Getting Inclusion Right at DevConf.US

DevConfUS LogoFor some people in the IT sector, attending conferences is par for the course in learning more about technology and networking with people in their area of interest. But while many people take attending such events for granted, in reality, it can be a struggle of time, resources, or finances to get to a tech conference. The organizers of DevConf.US have recognized this and have made significant efforts to try to remove the barriers that are preventing attendees from getting in the doors.

For Marina Zhurakhinskaya, Senior Program Manager for Diversity + Inclusion Outreach at Red Hat, the key is to focus on all elements of diversity and inclusion. 

“There are two things we are trying to address,” she explained recently. “We want to remove the physical roadblocks keeping people from attending conferences, and also encourage attendance of those who might otherwise be hesitant or lack financial resources for making the trip.”

The first part of that equation has been a matter of logistics: DevCon.US has made a quiet room, a nursing room, and a gender-neutral bathroom available since its start in 2018. Information about these, as well as about wheelchair accessibility of the venue, is featured on the conference website.

The other half of their efforts have been to make things easier for larger participation. For instance, beyond the now-standard code of conduct, DevConf.US has implemented a diversity scholarship program. The program, led this year by Tom Callaway, Senior Program Manager for Technical and Community Outreach, has assisted eleven people to come to the event, one of whom is also speaking there.

DevConf.US has undertaken several initiatives to ensure greater diversity among the speakers. Conference organizers have engaged track captains from underrepresented groups and implemented review of the session proposals with identifying information of the speakers removed.

The call for participation was accompanied by the information about diversity scholarships being available and an invitation to attend one of the two training sessions about writing a proposal for the conference led by Kubernetes Community Lead Josh Berkus. Principal Software Engineer Erik Erlandson ran the initiative to allow speakers to request speaker coaching, and has matched up speakers with coaches for doing talk dry runs. He has created speaker and speaker coaching guidelines to support this initiative.

To make DevConf.US more approachable for new attendees, Senior Community Architect Karsten Wade is running an attendee coaching program, in which new attendees are matched with experienced conference attendees to ensure that they have a friendly person to orient them to the conference and support them in their conference experience.

Zhurakhinskaya emphasized that the “inclusion” part of the diversity and inclusion concept is something that might sometimes be missed, and programs like the speaker and attendee coaching make it clear that inclusion of people–no matter what their background or circumstances are–should come first.

“DevConf.US is a very approachable conference, both in its design to be friendly to new speakers and attendees, and because it’s free to attend. By having initiatives that support new speakers and attendees, with some focusing on people from underrepresented groups, we are ensuring more people feel encouraged to take the next or first step in their open source journey,” Zhurakhinskaya added.

DevConf.US registration is still open and free, with the event starting August 15, 2019.

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About Brian Proffitt

Brian is a Senior Principal Community Architect for the Red Hat Open Source Program Office, responsible for community content, onboarding, and open source consulting. Brian also serves on the governing board for Project CHAOSS, a metrics-oriented approach to ascertaining community health. A former technology journalist, Brian is also a graduate lecturer at the University of Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @TheTechScribe.

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