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Input Requested: “Building A Diverse Speaker Roster” Document
Hello! The Diversity Outreach Speaker Training group is creating a document for WordPress MeetupsMeetupMeetup groups are locally-organized groups that get together for face-to-face events on a regular basis (commonly once a month). Learn more about Meetups in our Meetup Organizer Handbook. and WordCamps entitled: “Building A Diverse Speaker Roster.”
Before we post it in the handbook, we would like to get your feedback on it, please.
Deadline: 11:59pm Pacific time Sunday, Sept 23 (6:59am UTC Monday, Sept 24)
I am posting the content below. You can make suggestions by commenting on this post or by doing it directly in the Google doc: https://t.co/I9kqujqHpq
Document: “Building A Diverse Speaker Roster”
Lack of Diversity
Have you noticed that there is mainly one kind of speaker at your WordPress events?
It is a common phenomenon in technology for those who belong to the major population of an area to become the ones to do most of the public speaking. Those who do not fit into that group have many reasons not to step up to speak, – for example, they may not view themselves as belonging to that group, or they may not believe they have anything of value to contribute. As a result, the kinds of speakers at tech events – in our case WordPress events – can frequently become homogeneous.
In North America, for example, many speakers at WordPress events are young, white, cisgender, straight men. There are so many other voices that aren’t being heard as much: women, non-binary and trans folk, genderqueer folk, LGBTQ+, people of colour, people of various physical abilities, people with varying mental health, folks who are older, etc.
Why does it matter who is at the front of the room speaking?
The audience is not represented by the speakers
Many WordPress events are successfully expanding the kinds of folks who are in the audience. For example, there have been more women-identifying WordPress event attendees in Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, Canada. That doesn’t mean that everyone in the audience is reflected in the speaker roster – a different group may feel like they don’t belong there. But there are many folks with a wide range of knowledge to share and everyone can feel included.
Users are not represented by the speakers
WordPress is amazing in that it is open sourceOpen SourceOpen Source denotes software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Open Source **must be** delivered via a licensing model, see GPL. and so all sorts of people use it. We want a more fair representation of our users among the people who are speaking.
Our speakers help shape our technology
One of the ways in which WordPress is being shaped is by the people who speak about it publicly. Many diverse folks, by nature of having had different life experiences, would approach problems differently. Just as how a developer’s point of view is different from a user’s point of view, so are our viewpoints vs the standard speaker. Many people have experiences that aren’t necessarily being shared right now.
Diverse technology needs
If only one kind of person is speaking about the technology, they may be missing key issues that don’t affect them but would prevent other kinds of folks from having the same, positive experiences and success. Size of text and color contrast are two simple, but significant examples. There is much more that can be considered if folks who are affected have the opportunity to speak up.
Unique perspectives benefit everyone
Different kinds of people bring in different kinds of ideas that benefit everyone. A famous example in the physical world is the curb cuts that were first installed to help disabled veterans in the 1940s. They turned out to benefit many more people than the group for which they were originally intended.
By bringing in more diverse people, there’s also an increased chance of bringing in folks who straddle several roles, thus creating unique things with unique perspectives. Power users who use technology in interesting ways, front-end developers, business people who use plugins to make specific kinds of sites, typographers who use WordPress to do cool things with typography… People to talk about running a business in WordPress, how developers can communicate with designers, different things you can do with WordPress… etc.
Now that you know why it is a great idea to build up a diverse speaker roster, let’s look at some challenges in doing so and some potential solutions.
None In My Community
There are no diverse folks in my community
There are no diverse people coming out to your events, and you don’t know any personally who do WordPress.
Ask your network for folks they know of those groups who do WordPress that they could introduce you to.
Find those communities in your area – online and in person. Try to form genuine, friendly relationships with members so that they can then help you reach the WordPress enthusiasts in their communities.
None applied to speak
No diverse people have applied to speak for my event
There are diverse folks who do WordPress in your community, yet they are not applying to be speakers.
Solution: Ask them directly. They may tell you their reasons they wish not to and if they do, listen. The following replies can help. See the next few points.
