Creating Inclusive Tech Communities
Diversity means nothing without inclusion.
AnvilHack II — photo by MLH
I’ve been organising events in my spare time for over 3 years now. At first, I didn’t understand why I would want to make my events appeal to more people, I already had a steady stream of attendees. As time went on inclusivity climbed higher and higher up my list of priorities as I realised its importance.
The world is full of lots of different people and it would be a shame if they don’t attend your event or interact with your community for reasons you can easily fix.
Diversity is inviting someone to an event, inclusion is making them feel welcome.
So how do you make as many people as possible feel welcome? There are hundreds of ways to do this, I’m going to focus on the ones I think are the most important, but of course there are many more and I can’t fit everything into a single post.
Inclusion can be as simple as changing one word when speaking.
Gender Inclusive Language
Switching to gender neutral language can have a huge impact and it can start with you not addressing groups of people as “guys”.
By using gendered language when addressing a group you are leaving out people, not everyone likes being called “Guys” and “Guys and Gals” isn’t much better as it still leaves out people who don’t identify with either.
Amy Dickens created a wonderful website called Inclusive Words that explains gender inclusive language and offers some alternatives when talking to and about people.
“Ableist language is any word or phrase that intentionally or inadvertently targets an individual with a disability.” — _Parker Marie Molloy
For the most part, these words are filler, nothing more. Examples of ableist language include “crazy,” “insane,” “lame,” “dumb,” _… for a more extensive list with alternatives phrases you can use check out ableist words and terms to avoid.
Language can be powerful and by adjusting your own you can include a lot more people in your community.
Enforcing Inclusive Language
No one likes to be called out, people will get defensive and resent the ones who police their language. If your community uses Slack, Slackbot can be set up to give custom responses to certain words; similar things can be set up in Discord.
Being told off by a bot is a little embarrassing, but nowhere as near as bad as by a person. They also hopefully can’t/won’t argue against it.
In the Samsung Internet Slack, we have set up our bot to call out some common phrases and give explanations of why they are bad and offer alternatives for future use.
We based our bot off the WeAllJS slackbot language shortcuts although instead of having to ask the bot directly to give explanations we have it give out the full explanation every time someone uses one of are trigger words.
Code of Conduct
A code of conduct is a set of rules every member of your community has to abide by. This includes organisers, speakers, guests, sponsors as well as attendees. It sets out both how members should and should not act and what is expected of them when interacting with the community. If your community is based online it is generally OK to let users view posts without agreeing to your CoC, but by posting they then are agreeing to it.
A good code of conduct is essential to any community that takes inclusivity seriously, and I know many people who will not attend an event if there is no public code of conduct. Ideally, you would set up a code of conduct before you start your community to make sure everyone who attends or is a part of it agrees to it, but introducing a code of conduct to an existing community is the next best thing.
Creating a code of conduct
Writing a code of conduct from scratch is tedious and will often mean you’ll leave stuff out by accident. There are many codes of conducts online that you can base yours off or just use with minimal editing.
You’re probably wondering why there are so many different codes of conducts, why not just have one master one that covers everything?
That is because codes of conducts are not a one-size-fits-all sort of thing, different types of communities and events require different things. If you manage a Slack group it requires slightly different focus than if you are running a conference, because of the way people interact with each other, the way people report issues and the way you respond to them.
If you want some examples you can check out the ones used for Samsung Internet or WeAllJS which are focused towards online communication, if you’re doing an in-person event take a look at AlterConfs or the conference code of conduct.
You’ll probably want to now go online, find a code of conduct and put a link to it in your group’s description. That is not a great solution.**
Having a code of conduct isn’t enough, you need to enforce it.** It can actually be more damaging to have a code of conduct and not enforce it than to not have one at all, as it provides a false sense of security to your community members.
So how do you enforce a code of conduct?
First, you need to understand your own code of conduct, this goes beyond reading it. For example, if your CoC mentions a term you don’t know do a quick search on what that actually means so you have a basic understanding.
Slackbot, as mentioned previously can be used to call out language that goes against your code of conduct. That works online, but in physical spaces calling out people can be very rude. If people keep using phrases you don’t like you can give a gentle reminder to the room to remind them about the CoC and what language is unacceptable in your space.
Make sure that your code of conduct has contact details of someone who can respond or instructions of what to do in the case of an incident, this could be as simple as adding a line with a phone number to call, telling them to find an organiser/volunteer, or having an email address.
When an incident does occur you should have a response plan ready. Your focus should be on making sure the person who reported the incident is fine before dealing with the person who caused it. WeAllJS has a great Enforcement Philosophy that explains what their admins resolve conflicts.
When confronting someone who has caused an incident be mindful of surroundings, don’t try and embarrass anyone. Take them aside and tell them what they’ve done is unacceptable. Some people may act inappropriately and not realise, being truly horrified to learn that their actions have been taken as such. Obviously, this is a judgement call on a case-by-case basis, but do consider giving people a warning and be clear and concise about what will happen if they break it again
If you want more information about codes of conducts I recommend reading this page on designing codes of conducts.
Accessibility and Venue
Accessibility is designing your event to be more friendly for those with disabilities.
The more info you can give about your venue’s accessibility, the better. It will allow people to make an informed decision of whether they can comfortably attend your event or not.
Some of the things that can be applied to your event include:
- Step-free access to the venue
- Gender-neutral toilets
- Quiet space for those who are overwhelmed by lots of people/noise
- A crèche space, a place for people to put down their babies/children
- A video showing how to get to the space for those who have anxiety about new spaces
- A dedicated space for pronouns on name badges
- An identifier such as lanyards for people who do not want to appear in photos.
If you have any of these things, publicise it on your event page so attendees are aware of them.
I would highly recommend checking out the accessibility page for NineWords for a very well-made, in-depth example.
There is also this great Twitter thread that looks at what should be included with event accessibility information.
If you are like me and run small free events in your spare time, it is hard to create a completely accessible event for everyone. The way I am currently tackling this is by adding a line to our FAQ that asks people to get in touch if they have any accessibility requirements not already listed.
Part of the FAQ from https://nonbinary.tech/
This means that I can focus on the needs of the attendees that are interested in coming, although it does mean they will have to disclose their disability to us, which requires extra effort on their side.
Reach out to expand your audience
Now that you have a more inclusive space you can try getting more people to join and create a more diverse community.
If you run events with talks, make sure you have a diverse range of speakers. A diverse line of speakers will attract a more diverse audience. If not many apply, you should reach out to people. Ask your network for suggestions, Twitter is your friend here. Once you find someone, send them a message on Twitter inviting them to speak by suggesting a topic they could do a talk on.
If you are running an event with paid tickets or an event with free tickets that sell out quickly, set some aside for underrepresented groups. You can either have a separate ticket option explaining who the tickets are for or give them to a community/meetup involving underrepresented groups to hand them out to their members.
Do not ask marginalised groups for free advice
You may be super passionate about your community and love spending your time on it, others are not. I’ve heard stories of people reaching out to underrepresented groups or people and basically asking for free advice, they are not your consultant. Please do not do this. Instead, if you want to make your event more appealing to those groups use the many resources available on the Internet.
If you are organising events in your spare time don’t stress too much about trying to act on all of these at once. Take on what you can handle and slowly build it up to make your event the best it can be.
Community building takes a lot of effort and time. You shouldn’t be expected to pile on a lot more extra work in one go.
I’m glad to be part of a team that supports diverse events and that actively puts effort into creating inclusive communities.
If you think I’ve left out anything important, have any questions or want better explanations of certain concepts or topics, leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter.