NCWIT Tips: 13 Tips to Make Technical Conferences More Inclusive

Tips Inclusive Conferences Cover

Ensuring that your technical conference provides a welcome environment for a wide range of attendees is important for broadening participation in technology. Use the tips below to help you create a more inclusive and welcoming conference experience for all.

1. Make sure the conference website, swag, and other promotional materials are inclusive and welcoming.

See NCWIT’s Tips for Inclusive Websites for specific tips related to promotional materials. Have resources focused on issues of diversity and inclusion readily available. Free, research-based resources about recruitment, retention, managerial relationships, computing education, and many other topics are available on NCWIT’s resources page. You can order hard copies from [email protected].

2. Establish an explicit code of conduct.

Include an anti-harassment policy and guidelines for appropriate behavior to ensure that your conference is an enjoyable and inclusive experience for everyone. Publicize your code of conduct on websites and other appropriate materials. Free resources for developing a code of conduct are available here.

tips inclusive conferences microphone circle thumb3. Invite a diverse range of speakers to the main stage.

It is tempting to simply invite the first names that come to mind, but this is a surefire way to reinforce the status quo. Expand your speaking networks by asking a range of people and organizations to offer ideas for potential speakers. Be sure that individuals from underrepresented groups are invited to speak about technical topics, not only about diversity topics.

4. When reviewing proposals for breakout sessions, consider removing names and author affiliations.

Removing all identifying information has been shown to increase the diversity of applicants accepted in a variety of contexts.

5. Don’t create a separate “women’s” or “diversity” track.

While it can be useful to have sessions that emphasize diversity and inclusion topics, it is better if they are incorporated into the conference rather than placed in a separate track. Also, removing words like “women” and “diversity” from the titles of these sessions can help ensure that you don’t limit your audience.

6. Actively invite all conference attendees to sessions that emphasize diversity and inclusion.

Have well-respected conference or industry leaders promote these sessions. Even when words like “women” or “diversity” are removed from the title, majority-group members don’t always recognize that they are welcome to – and even should – attend these sessions. Explain that these sessions are for anyone who wants to learn more about creating work environments that reap the benefits diversity brings to innovation and productivity.

7. Prepare your speakers, especially when they are planning to present or attend sessions on the topic of diversity and inclusion.

Share NCWIT’s Critical Listening Guide to help speakers and attendees adopt a critical lens throughout your event.

tips inclusive conferences invites photo8. Make a particular effort to invite underrepresented groups to attend the conference.

An explicit or personal invite can help make people feel more welcome and comfortable, especially when they know they will be in the minority at a particular conference. See if your sponsors or attendees are NCWIT members and leverage them as ambassadors.

9. Offer scholarships or reduced conference registration options to students, startups, and/or any demographic group that is underrepresented in your audience.

This minimizes the financial burden of attendance and may eliminate a barrier to entry for some attendees.

10. Ensure accessibility and comfort for all attendees and speakers.

The website and physical conference site should be welcoming to people with disabilities. Make sure there is a microphone for all speakers. Avoid putting panelists on a stool or on a high platform stage. Ensure your check-in table allows attendees in wheelchairs to be greeted at eye-level. Provide at least one all-gender restroom. Every session should include options for people who are vision and/or hearing impaired, etc. And when people register, leave a box for requested special accommodations.

11. Offer flexible scheduling and support for attendees who are traveling with children.

Offering events (workshops and social) at different times of day and in differing types of venues can go a long way to ensuring parents are able to attend, as does the availability and cost of on-site childcare. Also consider offering a space for breastfeeding and/or pumping and list this information in the program.

12. Ensure that a diverse team is helping to organize and staff the conference.

Doing so will increase the team’s ability to recognize and address specific inclusivity issues that might arise during the conference. Also train your entire staff to address inclusivity to make all attendees feel welcome. For example, have someone who can speak and translate Spanish (or other common languages for your event) and someone who can sign available to assist attendees, if possible.

tips inclusive conferences evaluation circle thumb13. Evaluate the conference and include questions about inclusiveness.

Consider collecting anonymous gender and other demographic information to assess the environment, as perceived by different groups in your audience. Specifically ask how comfortable and welcome attendees felt at your conference and work to improve these marks (incorporating ideas they share) at future events.

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