are.
- Similar to #3, I wanted a chance to talk to some of the speakers offline but I could never find them afterwards. Schedule a time and place where the speakers would be available after their talk for people who want to meet them.
- I loved the laminated badges, EXCEPT! It was almost impossible to figure out who was who. Maybe use landscape format and for their name and company make the typeREALLY BIG
so that we don’t have to feel like we are staring a people or have them think we are staring at them to figure out who they are and what company they work for.
- Have an area where vendors can exhibit using tables only, and don’t charge them much to be there ($500?) Have rules that disallow everything but computers, handouts, and swag (i.e. no booths, even desktop ones.) Get them a wired connection. :)
- Create a clear and obvious signal when the sessions will be restarting. I found myself many times in a break and not realizing that sessions had started again.
P.S. While writing the email I googled to find Chris’ post and instead came across Mike Monteiro’s rant entitled The Future of White Male Apps. I was going to leave a similar comment there as well, but stupid VOX evidently won’t let me leave a comment unless I have a membership, and when I "requested an invitation" it told me that I would get one "as soon as we have a spot available." Sheesh! And to think I previously got an invite, tried it, misunderstood how it was handling things, and then deleted the account!
UPDATE: Chris Messina saw this post and offered me an invite to VOX so I could comment on Mike Monteiro’s post. Thanks Chris!