00:16 – Welcome to “Life, The Universe, and Podcasts!” …we mean, “Greater Than Code!”
01:13 – Carina’s Background and Superpower
02:58 – @CallbackWomen and The Naming Struggle to Make Sure Marginalized and Non-Binary People Know They Are Included
12:13 – Sending Signals and/or Indicators That Encourage People to Apply to Speak At Your Conference
I hate to say this, but conferences need to relocate out of the U.S. My country is making business travel to U.S. untenable for so many ppl. https://t.co/bMOfbe6VDP
— Carina C. Zona (@cczona) June 3, 2017
23:10 – Conference Outreach
27:56 – Accessibility at Conferences
34:19 – Conferences “Competing” for Speakers
Call For Proposals (CFP)
40:26 – Financial Aid, Travel Stipends, and Reimbursement
This is now part of the US non-immigrant visa application. This is obnoxious, absurd and threatens freedom of speech. pic.twitter.com/lnpLmC5v4I
— Nima Fatemi (@mrphs) July 22, 2017
49:05 – Making a Difference with @CallbackWomen and Codes of Conduct
Jamey: Having travel and accommodation expenses covered is important for speakers.
Sam: Flipping the paradigm.
Coraline: Using influence to affect change.
Carina: Having speaker mentors: both experienced and newbies.
Rein: How conferences have evolved in a positive way around diversity and inclusion.
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REIN: Hi, I’m Rein Henrichs and welcome to Episode 42 of ‘Life, The Universe, and Podcasts.’ I’m happy to welcome my co-panelists, Jamey Hampton.
JAMEY: Hi, although I believe this is just the regular Greater Than Code today, is that right?
CORALINE: I think we need to discuss it further.
JAMEY: I want to introduce one of my co-panelist, Sam Livingston-Gray.
SAM: Thank you and in honor of an Episode 42, I think we can let that slide just this once but anyway, welcome to the show, Coraline Ada Ehmke.
CORALINE: Hey, everybody. We have a wonderful guest today, Carina Zona. I’m happy to introduce her. Carina Zona is a developer, advocate and certified sex educator. She spends a lot of time thinking about the unexpected cultural effects of our decisions as programmers. Carina is also the founder of CallbackWomen, which is on a mission to radically increase gender diversity at the podium of professional programmer’s conferences. Welcome, Carina.
CARINA: Thank you. Great to be here.
CORALINE: We’re going to start off by getting to know you a little more. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what are your superpowers?
CARINA: Oh my God. What are you doing to me? I started off as a developer in the late 90s, just sort of sidled in needing to solve my own problems and gradually became a professional. I have, in recent years done a fair amount of volunteering with various groups that are about increasing diversity in tech, particularly in programming like RailsBridge, Rails Girls, PyLadies, Girl Develop It, Write Speak Code, Black Girls Code, Women Who Code, we have so many. Isn’t it awesome?
A lot of those, when I started attending and organizing, really woke me up to the possibilities that there were things that I can do too and that was really helpful, especially because those were places where I was getting mentors who were introducing me to conference speaking and giving me a lot of pro tips that helped me actually make that successful.
As I was dipping toes into those waters, it started to make sense to do a lot of things that my mentors had done, which is to scale beyond myself, to make something that other people could benefit from the way I was and to be able to give back the way I had been given something back so I always reach that hand back and bring someone forward with you. That’s really where CallbackWomen was born from. It’s all these various groups showing me the way and showing me that that kind of help is really powerful. It’s life changing and certainly, career changing.
CORALINE: We mentioned CallbackWomen, can you give a little background on what CallbackWomen’s mission is and what you’re doing?
CARINA: Yeah. The official mission is to radically increase gender diversity at the podium of professional programmer’s conferences. Let me break that down a little bit. Gender diversity, despite the name means more than just women. It means everybody who’s gender is underrepresented or has been underrepresented at the podium. That includes gender non-binary people, it certainly includes transwomen because women, but also for instance, transmen is a gender underrepresented at the podium as well. Those things are that first part of the mission.
