Diversifying Your Speaker Lineup
If we want a more diverse speaker line up, we have to be prepared to do the outreach necessary.
4 min read
Congratulations, you have an all male panel!
So runs the tagline of allmalepanels.tumblr.com, an infinite scrolling list of user-submitted flyers and speaker lineups in which all male and mostly white ambassadors of our world explain to us what it is going on. The panels are far-flung across the world from Italy, Finland, London, the US, that's just on the first page, and are about Migration and Success, DEVOPS, Comedy, Domestic Violence... the list goes on and on and on. Each image gets a Hoffsome stamp of approval. Good job, you're perpetuating the notion that all experts are men!
This barrage of images and names, all at once, highlights the problem with a lack of diversity in panels, seminars, or other events in which experts come together to discuss a subject. In isolation, it can seem harmless. Maybe these truly are the top experts on the subject. Or maybe these are the experts in the area or the experts available to come or, most likely, the experts that the panel coordinator knew about. It's an unintended result of good people trying to do a good job. But taken together it shows in a single swoop how common it is.
These panels and seminars and speakers send a message that all experts are white men, which is not only false but a dangerous lie. All white, all male line-ups perpetuate the notion that only white men can be experts in a field, that all knowledge disseminates from white men, and that only white men can become experts. SheCanCode has talked about this last one before: if she can't see it, she can't be it. But more so, these are falsities. In overlooking the contributions minority communities make to their field, we maintain a status quo that discounts a huge portion of the population.
If we put out a generic call for speakers, it's likely we'll only get white men to respond. This is the point where we can get lazy and say, well, these are the only people available. It's a dangerous thought because it assumes that the way events have worked in the past is the way they will continue to work in the future. If I'm included, great. If I'm not, bad luck: I'll never get in. Change requires work and so will diversifying a speaker line-up.
Soledad Penadés, an engineering manager at Mozilla, breaks down how to make a speaker line up more diverse in an amazing blog post. She explains that if we want a more diverse speaker line up, we have to be prepared to do the outreach necessary. This can take time because it involves cultivating a network to include the minorities, learning about their work, and finding those that fit well with an event. As Sole explicitly states, we have to learn about why they should be speakers and no, "the answer is not that they are a member of a minority."
Building a network can be hard. It involves searching for experts at meetups, finding professional communities, and scouring other conferences or events. There are a number of resources on social media to help find people. There are curated lists on Twitter for women in tech, people of color in tech, and LGBT people in tech.
Taking the long road and building a stronger network through outreach work will help with other things as well like hiring, promoting, and decreasing the pay gap. So it's well worth the investment.
Katy Gero has been lucky enough to work at two tech startups with female CEOs. A year after finishing her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, she slyly transitioned into data and computer science roles. A long time writer and poet, she loves getting people interested in science and technology and bridging the gap between the arts and engineering.