We're making rounds again on discussing diverse representation in conference speaking - a topic near and dear to my heart. I very strongly hold a belief that conference speakers being such a tiny fraction of all possible speakers should represent population and future, and that requirement adds the work of organizers and increases the quality of the content.
What does representing population and future mean? It means working actively against current systemic structural forces that make it likely to see all male lineups, and awfully pale lineups. It means working against the bias towards finding UK/US/Canada -speakers for appearance of greatness for fluency in language.
I learned this week - again - that I am personally still not able to always think in terms of future since I defended a lineup in Germany on this day's European minority percentages instead of systematically requiring normalizing to global percentages on major events that set the face of what is normal and expected.
Pay to Speak
In terms of a concrete action conferences - *all conferences* - need to do is work against having to pay to speak. Pay to speak refers to money out of speaker's pocket for securing a speaking position and it comes in many forms.
- Having to pay your own travel and accommodation to a conference not in your home town
- Having to take unpaid vacation from your work to be at conference as all employers don't allow you to clock in conference time
- Having to pay an entrance fee to the conference to show up in whole event to continue conversations your talk and presence starts
- Having your company become a sponsor so that you can speak even when your content isn't about the company's offering
When you get on a stage, it can be a very powerful calling card you are broadcasting to multiple people. It is particularly brilliant for socially awkward ambiverts like myself. People come and talk to me on topics I speak on. Their questions drive my learning deeper. Their experiences give my experiences counterexamples and diversify my approaches. And I take a better version of me back to work.
Growing enough of that platform, it turns into money *in my pocket*. I get paid more for work than my peers because of the accelerated learning conference speaking and meeting people to learn with gave me. I get also sometimes paid extra to use the specific skills of speaking in public that people allowed me to rehearse on their stage. They carried the early risks of me flunking my talk on stage and annoying their paying audience.
Exposure is what moves people in underprivileged groups to higher privilege. I should know.
With my 28 talks currently scheduled for 2022 I can confidently say that I have - for this moment in time - become one of the speakers often requested in the field of software testing. Two of these session I am paid for, and one I pay to speak at. Only three of the sessions require travel.
Investing into this exposure isn't that easy, and it is worse for the underprivileged. That is, finding time today to invest in your future is already a stretch. Finding money, relevant amounts of it when talking about international travel, even bigger stretch.
So how do we help?
- When we can only pay fees or travel only to some of our speakers, we pay the underprivileged. And I don't mean the sappy "apply for scholarship and we pay you for your sad story" demeaning stuff, I just mean that choose underprivileged groups to pay them. Trust that if they have acquired privilege they will use some of their earnings to make world better for those who come after. To get to equal future, we need to do the opposite action to the structure.
- When we can't pay fees (the sum of fees is small compared to the side costs of fees), pay expenses. No business should rely on other people paying our expenses.
- Invite the underprivileged, not just to submit but to guaranteed speaking slots. They have enough of things that take the free time so you could shoulder more of the work, no matter how "equal" you think open CfPs are. Because they are not. Those with assistants have a lot more time in reaching out with their proposals.
- I paid two speaker's travel and hotel even though they never spoke at the conference
- I received a death threat from an unhappy ticket holder who was using the conference as visa entry to Europe and when denied visa didn't like the cancellation terms *
- I spend hundreds of hours in work post conference to legally profit share with speakers (insurance, taxes are a LOT OF work)
- I lost a lot of money on two conferences for failing at marketing, leading me to avoid finalising paperwork and thus more financial losses with how insurance and taxes are in Finland.
- I almost had to opt out of my own conference and contribute from outside the venue because I would prioritise someone with a guide dog over my own presence with severe animal allergies.
- Hours used to speak vs. Hours used to organize
- Timeframe speaking keeps us busy (temporarily limited) vs. Timeframe organising keeps us busy (continuous, reactionary growing)
- Costs incurred
- Continuity that allows for future years of the same