Laura Kalbag

Building a diverse speaker lineup

This post is so good, and so incredibly valuable, that it’s deserving of more than just a passing tweet. Julie Pagano has written about ‘Building a Diverse Speaker Lineup.’ This should be the go-to post for conference organisers, and it should be read as soon as you’re even thinking about organising an event.

Julie’s post doesn’t just explain why you want a diverse lineup (also worth reading on this topic: Aral’s post, On design and diversity), but also how.

This is not about collecting random people from a demographic to fill some token slot, so the mean people on the internet don’t yell at you.

I’m a woman, I’m not 100% white, and I’ve spoken at (according to Lanyrd) 30 events. Being invited to speak is still a very tricky situation. I’ve had situations where I could very easily tell that I was invited at the last minute to be a token speaker to boost the diversity of the event. But I’ve had far more situations where the organisers knew me, knew the kinds of things I like to talk about, and considered me a good fit. My experiences are largely very positive.

However, as a “minority” speaker you can feel a horrible amount of pressure to speak. There’s the feeling that if you say no, you’re allowing your groups to be under-represented. Or worse, the conference organiser can say “well I asked her, and she said no, so it’s her fault we don’t have a diverse lineup.” It’s horrible and wrong, but it happens. And following the guidance in Julie’s post can help organisers understand how to approach speakers, and how to make their Call For Proposals more friendly.

The other problem I have as a speaker is finding the event itself generally unfriendly and alienating. I am one of those people who feels intensely uncomfortable in a dark room with lots of alcohol and loud music. I’ve avoided a lot of after parties because of casual sexist remarks that made me feel like I didn’t belong there. Julie’s section on Conference Environment can help prevent these awkward situations, and make everyone feel more welcome.

In response to a few organisers complaining about being bullied for their event’s lack of diversity, Julie finishes on a brilliant note:

Organizing a conference is hard work. Nobody is denying that. Working on making your conference diverse should be part of that work. I just gave you some insight into how you can do that. If you don’t want to do the hard work, you may receive criticism or people may not want to attend your event. That’s not bullying. That is holding you accountable for failing to do your job well. Work hard and avoid falling into the trap of the homogeneous conference lineup.

Julie Pagano: Building a Diverse Speaker Lineup