The second is at the podium, not just attendance at professional programmer’s conferences, meaning not just tech conferences in general but one specifically by professional programmers so not academic conferences, not founders conferences, not hardware conferences, being really specific about who is being served and how do we bring them into the pipeline and how do we make sure that those people are recognized for their expertise and are successful and are building a career off of it if they want to.
CORALINE: Carina, it’s CallbackWomen but you just said that your organization is intended to encompass the white spectrum of gender diversity and I kind of empathize with that naming struggle. I have a project called open source for women (OS4W) and I was asked early on, “Can non-binary people participate?” and I ended up describing it as a place for anyone who is comfortable in women spaces but I’m curious if you gotten push back from people who don’t identifies as women and who also don’t identifies as gender man.
CARINA: I’ve never gotten push back, at least not directed to me. It’s possible that there are people who have dissatisfaction with it but my policy has always been to get permission so anyone who’s pronouns are not clearly evidence or they’re otherwise isn’t clear that their gender is woman before I kind of pull them under that mantle, I contact them privately and I ask their permission. If someone’s pronouns are, for instance ‘they’ or they’re indicating that they’re transmen, I want to promote their work but I also want to make sure that that’s not being done by misgendering them. Obviously, any time you’re pulling someone in under that name ‘woman,’ and they aren’t woman, that is inherently misgendering.
I have contacted a number of people and all but one ever said, “Yes, thank you for asking and thank you for promoting me.” It’s important to ask. It definitely is. I did have one person essentially say, “And if you hadn’t asked, I’d have been super not okay with that,” so it’s part of being respectful. I think probably one of the reasons why I haven’t gotten push back is because I’ve tried to be handling that correctly and certainly if anyone feels that I haven’t, I do want to hear from them and I can do that better.
The one person who said, “No,” just said no. They didn’t say, “That’s an offensive request,” or, “I just don’t feel comfortable with that.” When I started off, I was a lot less aware and I was thinking very much of women and inherently cis women and the name really was born out of that that that originally I saw it as bringing more women to the podium of professional programmer’s conferences and the name at this point is something I really struggle with. It’s difficult and I would like to change it on the one hand.
On the other hand, it’s been four years and there’s a significant brand that’s been built up around it. It’s always a little bit of a thing of do we end up losing some of the attention that has been built from conference organizers, the awareness of where to go, who to talk to, who to hear so that needs be dealt with. Every year the name is more problematic and every year, I’m not sure what to do about that. I have to admit also, I’m really wedded to the pun. It’s meant to evoke callbacks inherently programming and also calling back to the podium and to the industry. The women who used to be far more prevalent in the industry in the 1980s, calling back to the respect of our expertise. That name, I would like to be able to somehow preserve, at least in part because it has meaning to the mission and to me. However, if anyone wants to contact me and pitch better names that are more inclusive of the actual current mission, I would love to hear that. I would love to hear a way to walk that line much better because it needs to be done at some point soon.
REIN: I don’t think it’s an accident that it’s hard to find language that is both piffy and gender-inclusive because it’s very baked into our language, the notion of the binary.
JAMEY: I had an experience with this when I was first starting to do conference speaking. Some friends of mine motioned me to CallbackWomen like, “This could be helpful for you,” and I have to admit that my first reaction was like, “Oh, for me,” as a non-binary person, I was like, “Is it really?” Bunch of my friends are like, “No, really. It is. Don’t worry. I understand what you’re saying but it’s going to be good and it’s going to help you.” It did help me and I think that a real way to combat that initial feeling that I got is like having a lot of people know about it and talk about it. If trusted people that I know are saying, “No, really. It’s good. It’s going to be good. It’s going to help you. It’s not going to make you feel bad,” then that’s more meaningful to me in a way. I think that’s how word gets out about things. In the tech industry, I think that’s how word gets out about a lot of things.