Nothing to talk about
I ask them directly and they say no because they think they have nothing to talk about
Typically, when member of the dominant group of a region knows a little bit about a topic, they feel like they know enough to give a talk about it. Conversely, frequently when someone from an underrepresented group knows a little bit about a topic, they don’t feel they know enough to talk about it.
Thus, when we ask diverse people: “Would you like to apply to speak at our WordCampWordCampWordCamps are casual, locally-organized conferences covering everything related to WordPress. They're one of the places where the WordPress community comes together to teach one another what they’ve learned throughout the year and share the joy. Learn more.?” we often get these two answers:
“What would I talk about?”
“I don’t know enough to give a talk,” or “I’m not an expert in anything”
MentorMentorSomeone who has already organised a WordCamp and has time to meet with their assigned mentee every 2 weeks, they talk over where they should be in their timeline, help them to identify their issues, and also identify solutions for their issues. them on the spot. Suggest things you know they could talk about. Explain that you don’t need how-tos but rather stories. Stories are more engaging for audiences. Everyone’s an expert in their own story. Ask if they have a good story about something that they’ve learned or mistakes they’ve made. If they feel they haven’t learned anything yet, one idea is to suggest that they take notes as they start to learn so that they can tell their story about it.
Run our Speaker Training [& Diversity Outreach] workshop that will help them see they have many things they could talk about, and also helps them through many other obstacles they may have currently to public speaking:
(Please tell us you’re running it so we can track how many trainings happen in a given year and/or request help with it here:
I ask and they say no because they don’t feel comfortable public speaking yet
They have no experience with public speaking or have had bad experiences with it and are not feeling comfortable doing it (but they do want to).
Small steps to build confidence are valuable. Suggest that they speak first to:
a video camera
friends and family
your local WordPress MeetupMeetupMeetup groups are locally-organized groups that get together for face-to-face events on a regular basis (commonly once a month). Learn more about Meetups in our Meetup Organizer Handbook. (before speaking at a WordCamp)
Suggest they be the moderator of a panel of a topic that they are interested in.
Suggest they give a lightning talk. Ten minutes is a great way to start.
Suggest they give a duo talk with someone who is a confident speaker.
Remind them that just about every public speaker is nervous, even if they don’t look like it!
I ask and they say no because of the Q&A section
Handling the Q&A section is preventing them from being willing to speak
Read through our info about that in our workshop material. We have solutions for:
Let them know that they don’t have to have a Q&A section. Some speakers and events have done away with it.
Being An Effective Ally
I want to help with diversity but I don’t know how.
You are in a position where you can offer to do more to help, and don’t know what to do.
Offer to help them with their talk proposals. Their talk may be great, but if the proposal isn’t good, it won’t even be considered.
Offer to help them with crafting their talks and slides.
Be mindful of using photos throughout the site for your event that show different types of people so that it is clear that diverse people are welcomed at the event. Be sure to include them on the call for speakers page.
What invisible things are preventing a more diverse group of people from attending and speaking at our events?
We don’t know what invisible things are preventing more kinds of people from attending and speaking at our events
Don’t use gendered words like:
Instead opt for words such as:
Have the event at different times that work for people with families. Don’t hold them all at 9pm at night. Weekend afternoons may work. Ask those with children what works for them.
Elevators and ramps rather than stairs.
Have washrooms that are trans friendly
Have single stall toilets available for trans women who may prefer it and for non-binary folk.
Washrooms that are power wheelchair accessible
Request no one wear scents for the folk who are allergic.
Sign language interpreters.
Pronouns on your name badges so that people who don’t use the binary pronouns feel welcome. One suggestion is to make this optional so that folks who don’t feel comfortable outing their pronouns in public yet won’t feel obliged, and those who don’t feel comfortable without proper pronouns will feel included with the majority of folks sharing theirs.
Not everyone may want their photos online. It could be for personal reasons or even in some cases, safety reasons. Allow a way for people to opt out of being photographed, such as having a different color lanyard.
Anything else you can think of that expands the kind of person who can speak at and come to your event.
Following these suggestions will help in the road to including more people; that kind of radical inclusion creates an amazing space of respect and innovation for everyone.