Category Archives: Community

Encouraging diversity at technical events – volunteers and organisers

In the third and final post of this three-part series, I will be exploring a few thoughts and ideas regarding how we can encourage diversity of volunteers and organisers at technical events. I have been organising events as far back as 2010 so I have (no doubt) been responsible for many failures (and hopefully a few successes) in promoting and hosting events to the community.

Before we start talking about diversity, I think it is first important to define what I mean by this term. According to the Merriam-Webster definition, diversity is “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements” and especially “the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization”. I don’t quite think this extends far enough, and I see personally see diversity as the inclusion of all people regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, ability, physical appearance, age, size, race, or religion. Our aim, therefore, should be to provide a harassment-free conference experience in which everyone can enjoy this in equal measure.

The following is not a comprehensive list, but I hope it will provide some food for thought when you start planning your next event.

Understand why you are doing this

It is important that you understand why and who you are going to supplement your organiser and volunteer team. You are not trying to fill quotas here, but instead trying to build a diverse team that truly reflects all views, ideas, outlooks, and abilities. The reason why this is a good thing is it will help you implement an event that will appeal to a diverse audience (and we have already discussed why that can be a good thing). So remember, it is not quotas you are filling, but representation.

Look towards encouraging volunteers from other events and groups

It perhaps should now go without saying that you should reach out into other communities for help for your event. These people will be more attuned to meeting their own communities needs and wants, and will also be used to coping with the demands of pulling off a successful event.

Give people ownership of their responsibilities

If you are a control freak (like me), you will struggle with the idea of handing over power of any sort for your fellow organisers and volunteers to run independently of you. This kind of command structure is not conducive to team members from growing into their role and are more likely to fail. No one wants to be bossed around at an event and if they are, you are probably not going to see them wanting to join your event the next time. Most people will live up to their responsibilities if they have control, so it is important that you give them this, and offer your support where they need it.

Understand a persons strengths and appoint accordingly

Do not assume that all of your volunteers will have exactly the same abilities (or capabilities). One person might be able to stand on their feet for a large part of the day and run between rooms – but someone else might have a medical condition that could struggle with these kinds of duties.

It is important that you communicate with all of your volunteers and understand how they can most effectively participate with volunteering at your event. Assign them roles that they will not only be able to perform, but also ones that they will enjoy.

Get plenty of volunteers onboard

Not everyone can easily deal with the pressure that running an event entails. It is important that you do not put unnecessary and extreme pressure on your team members to deliver or that exposes them to too many problems. Ensure that you bring onboard plenty of volunteers so that one person is not a single point of failure to the event activities, and that everyone has plenty of support.


Summary

It is incredibly important that you try to bring onboard lots of diverse representation onto your team so that you can run a more informed and efficient event schedule that meets the demands of your audience. This representation will also act as a great way to encourage further involvement and diversity in future years and ultimately help you achieve your goals (where you alone might fail) of encouraging diversity at technical events.

I hope you have enjoyed listening to my ramblings on this topic and I am very happy to listen to your thoughts and ideas too!