Discussion: Should We Pay for Speaker Travel

It’s been many years since we last openly discussed the question of whether or not to pay for the travel and expenses of out-of-town speakers for WordCamps. I’ve seen a few discussions around (and have had quite a few with people, myself), so I thought it was time to have a post about it.

The Background Info
Speaking at a WordCamp has always been considered a volunteer contribution. In the same way that developers donate their time writing a patch for core, speakers donate their time sharing knowledge with the greater WordPress community. If a speaker chooses to submit their talks to WordCamps where travel would be required, the expectation is that they will cover their own expenses.

The global community team stresses a local focus for WordPress events, to not only keep costs manageable, but also to foster that sense of community that makes our project so unique. We ask organizers to do the following things:

  • Focus on having primarily local speakers at your event
  • Choose high quality speakers (and presentations) over quantity
  • Crowdsource potential speaker suggestions from your Meetup members

The Current Info
The conversations I’ve been seeing/having lately often are focused on paying for speaker travel in the name of diversity; thought diversity, racial diversity, and gender diversity in particular. These are all worthwhile pursuits, without question, but it does seem to suggest that our own, local WordPress communities have none of this diversity on their own.

Some Pros

  • Increase diversity at WordCamps
  • Potentially provide assistance to those who need it
  • Perhaps increase attendance at the WordCamp

Some Cons

  • Run the risk of “tokenizing” a small group of people (tokenism, refers to an empty gesture that implies a solution without addressing the root problem. More here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokenism)
  • Potentially discourage local speakers on accident
  • Perhaps remove incentive for organizers to cultivate local speakers and relationships with groups that promote diversity locally

The Discussion
If you’ve got suggestions, or alternative solutions, please share them in the comments. We are interested in viewpoints even when they are opposing!