In early May we helped put on QCMerge, a conference hosted downtown in Cincinnati. The conference is designed to bring together developers, designers, entrepreneurs, marketers, and anyone else who makes a living on the web. This is a fairly unique approach to tech conferences, and what we’ve found is that it dramatically affects the gender diversity among attendees. It’s no secret that this has been a problem in the web/software industry as a whole, and it’s certainly obvious at most conferences. Female attendance under 5% at technical conferences is common. And if you go to many user groups, you can often find even fewer women there. We didn’t want that to happen at QCMerge, so here’s what we did to reverse that trend.
- Attendance follows speaker makeup.
Each year we’ve organized QCMerge, we’ve been careful to have a speaker lineup that includes many women. Each year, at least a third of our speakers have been women. Last year, it was closer to 50%. Don’t expect to have strong female attendance when all of your speakers are male. Be intentional about inviting female speakers for your conference. If you’re inviting speakers, it really isn’t hard to find extremely qualified men and women for a given subject. If you’re doing a CFP, you may have to work hard to encourage submissions from a diverse audience.
- Bridge the gender gap through related fields and interests.
It’s well known that the vast majority of developers are male. Thankfully, other fields don’t have quite as bad of a problem. A good way to introduce women to software development is through other skill sets that are part of the web/tech world. Perhaps someone is currently a designer, but they’re not sure how to get involved in development. Maybe someone in marketing knows their material is presented through the web, but they know nothing about the technical details. A conference that promotes cross-over between these industries provides a better stage for introducing women to software development.
- Watch your blind spots.
Even if you are intentional with your speaker makeup and conference subject matter, it’s still easy to not pay attention to small details that can exclude certain groups from your conference. Things like venue, marketing channels, messaging, etc, can influence the audience you attract to your event. It makes sense to include several voices in your planning to make sure you’re not turning a blind eye to details that affect your potential attendees’ choice to attend.
For those who’ve succeeded in bridging the gender gap at tech conferences, have these approaches been part of your success? Or, have you tried to do these and failed to increase the diversity of your attendees? We’d love to hear your feedback and ideas about how to further solve this problem.