CARINA: Yeah, we’re very much a word of mouth industry. Thank you for saying that. That’s really great to hear. When I first started it in 2013, four and a half years ago… Wait, I’ve lost track… Yeah, four and a half. At very early on, I had envisioned it as somewhat like the mailing list that it was coming out of the discussions that we’re having on lists like Dev Chicks, I just thought it was of interest to women, for women, that only women would find it relevant. Even though it was on Twitter, it just never really occurred to me that there would be an audience beyond women.
Within months, I started seeing all these men following and I did have a little talk with myself about is this okay and decided, “Yes, it is very much okay.” The point here is to democratize access to information, to be able to have these conversations that are only being have in private, in small networks and to be able to have that, be something that anyone can benefit from. I also felt like part of the problem at this point has been that only, not only man, but largely, men in particularly white men at well-funded companies that can afford to send them out to talk are the ones in this inner circle of communication so they’re the ones that are getting lots of experience and exposure. But I feel really confident that once other people have that access and exposure, we’re going to kick their ass.
Let’s all compete. That’s fine because I know that this is going to be a very fair fight and the best thing we can do for conferences is to have a really lively competition of different ideas, different experiences and what CallbackWomen is trying to do is make sure that we can, as an industry benefit from having a lot more voices, a lot more topics, a lot more ways of thinking about existing topics. As long as we had this really small ecosystem of speakers, we were losing. As an industry, we were losing. I’m fine with anyone who wants to be benefiting from CallbackWomen and I know that it’s marginalized people who most benefit from CallbackWomen because marginalized people are the ones who are least being heard and who had a tremendous amount and still do, to say that’s useful to the whole industry.
CORALINE: It kind of reminds me of something that Sandi Metz had when we had her on the program early on. She said, she looks forward to the day that she gives her last keynotes because that means she’s made room for other women and basically not men to take the spotlight because what you’re saying about the small circle of speakers from big companies that will pay their way, it’s absolutely true. That’s something I’ve definitely seen.
CARINA: Yeah, this was some of the feedback I got. One of the reasons why there were women who were really helping me when I started out in 2012 as a speaker, literally saying, “I’m tired of being the one who’s asked to do everything and feeling the burden of having to say yes on everything or else there’s not going to be a woman there. It’s just too much. I want to help and have more women speaking because it takes the load off of me.” This pragmatic reasoning, not just I want to do this as some social justice cause but because I personally need this to happen so I will put the time into mentoring you and others in order to just take a weight off of my career and my sense of responsibility to my gender.
JAMEY: I wanted to muse a little bit about how organizations and conferences may be sending some kind of signals are indications that may discourage people from applying even if they don’t need to do that. I’ve personally experienced this specifically. I do speak at women’s conferences even as a non-women and I have contacted people sometimes and like, “Am I welcome as a non-binary person to speak? Do you want non-women speakers?”
I’ve had some people that are like, “Yeah, why are you even asking this. It should be self-evident that you are welcome,” and I’m like, “I’m glad that you’re saying that I am welcome but it’s not self-evident because I have not had the same answer from everyone.” That made me feel like they don’t realize the signals that they’re putting out on who they’re trying to welcome and I think that’s true for women in conferences too, like what kind of things might people be accidentally doing in your experience that are discouraging women from wanting to come.
CARINA: Yeah. There are a lot of things. It’s almost easier to say what are the things you can do because there’s such a long list of things that are either implicit or explicit that are discouraging. I think actually the thing to look at is how do you make it clear and incentivize having people speak who otherwise would not be sure whether this is the conference that they want to choose. At this point, CallbackWomen follows over 1300 conferences just for by about professional programmers. That means that everyone should feel like you have a tremendous amount of choices and conferences should feel like they are competing for speakers.
What are you doing as a conference to be competitive? Is a conference not doing something to show that they’re really trying to compete for all speakers as many as possible to choose them? Propose to us. Give us the chance to have you. What kind of things can a conference do about that and what are some particularly big turn offs?
Some things that you can do definitely are to have things like say the words literally. Don’t make the assumption as you’ve noted, that’s really important to say things like we want to hear from as many diverse people as we can. We want to hear from women. We want to hear from people of color. We want to hear perspectives from people who have disabilities. Go through our list and make sure it’s clear that that is not the exclusive end of the list but be really explicit that this is something we not just are okay with but we really actively are hoping to hear from you.
Some other things that I think send really strong signals are when they make a point of saying, “We have gender neutral restrooms.” Right away, that acknowledging that people exist who are not just going to be having trouble with restrooms but in many cases, I think we have serious problems with conferences continuing to choose locations where it’s illegal to be a transperson in a restroom. We need to start having conference organizers be far more conscious of the choice that they’re making.
Even things like location for people who have to make those kinds of choices, you see the location and immediately know, “I’m not going to that.” You see a conference being held in North Carolina or Texas and it’s immediately off your list. That conference has lost the opportunity to compete for a whole bunch of speakers and that really sucks.
JAMEY: Someone invited me to a conference in Russia recently and my talk is about being trans. I’m like there’s nothing that anyone could do to convince me. I’m sure the conference is really great or whatever but there’s no way.
CORALINE: I had a conference invitation last year to go to South America. The country that I was requested to visit, I looked on the State Department website because they had tips for LGBTQ travelers abroad and the laundry list of problems that transgender people have in that country, including beatings by police officers, hospitals refusing to treat you, it just went on and on and I was like, “I’m sorry. I can’t go,” and they said, “We wanted you to come as an ambassador,” and I was like, “I’m not putting my life on the line for that. I’m sorry. I can’t do that.” Worth noting that under the Trump administration, those LGBTQ traveling abroad pages had been removed from the State Department website.
REIN: Yeah, and unfortunately that there’s a calculus that a lot of people outside the United States are now having to consider a lot more as we’ve become much more actively hostile to pretty much anybody.
CARINA: Yeah, this is something that I actually had a lengthy tweet storms/conversation about recently, holding conferences in the US at this point, among a number of other countries like we’ve just discussed. I think at this point, it’s really become unethical. If it’s a regional conference that is about serving and promoting regional developers, that’s one thing. But if it’s meant to be an international conference, at this point having it in US, excludes a tremendous cross-section of people who either literally are never going to be able to participate, they can’t get the visa or at this point, a real threat. Their presence is not something that they’re willing to or should have to risk-attending here.
North America and primarily by far, America hosts a tremendous number of conferences for professional programmers. Usually, conferences are organizing one or two years ahead as far as reserving a venue. I understand that it’s going to take some time but I really want to see conference organizers at this point commit to making choices that are inclusive of our entire industry, or at least as much as humanly possible our industry. You can’t say are trying to be inclusive, while holding it in a place that is absolutely categorically, assuredly not inclusive. Your question, earlier I want to go back —
JAMEY: Yeah, I don’t mean to derail the list of things that we can do. I’m sorry.
CARINA: Oh, that was definitely not a derail. I really love that you asked that question and we could get on some of that stuff. One of the reasons why I wanted to be here today is because there’s a lot of conversations, as an industry we’re not having and a lot of conversations, specifically the conference organizers need to be hearing and speakers need to know, you can ask. You can make these choices. You’re not alone. It’s not weird that you have these feels and these are things that you can and should get feedback on and not feel that your opportunities to speak are going to be threatened by it because there are plenty of organizers who do want to hear that feedback and who do want to be responsive to it but they need to hear it. They need to understand it. They’re not aware. One of the things that we can do in this conversation is how exactly those kinds of conversations aren’t nearly as visible as they should be. I love that you asked that.
Some of the things that kind of give some signaling, offering things like a nursing room and childcare. Even if absolutely no attendees are going to use them, it’s really strong signaling and oftentimes, what happens is in the first year, no one signs up for childcare and I’ll explain why in a second. But then in the second or third, because people have learned to trust that that really will happen, that’s when you start seeing the sign ups.
