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

Team chat September 11 2014 Topic mentorship diversity…

Team chat, September 11, 2014
Topic: mentorship/diversity

Agenda:

  • GSoC update
  • check-in on mixer how-to that @liljimmi was working on
  • suggest topics in the comments

#diversity, #mentorship

Just got word that our meetup & WC…

Just got word that our meetup & WC organizer from Kathmandu, Nepal —Sakin Shrestha, who’s also a theme reviewer — got his visa approved to come to WCSF/summit/team meetup. Yay!

In this case I had to respond to a lot of (essay) questions from the consular agent in addition to the information I’d already provided in the visa invitation letter. If anyone has any contacts at the state department that I might be able to talk to about how to make this process easier in general (since it’s the same info going to consulates in multiple countries, for WordPress events), hit me up. 🙂

#diversity, #summit, #wcsf2014

Diversity Outreach FAQ

We’ve been talking about diversity — more diverse organizing teams, more diverse speaker rosters, more diverse contributor groups — and most everyone wants to help us grow in that area. Where we fall down is people not knowing how to get there. To that end, based on the success of the Philly Tech Week Diversity Mixer, I asked @liljimmi to work on a how-to guide for throwing a diversity mixer, with the thought that local wp meetups could throw similar events. She got together with some of the organizers last weekend and they put together a draft, which she shared with me. The thing that stood out was that it had a lot of how-to on planning a party, but only a couple of lines on how to do the outreach to diverse communities to get people interested. Tracy and I talked about ways to build out that section, and are thinking the best way to answer sensitive questions is to have people ask them.

So! If Andrea were to tell you, “There should be a diverse group of people working together to choose speakers,” or, “I really need you to work on the diversity of your speaker roster this year,” what questions would run through your mind?

Add as many questions as you can think of in the comments, and that will provide a starting point for building an FAQ, and possibly language/email templates that could be used for cold-call outreach. Don’t try to censor yourself here. Say things as bluntly as you would feel them, so we can create an FAQ that addresses real situations. Post all the questions you would have, even if someone else already did, so that we can also see which questions are the most frequently asked. (Ha)

I’ll start:

  • I don’t know anyone who’s [from an underrepresented group]. How do I meet those people?
  • If I go to a Blogging While Black meetup event to try and meet some people, won’t I (as a white person) be accused of invading their space?
  • What’s the best way to contact people without inserting myself where I assume I’m not wanted/welcome?
  • How do I ask someone to get involved in a way that doesn’t tokenize them?
  • Could you tell me what to say when I’m contacting a person [from an underrepresented group] about getting involved so I don’t say something that’s inadvertently insensitive/racist/ableist/sexist/etc?
  • How much of this kind of outreach should be public vs private?
  • If I reach out to someone and they don’t reply, if I try again or even three times, is that being persistent because we all know that email piles up, or am I harassing someone that isn’t interested?
  • If someone in my group starts ranting about quotas and affirmative action, do you have language I can use to shut them up allay their concerns and convince them of the importance of diversity outreach?

#diversity, #faq

Diversity Outreach, Existing Groups

We talked awhile back about reaching out to existing groups working in this area to see where we could partner in an effort to increase diversity in the wp community (and esp in the contributor community). I’ve started putting out feelers/emailing organizations and setting up calls to discuss possibilities like workshops, support, etc. This past week I contacted a handful, but would like to officially take suggestions of groups that you know of that are working to bring more underrepresented groups (re gender, age, dis/ability, race, you name it) into tech, open source, blogging, dev, or any related area. Don’t be afraid to think outside these areas, too — I contacted a girls rock band program, for example, because posting their songwriting efforts and having a revision history, having a musician’s website, and having audio and video playlists could all enhance the existing program.

Post your suggestions in the comments (with links, please, and if you happen to know someone there, mention that and I’ll ping you for contact info), and I’ll add them to this to-do list to contact to see if they’d be interested in working with us on anything. I’ll also create a page with a status table so we can keep track of them on an ongoing basis. If you’re interested in acting as the liaison with a specific project, mention that as well. Suggestions can be for groups that work locally, nationally, internationally, whatever, but should be non-profits, not private businesses.

I’ll start the list:

Let’s hear some suggestions!

#diversity, #partnerships

Women Speakers at WordCamps

One of the things we’ve worked on in the past year is trying to increase diversity in the project, starting with gender. We’ve reached out to more women about contributing, we participated in the Gnome Outreach Program for Women, and we taught workshops for women both on our own and at events like the Grace Hopper Conference Open Source Day. Cool! One of the things we talked about doing but never did was putting something together for WordCamp organizers on having more women speakers — why it’s important, why it won’t magically happen just because you include the line “women encouraged to apply” in your call for speakers, and how to do the (hard yet underrated) work of increasing diversity on your speaker rolls. I’m sad to say that our lack of attention there shows. I’ve tallied up the speaker numbers from the past two years, and we’ve just barely moved the needle.

