5 more things women in tech want to see at events

Holly Brockwell
clock • 7 min read

Holly Brockwell continues her rundown of the ways technology events must change to be more inclusive

We recently asked the #WomenInTech of Twitter what they'd like to see at conferences and events - not just the ones aimed at them, but all tech events.

They gave us some excellent answers: too many, in fact, for one article. So here's part two: 5 more things to do at your event if you want women in tech to turn up.

 

1. 360-degree accessibility

You'd hope accessibility at a conference would go without saying, but I've attended enough events with enormous staircases to know otherwise. Still, while accessibility is a basic human requirement rather than specific to women in tech, disability can stack with being female to result in a larger share of burden than disabled men in tech face.

For starters, there's the fact that women's pain isn't taken as seriously, that we're less likely to be diagnosed and therefore might have to ask for accommodations without the required 'piece of paper' to say we're entitled to them, and the fact that women tend to be poorer overall and therefore have less chance to get a fancy electric wheelchair to propel us around your unnecessarily giant event hall.

But 360-degree accessibility is about more than the physical layout of your event - women with disabilities want to be represented on stage, too. That means disabled speakers on panels, and not just panels about disability. As Eleanor Lisney puts it, "The most pressing issues faced by disabled women are the ones faced by most women, except that when you're disabled, it adds another layer of discrimination." And that means disabled women's voices are especially vital to the discourse around women and tech.

To quote software engineer Amelia Ardath, we want to see "actual thought (and a budget) going towards accessibility, not just just the minimal effort required to look "presentable". This means talking to #ActuallyDisabled people about their needs, and (*gasp!*) hiring #ActuallyDisabled people to consult."

That last one is crucial - women are so often expected to work for free if they want things to improve. But their labour has value, and if you want talented women with disabilities to be welcome at your event (and I hope it goes without saying that you should), pay them to help you improve your accessibility. They'll flag things that had never even crossed your mind, I guarantee it.

 

2. Paid speakers

If women had a pound for every time they'd been asked to speak for free at an event, we wouldn't have a problem.

Frustratingly, event organisers very often charge people megabucks for a ticket to an event, then stiff their speakers on fees. They still find speakers, because some people have imposter syndrome and don't believe their time has worth, some are millionaires (no really, I'm frequently told "but [millionaire] was willing to do it for nothing!"), and some can take time out of their salaried work to be a speaker, hence still getting paid.

But many of us can't, and there needs to be an understanding from event owners that without speakers, you have no event. They seem to get that they have to pay for a venue (one event organiser told me he couldn't pay speakers because the "super cool venue" cost too much - as if that somehow pays my bills), they're more than happy to pay themselves, but somehow speakers - and especially women speakers - are expected to prepare a talk, practice, travel, speak and take questions out of the goodness of our hearts.

Nope.

This issue affects not just speakers but attendees. As game designer Jennifer Scheurle puts it, "I want speakers to be paid and I want them to be paid equally."

UX Designer Fiona McAndrew adds, "[I want] to know that the speakers are being paid, not just the big names. It helps bring up the quality of content and helps with diversity. Why? Because creating a good talk takes time and not everyone has a ton of free leisure time, if they do it is a privilege."

Anthropologist Dr. S.A. Applin would like to see the keynotes given equally by men and women, including speaking time and "not giving women the bad slots in the early AM or the end of the day on the last day" (amen).

Finally, we'd like to see some consideration for people with less capital when setting ticket prices. Specifically, says TTW Consulting, "lower registration fees, especially for freelancers & startups who don't yet have big budgets."

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