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

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 mentorsEvent Supporter Event Supporter (formerly Mentor) is someone 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., 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 meetupsMeetup Meetup 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., 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 meetupMeetup Meetup 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. 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 –
* We can do better –
* Abuse as DDOS –

Privilege and power:

* Straight white male: the easiest difficulty setting there is –
* Male Programmer Privilege Checklist –

Value of minority-only spaces:

* The Rise of Feminist Hackerspaces and How to Make Your Own –
* Why Women-Only Tech Events are a Good Idea –
* Why Do Women Try To Get Ahead by Pulling Men Down? –

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

* Resources for allies on Geek Feminism Wiki –
* So You Want to Be An Ally –

#diversity, #meetups-2, #women

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 coreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress.. They went through the setup process with svn, and worked on a javascriptJavaScript JavaScript or JS is an object-oriented computer programming language commonly used to create interactive effects within web browsers. WordPress makes extensive use of JS for a better user experience. While PHP is executed on the server, JS executes within a user’s browser. patch that was submitted on tracTrac Trac is the place where contributors create issues for bugs or feature requests much like GitHub. 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 installLocal Install A local install of WordPress is a way to create a staging environment by installing a LAMP or LEMP stack on your local computer. 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 themeChild theme A Child Theme is a customized theme based upon a Parent Theme. It’s considered best practice to create a child theme if you want to modify the CSS of your 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 PHPPHP PHP (recursive acronym for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor) is a widely-used open source general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited for web development and can be embedded into HTML.
  • 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

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) mentorsEvent Supporter Event Supporter (formerly Mentor) is someone 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. 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

Level Up Training for Diversity/Growth

When I launched this site, I made a giant list of all the great things we could do to grow the community, and others suggested even more great things. I hope we get to all of them (I understand the impatience), but have found that trying to focus on rolling out one thing at a time helps get things launched and set to the point that someone else can take over. I focused first on the integration, and now am passing the torch to Aaron Jorbin. Now I’m focusing on starting a training program to increase women’s participation in the contributor community.

We’re going to be creating a series of training workshops over the next next year aimed at helping people level up: from new user to advanced user, from advanced user to troubleshooter, from troubleshooter to theme modifier, to pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the Plugin Directory or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party author, etc. These workshops will be targeted specifically on teaching immediately useful skills, how to think about [topic x in WordPress], building confidence, and where to go next. Anyone who completes the workshop should be able to increase their professional range (and rates?), and will be primed to become a contributor to WordPress, in one or more of the contributor groups.

We’re starting with a focus on women for these in-person events, but will expand to other underrepresented groups, and the training material will also be posted for free online for anyone to use, and we’ll be encouraging meetupMeetup Meetup 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. groups to run trainings with these vetted curricula as well.

So what’s the plan? Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Each training will have a specific topic and a specific audience, aimed at leveling them up. If our first workshop is Troubleshooting, our target audience will be women who are savvy enough with WordPress to manage sites, possibly fiddle with htmlHTML HTML is an acronym for Hyper Text Markup Language. It is a markup language that is used in the development of web pages and websites./css, and not afraid of a challenge, but who lack the technical know-how to figure out why a site is broken. By the end of the workshop, they should have skills to troubleshoot a handful of common problems, be comfortable with tools like debug bar, firebug, etc, and have the confidence to ask questions without feeling like an idiot. Also, be able to start answering questions in the forum.
  • Each workshop will be over a weekend, with a Friday night installfest (a la railsbridge), a full day workshop on Saturday (with breaks), and a wrap-up on Sunday morning that is part feedback session, part graduation, part brunch or coffee before people head home. The Saturday portion will be broken into 2-hour segments, which could be taught independently in a series (like once a week through a meetup group etc) if desired.
  • Each two hour segment should have these components.
    1. Initial intro to topic/short orientation lecture.
    2. Guided walkthrough of the problem, q&a.
    3. Break into groups and solve 2-3 additional examples of same issue. Teachers provide help and answer questions in the groups as needed. After each example, make sure everyone has been successful. If a group has not, use their work as a walkthrough to show where they went off track and how to get back on/solve the problem.
    4. Everyone does one last one on their own (test).
    5. Final discussion of topic, lingering questions.
    This format will mean we need to set up some test sites with broken things in advance so that everyone has the same problems to solve in an environment where we have control/full access.
  • The first one will be in DC, with the 2nd in San Francisco. Talking to a few people currently about donating space in DC (though if you have any leads, send ’em my way), and Automattic has offered its new office space for the one in SF. Other locations will be decided after we’ve run these two pilots. In all locations, we’ll use local women as teachers/teaching assistants whenever possible, to help grow the local community. We should plan to have 2 ringers (such as trusted contributors in whose knowledge of the topics we’re confident) in each teaching group, regardless of location.
  • If space works out, would like the DC workshop to be the weekend of March 1st, and for the SF one to be sometime shortly after sxsw.
  • Once a draft curriculum is agreed on, we’ll do a dry run workshop virtually with a couple of people in our target audience to find weak points/confusing things/etc.
  • All teaching materials will be available online afterward. Later, we can potentially spruce up courseware and create online courses people can take, vs just having the teaching material online, but that’s a ways off.
  • We’re not going to use the name WordSchool, as has been bandied around in the past. We’re going to call the series Learn WordPress, so this one would be Learn WordPress: Troubleshooting. This will tie in well with building out the site at The community site where WordPress code is created and shared by the users. This is where you can download the source code for WordPress core, plugins and themes as well as the central location for community conversations and organization. (we’ll need a designer who wants to dig into this).
  • In an ideal world we would already have handbooks for all our Learn topics, but we don’t. We should just barrel ahead and make classes, and we can sync up with handbooks (and they can borrow from training materials) as they’re created.

The brain trust working on the troubleshooting curriculum is Christine Rondeau, Mika Epstein, Andrea Rennick, Amy Hendrix, and Kailey Lampert. Curriculum effort lives on make/support.


Yes, I know we need a new page on, and better docs, and a lot of things. We’ll get there. Please keep comments on this post relevant to the topic of the training program. Thanks!

#diversity, #training, #troubleshooting, #women