Meanwhile, what I love seeing and this is one of great things about having so many men at CallbackWomen is seeing how many people of any gender who are parents saying, “Wow. This is so cool. I got to go to this conference because they’re offering childcare,” or because, “They have child-friendly events that are part of the conference. I can participate with my kid.” Even if they do see that as something that they can do this year, they can envision that as their future and that’s something that really makes them feel excited about that particular conference. It’s something that they’re going to watch for next year and they’re going to mention other people, “Did you know…” It seemed that kind of enthusiasm is really neat.
Conferences, be serious about offering these things and don’t give up in the first year when they’re not necessarily used because parents, particularly have to make long term plans. You can’t look at it and say, “Well, they’re claiming they’re going to offer it. They’ve never done this before. They’re not even totally sure how they’re working this out but I’m willing to gamble on showing up with my kid and everything being fine.”
They need to see that this is for real. They need to have time to be able to make plans, for what happens, how do you even bring your kid with you, what’s going to happen during parts of the conference where there isn’t childcare and yet you’re supposed to be, for instance at a party or some sort of networking event or a workshop. That stuff that is far more complicated than just providing childcare but again, it’s about signaling and being real about your signals, being honest about it and being committed in the long term to what that signal was saying.
REIN: It seems like there are some signals that demonstrate that you’ve put actual effort into it like setting up childcare. That requires work and there are other signals that are just, “We value diverse people,” that require no work. It’s just some words on a page.
CARINA: Yeah. The ones that require no work are always the ones that you have to be a little more wary of. What are they doing about inherent bias? For example, I get much more interested in conferences that do anonymized review because there is such a ton of research in various fields showing over and over again. When reviewing materials, research, proposals, even say performance reviews, when you know the gender of the person being reviewed, there is very strong bias. It’s usually unconscious bias but it exists and it’s not just by men. All genders demonstrate gender bias in doing reviews like this.
One of the things that anonymized review is meant to do is just level that playing field. It doesn’t favor any gender. It just makes sure that we’re taking out a certain amount that we know exists and we can try to set aside. Doing things like removing any indications of pronouns, anything else in the bio that might indicate the gender of the person and by the way, this also means, trying to factor out things like making it ambiguous as to say nationality or primary language or race or other things that also very easily biased the selection process. Taking out any indicators there and in the proposal and doing that first round based purely on this idea, regardless of who it would come from, am I just excited about this idea. That kind of thing says that they’re not just giving lip service but they’ve actually thought about what it takes to have a diverse end result.
Another thing is outreach and a big one that I see at conferences struggle with or not understand is they’ll get to the end of the CFP and even to the end of selection and announcements and have absolutely nothing but men. When called out on it, they say, “No women applied,” as if that is a reasonable justification for their end result, rather than seeing that as a failure in their process and it is a failure. It’s a total failure. What did you do about outreach? If you’re not doing the work to have a diverse pool of proposers, there is absolutely no way you’re going to end up with a diverse pool of speakers. It’s impossible. What are you doing? Are you doing that early enough in the CFP process to be able to correct for mistakes? Are you monitoring?
You’re going to have to ask questions and conferences are so scared of asking on a proposal, simple questions about what’s your gender. They’re afraid of asking and it’s weird because I’m not sure why. If you can’t measure your current status and your performance over time, how are you actually able to approve. Every time I see conferences say things like, “We have twice as many women speaking this year,” I’m thinking, “Are you sure? How do you know that? Have you asked? Do you know what their gender is? Did you know in previous years?”
It’s speculative and it’s a real problem that they’re not able to measure, at the time of the process where it’s most useful and they’re not able to measure over the long term and be able hold themselves accountable next year to, for instance target like, “We can’t close our CFP until we see, for instance at least X percentage of people in the pool who are not men.” That stuff is incredibly useful and I think bottom line, absolutely minimum necessary in order to achieve anything useful result.