A note about these stats: They are not perfect, because some events didn’t post all their speakers, or in a couple of cases any, since they posted things to an external site. Moving forward we will make sure to tell WC organizers to use the speaker listings built in to the WC site so that we will have consistent speaker data. In cases where I didn’t already know the gender of a speaker or couldn’t tell based on a combination of picture/profile/pronouns in bio, I asked the organizer or someone else who was there to let me know the speaker gender.

2012 Percentage of Women Speakers at WordCamps

  • Surveyed 66 WordCamps.
  • Lowest: 0% women
  • Highest: 47% women
  • Mean: 19% women
  • Median: 19.5% women
  • Mode: 3-way tie (4 events each), 0% & 25% & 29% women

2013 Percentage of Women Speakers at WordCamps

  • Surveyed 69 WordCamps.
  • Lowest: 0% women
  • Highest: 50% women
  • Mean: 21% women
  • Median: 21% women
  • Mode: 2-way tie (6 events each), 0% & 25% women

So the overall numbers didn’t improve too much. We should really get to work on that guide this year. Any volunteers?

What’s even more disappointing is that in looking at each event’s speaker lists, I saw a number of WordCamps that went from decent percentages in 2012 to dismal percentages in 2013, and a lot of the ones with dismal numbers had a high percentage of “circuit” speakers — folks that speak at WordCamps all over the place, often giving the same talk. This is a touchy subject, and I don’t want to dive into it right now — we have enough touchy subjects on the docket already — but it’s something to think about.

Note: For the sake of this I went binary based on the people we had on stage. My gut tells me that in 2014 we will have some speakers who identify as trans in a non-binary way, so moving forward will look at gender in a slightly different way.

#speakers, #wordcamps, #diversity

The Community Expectations working group had its kickoff…

The Community Expectations working group had its kickoff chat today (irc log). In attendance were Mika Eptein (@ipstenu), Aaron Jorbin, Siobhan McKeown, Tracy Levesque, George Stephanis, Brooke Dukes, Carrie Dils, Kronda Adair, and me (@jenmylo). Cátia Kitahara is also on the team but couldn’t make the meeting.

The plan:

  • Carrie and Brooke and Aaron are on the front line, reviewing similar policies from other open source orgs and seeing if there’s good stuff that we can reuse (if licensed appropriately, of course) or be inspired by. They will be dropping the chunks they think would be good to use or reference into a doc by Tuesday, 10/29/13.
  • I will drop a headings outline into the doc, also by Tuesday.
  • On Wednesday, 10/30/13, the “write new content” group will step up and start creating sections as needed. This includes Aaron, Mika, George, with Jen and Siobhan as needed (who’ll also be editing all the pieces together as they’re added). Complete this portion by Tuesday, 11/5/13. The rest of the group will drop in and comment as time allows in this period.
  • Regroup to review what we have so far, and plan how to proceed to finish draft for community review.

A note on creating this working group:
There were some comments on the thread that announced this project that indicated some discomfort at the idea that I wanted this working group to be diverse itself. Without getting into who’s male/female/gay/straight/disabled/etc, I want to make it clear that no one was added to this group based on some sort of diversity quota rather than merit.

As it happens, the process for creating a diverse group is pretty similar to creating a diverse speaker roster for a WordCamp, so I thought I’d share the process I used.

First, I started with the people who volunteered on the post by the time we got started. This is the same as choosing from speaker applications. You check them out and if they look good you say yes. Really very easy on the organizer, not hard work. As it happened, those people were all people known to me, and have all either written or presented on a topic related to appropriate behavior in our community, diversity, etc. on their own, so that made it easy to say yes to all of them. No one who explicitly said, “I want to help with this,” in the comments by the time we started the group was excluded.

Within these volunteers there was some diversity in sexual orientation, family makeup, religion, politics, length of time in WP community, etc, but it appeared to be all white women* from the U.S., so I wanted to broaden the perspective of the group by including some more people of different backgrounds (with a cap at 10 for logistical purposes). That meant I needed to reach out and make an effort to see if there were any qualified people that could round out the team that maybe hadn’t seen the post or had not felt comfortable volunteering.

This is the step that tends to freak people out. For WC organizers, it’s a lot of work, and if they don’t know a lot of people who are qualified then it turns into a choice-based-on-demographics, which is obviously not good for anyone. I’m lucky enough to be familiar with a lot of talented people in our community from many regions, levels of involvement, areas of expertise, etc. so that wasn’t a problem here. Everyone I reached out to met the same professional WP standards as the original volunteers, as well as having spoken or written somewhere about these issues already (including the 2 white dudes with beards 🙂 ).

In the end, our group of course could be still more diverse, but within the limited number of people we do have there is a pretty broad variety of viewpoints and experiences to draw on in our drafting process, which is the goal. Not to prioritize one demographic group over another, but to be sure that more viewpoints are included in the process and have a voice.

