i dream of being possible

musings on increasing diversity of a tech conference

I saw some tweets linking to the Fossetcon call for papers and, to be honest, I’ve recently become somewhat more interested in maybe presenting on my Tyrann of Open paper as a way to do a little to try and help improve FOSS culture1. My interest was peaked because they seemed to making some effort at outreach, as well as expressing a clear commitment for diversity.

Yet, as I read over the details of the conference, it occurred to me what struck me as wrong about this. Stuff like this is a good first step, but nothing on the page shows any clear organization support for this stated desire to increase diversity. It simply stops at expressing a desire for diverse papers/presenters and that they’ll extend the CFP if they aren’t getting enough. But it there is nothing demonstrated to show how this will be supported.

By ‘support’ I mean several different things.

  1. Money. Yes, it is crass nowadays to discuss money, but when we look over the demographics of many FOSS projects, we already know that the majority of people are white men. This means that if you want your FOSS project or conference to attract a diverse group, you must be recruiting and targeting people who aren’t already involved in FOSS in any formal way2. Combine this with the reality that women, as a whole, make less money then men. And that women of colour (and some/many men of colour) make even less money than white men, we immediately run into a problem of money. If I see no indication of either scholarships or the availability of funding to get me to the conference? I’m not going. I can’t. I’m too poor.
  2. Events/spaces/workshops/something devoted specifically for women/poc/disabled people. What does this mean? Given that diversity is an ongoing issue, it is highly likely that many non-white non-men will be attending this conference for the very first time. Everyone knows that it can be very difficult to enter a new space/community as a first-timer. Going the extra mile to show that not only do you want a diverse group of people to show up, but that you are commmited to them having the best possible experience will go a long way to show these people that they are, in fact, truly welcomed as more than a token to make your conference look good. This can involve mixers with these attendees plus some of the ‘big name’ people you are bringing in. Or a lunch with these attendees and maybe some old hands of the conference. Or even a small meet and greet for these attendees on their own (since, it can be really alienating and intimidating to be the only woman/poc/disabled person in a room).
  3. Accommodations. I’m going to talk loudly about this until I see substantive change. In this website, there is not a single mention of whether or not there are any disability accommodations available (or that will be provided). Is the venue wheelchair accessible? I don’t know. Have they arranged for ASL interpretation for any Deaf or Hard of Hearing people? Are they prepared to enforce a scent-free environment? Will they have quiet, low stimulation spaces for people with autism, sensory problems, anxiety, etc.? Where are the warnings about flash photography, flashing lights, etc. for people with photosensitivity or epilepsy? Anything? At all? No? Okay. I guess they want diversity, but no disabled people. Gotcha.
  4. Location. This is somewhat specific to this conference, but also generally applicable. I look to see where this conference is being held. Florida? Lol, no. Not even if they were paying me. How much more ‘no’ would my feelings be if I were Black? I also will likely never go to another conference in Arizona (when I’m in these states people most often think I’m Latina and this is a big problem). Does the state still legally allow people to discriminate against trans women? This is an important matter because many do. Especially as concerns public accommodations. Will I show up and be turned away from the hotel? Will I get arrested/harassed for using the washroom? This sort of thing matters. A great deal.

Er… I think this is all I can think of, for the moment.

Getting to true and meaningful diversity is something that requires a lot of effort. And a willingness to invest time and money into. It also, in a lot of ways, requires significant organizational change, since many of these things need to be considered far before you even think about posting your call for papers.

  1. I have some suggestions based on the ideas presented in the paper for how things might be improved. Or at least some concrete steps FOSS projects can start taking to make things better. 

  2. I’d definitely characterize my involvement as ‘informal’ even though I do work with open source software as part of my daily job.