How to run a minority-only event

As I promised in last week’s team chat, here is a draft of some guidelines and resources for running minority-only events. Any suggestions for improvement are welcome!

How to run a minority-only event

The tech industry is notoriously white and male. WordPress is all about democratizing publishing, and one of the major strengths of WordPress is that, just as the WordPress software is easy for everyone to use, the community around WordPress is very friendly and open to everyone. However, newcomers are not always aware that WordPress is a friendly community, and many minorities still have to overcome some big cultural hurdles to feel welcome at tech events. With that in mind, your community might want to have some minority-only events. Here are some guidelines about how to run minority-only events.

What kinds of events are okay?

* study groups (people bring their projects and questions and work together to learn and improve)
* workshops and talks around specific issues relevant to that group of people (imposter syndrome, public speaking, dealing with micro-aggressions)
* pre-event mixers (as a prelude to an all-inclusive event)

There’s a difference between saying “we want to overcome cultural pressures by giving women a safe space to learn where they don’t feel intimidated” vs. “these are casual gatherings that are limited by gender.” You need to have reasons why this particular event is useful to this particular minority group, or why this particular topic is relevant to the group. Some topics are of special interest to minorities, but could also be useful to non-minorities. If that is the case, you should consider holding two versions of the event: one for minorities only, and one that is open to everyone. For example, a workshop about speaking at WordCamps is useful to everyone, but there might be specific issues (such as imposter syndrome) that women/minorities will want to discuss more. At the very least, the curriculum you use in your minority-only event should be made available to everyone, or speakers should be recorded and posted on wordpress.tv.

What groups of people can events target?
Any minority group, or group that is under-represented in technology (ie, non-white straight males):

* women
* people of color
* immigrants
* queers
* transgender people
* people with disabilities

But men!
It might seem hypocritical that events exclusive to women and minorities are acceptable, but events exclusive to men or white people are not acceptable. However, women and minorities face issues that straight white men do not. These issues are particularly exaggerated in the tech industry, which is overwhelmingly dominated by white men. Minority-only events can address the issues that minorities face, and create a safe and comfortable space for people who might not otherwise feel safe and comfortable. A minority-only event gives minorities a chance to experiment and build confidence that they can then take with them to events that are open to everyone. This is also about privilege and power. There are some groups of people who have less privilege and power than others. These events are designed to flatten some of that structure of privilege and power.

How to make this increase diversity
It sounds contradictory that having an event where certain types of people are excluded could increase diversity in your community. However, these events can make it clear to minorities that they are welcome in your community, and that the community organizers are thinking about their needs. They can help minorities build confidence, find mentors, and feel comfortable participating. Make sure you explain at these events that your goal is to welcome their participation in the wider WordPress community, either by attending more meetups, contributing to WordPress, or using WordPress more. Use these events as an opportunity to find out what event organizers can do to make minorities feel welcome at all-inclusive events.

How to organize these events if you’re a white male
These events need to be organized and led by a representative of the minority they are designed to help. If you are not a minority, but you want to see these kinds of events happen in your community, you can send out an announcement to your members, or personally invite active minority members of your community. Do not tell them to organize events (that comes across as making minorities do more work just because they are minorities), but invite them to organize events and offer your support.

How to handle it if the wrong type of person shows up
First of all, make sure that your event description clearly states that this event is only open to certain people. If someone who doesn’t fit that description shows up, politely tell them that the event description clearly states that this event is not for them, and invite them to the next event where they are allowed.

How to handle it if you get resistance from your meetup community
Minority-only events can be a very touchy subject, so don’t be surprised if you meet some resistance, or even some downright anger, when organizing these events. First, know that as long as you are following these guidelines, you have the support of the WordPress Community Team, and if you need help handling pushback, we are available to help. Second, make sure that your events really are helping your community’s overall diversity: if not, you might need to reconsider these events. Even if it is clear that your events are strengthening your community, some people (perhaps even the minorities your events are trying to support) will have trouble understanding why these events are beneficial. The best thing to do is to point these people to some resources about the lack of diversity in the tech industry and why this is a problem (see list of resources below), or to provide some evidence to them that these events are directly helping your community. If you are just getting resistance from a few people, don’t invest too much time or energy in trying to change their minds: if they don’t understand issues of power and privilege, you will have a difficult time convincing them.

How to handle definitions/outliers
Assigning people to categories can be shockingly difficult. Someone might show up at your event who doesn’t quite look like they belong, such as a transgendered or mixed-race person. Be aware that this might happen, and be careful how you word your event descriptions. For example, you might limit a women-only event to “women and anyone who identifies as woman in a way that is significant to them.” You are creating a safe space, so let people define themselves instead of trying to impose your definitions on people.

Make sure it’s working
These events are only worthwhile if they actually do help increase diversity in your community. Make sure that you tell attendees that the goal of these events is to encourage/facilitate more participation from minorities. Ask attendees regularly why they’re coming: it might have more to do with date/time/location than with demographics. Also try to keep an eye on how much people who attend these events participate in the community as a whole: if they don’t participate more, perhaps these events aren’t working. Keep in mind that “participation” does not necessarily mean “coming to more meetups.” Participation can also mean contributing to WordPress, using WordPress more, and encouraging others to use WordPress.

Further Reading
If you want to know more about these issues, here are some good resources:

Diversity issues in the tech industry:

* Technology’s Man Problem – http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/technology/technologys-man-problem.html
* We can do better – http://do-better.herokuapp.com/
* Abuse as DDOS – http://modelviewculture.com/pieces/abuse-as-ddos

Privilege and power:

* Straight white male: the easiest difficulty setting there is – http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/
* Male Programmer Privilege Checklist – http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Male_Programmer_Privilege_Checklist

Value of minority-only spaces:

* The Rise of Feminist Hackerspaces and How to Make Your Own – http://modelviewculture.com/pieces/the-rise-of-feminist-hackerspaces-and-how-to-make-your-own
* Why Women-Only Tech Events are a Good Idea – http://womenofwp.org/2014/03/why-women-only-tech-events-are-a-good-idea/
* Why Do Women Try To Get Ahead by Pulling Men Down? – https://medium.com/thoughts-on-society/why-do-women-try-to-get-ahead-by-pulling-men-down-a1345b36b91b

Resources for people who want to be supportive of women and minorities:

* Resources for allies on Geek Feminism Wiki – http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Resources_for_allies
* So You Want to Be An Ally – http://juliepagano.com/blog/2014/05/10/so-you-want-to-be-an-ally/

#diversity, #meetups-2, #women