*Remember you can’t tell much from a gravatar. Someone who looks white may be biracial, someone who looks male may be female or vice versa (remember how we all thought Mika was a man for years because of her Frank Sinatra-eque hat gravatar?), and there are all sorts of other diversity components that have nothing to do with what your face looks like, so we have to remember not to make assumptions.

#community-expectations, #community-management, #diversity, #meeting-notes

Last weekend we participated in the Grace Hopper…

Last weekend we participated in the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference‘s Open Source Day in Minneapolis. I, Alison Barrett, and Carolyn Sonnek attended as workshop teachers for the people who signed up for the WordPress section.

Alison led the group interested in working on how to contribute to core. They went through the setup process with svn, and worked on a javascript patch that was submitted on trac. I pinged Helen and Andrew Ozz to review the ticket so the participants could get an idea for how feedback gets delivered. After lunch, Alison’s group continued to learn about wp core (they mostly had js experience, no php).

Carolyn and I each led a small group in the morning that was focused on setting up a local install and learning how to use WordPress (they mostly had no experience with it, coming from programming backgrounds rather than content management). After lunch our two groups combined and we taught them how themes work and how to build a child theme.

At the end of the day we had to get up and show a demo of what our group had worked on, so we threw together some quick posts on a test site I had (because we couldn’t have multiple people contributing to a local install simultaneously) describing some of the activity, and one of the students’ child theme was used. It won’t be representative of the class after next week, but if anyone wants to see what was shown, you can see it here until October 16, 2013 (after which I’ll remove the link and it goes back to being a test site for me).

What we learned:

  • Most of the computer science majors/professionals we met had heard of WordPress but not used it, and didn’t work with PHP.
  • Because of our user/developer dual audience, it’s very difficult to ensure that a targeted workshop will reach the right audience without fairly strict pre-screening. We thought our group would be all people wanting to contribute to core, but 2/3 just wanted to learn how to use WP for the first time.
  • Having mamp and the most recent version of wp on a thumb drive is always very handy.
  • We could have jumped right into using WP if we hadn’t needed to dither with database connection errors etc in mamp/wamp for the first 20-30 minutes. That said, with this audience, they liked setting up the development environment, even if they weren’t going to do anything hardcore.
  • The workshop was the day after the conference proper ended, so some people had to leave after lunch because they were checking out of hotels, catching flights, etc. This is something we see when we do tack-ons after WordCamps also.
  • We really really need to kick it into gear with building curriculums and getting them online so we can start doing trainings of all stripes.

#conferences, #diversity, #grace-hopper, #training, #women, #workshops

Community Expectations

Anyone who’s paid attention to other open source projects over the past year or two has seen the development of codes of conduct for almost every project/conference series that didn’t already have one. We’re behind here, for several reasons.

  • Our project tends to mostly be filled with respectful, kind people, so many people don’t feel we need a code of conduct.
  • Some people feel a code of conduct sets up the notion that we expect people to be inappropriate jerks, and that will make people not want to join us.
  • We have lots of libertarians that don’t like centralized rules and policies. 🙂

For these reasons we have tended toward generalities rather than stating behavioral rules in specific detail.

We’re outgrowing this.

WordCamps, meetups, forums, irc, trac tickets, blog comments, and more all have the potential to be home to conduct unbecoming a WordPress community member. But how is anyone supposed to know what we expect without having been around?

And even if they have been around, the people who’ve been around longer have inside jokes and know each other well enough that they might say things tongue-in-cheek that newcomers think are being said seriously and take in a way other than intended. Without any evil intentions, people who’ve never thought about what it’s like to be a member of a minority or anything other than able-bodied/financially-stable/caucasian/American/male/heterosexual/bearded/whatever-the-majority-is might not realize how unwelcoming some language or imagery may be to those who are different.

To that end, I want us to have a page on wordpress.org that lays out our Community Expectations. A little less harsh-sounding than Code of Conduct, the Community Expectations should lay out what kinds of behavior are welcome/encouraged/expected in the project/at events, and provide a way for people to let us know if we fail to live up to these expectations so that we can continually improve our ability to welcome new contributors.

This is part of the diversity initiative. I’d like to assemble a small team of folks to work together on creating a draft of this document that we can then share with the broader contributor community for comment. To ensure that we are sensitive to language affecting multiple groups of people, I’d like this small team to itself be diverse. If you’re interested in helping draft this document, please leave a comment on this post and I’ll be in touch next week.

If you don’t want to be on the team that works on the document but you’d like to make sure we take something or other into account while we draft it, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments as well.

#diversity, #documentation, #policy

WordPress will be participating in Grace Hopper Open…

WordPress will be participating in Grace Hopper Open Source Day 2013 at the Women in Computing Conference. It’s the same Saturday as WC Europe, so will need to see who’s heading to that before choosing a couple of (preferably women) mentors to go and oversee the workshop. We’ll be guiding some first-time contributors through a first project. Told Christie (co-chair of OSD) I wanted to wait to choose our project until we were into the next dev cycle so we could pick something relevant.

#conferences, #diversity, #grace-hopper, #women, #workshops