SAM: It sounds like some of these things are a longer-term commitments, which I think is a good thing but some of those things when framed that way, can seem kind of like chores. I think what you were saying earlier about parents seeing childcare and being enthusiastic and maybe planning to attend next year, that really made me think about how these aren’t like check boxes that you have to tick off in order to be a more wholesome person or a conference or something. These are actually competitive advantages. When you do them properly, they can bring you a lot of benefits as a conference.
CARINA: Absolutely. Actually, I should revisit the childcare because another way conferences can do this is if they feel like it’s going to be complicated and obviously, for many speakers, it’s complicated. Bringing your child along to the conference changes your experience of the conference, for better or for worse and probably indeed both. What are some things that you can do? A conference might do something like providing a stipend for the child to have nanny care at home.
I’ve seen two conferences in Colombia: RubyConf Colombia and JSConf Colombia, they cover the expenses of bringing your child and if the child is young enough, the expenses of bringing some other adult and they’re open ended about that. It’s not your partner or spouse or the other parent, or something like that, it’s another person. You can choose who you bring, who can be helping in whatever way you need, dealing with your child so that you can have the full experience in your conference, including your child’s participation at whatever level that you find appropriate.
I think the biggest you could do is much like what we talked about with diversity in various level. Say the words and say, “What can we do to help you? We would love to hear from anyone who has needs that we haven’t it listed here. We are eager to hear from you and try to work with you to make sure that you can participate fully.” I have seen a number of people, including Sarah Mei talked about what it’s like as a new parent to have to ask and be brave about asking, “Would it be possible to have a place for me to nurse?”
It’s really, really helpful to be able see that. That’s not going to be a scary conversation. They might have to say no, but at least it will not be a scary conversation and will not, in some way threaten your participation that no one is going to withdraw your invitation for having asked a question that is hard and this is certainly something that inexperienced speakers rightly assume is that if I ask for anything, if I inquire about anything that I don’t know about, I will look in some way, either ignorant or greedy or prima donna and that will get me into trouble. They don’t ask for what they need. My experience with conference organizer is overwhelmingly, they really do want to hear. They just didn’t know that they have to actively solicit that kind of feedback and request that doesn’t happen easily.
CORALINE: I saw a recent Twitter thread. I can’t remember who is having a discussion about conferences claiming to be accessible to people with disabilities and making that claim without really understanding what all that entails.
CARINA: Oh, yeah. I saw that thread too. First of all, every conference should be, as part of the venue selection process, drawing a hard line on, the venue must be accessible. You’re going to have to make a clear definition about what you mean by accessible but if it’s not even on your checklist at all, you’re failing at diversity right there. That has to be part of the decision making process and be ready to say no to a fantastic venue that is going to exclude people with disabilities.
Obviously, there’s some minimum stuff in the US like ADA compliance. In other countries, you have to find out what minimum standards exist there. But I would like to see more conferences choose venues that are as compact as necessary. Last year, I was really struggling with an injury and I found out it is really hard to walk back and forth in a convention center-sized venue regardless of how accessible it is to someone with wheelchairs. People with, for instance canes or who have various disorders that make it really tiring to be physical. Those kinds of things create a significant burden when you’re forcing people to walk long distances, especially quickly.
If you’ve got five to 10 minutes between sessions and you’re supposed to walk what is essentially a block in that time, that’s a heck of a lot of people with disabilities that might not be admissible but who are really constrained in their ability to participate in the conference at all. Some more things that I think are really important for accessibility and much like childcare, turn out to be exciting and useful for a far broader range of people, than is initially assumed: live transcription and also sign language.
With live transcription, you’re not just helping people who are for instance, deaf but also people who are hard of hearing. You are helping people in a room that is say, noisy or large where it’s hard to get the speaker sound all the way to the back of the room or who are in the middle of the room, far away from a speaker or there someone for whom, the conference language is not their first language so they need a little more time to process what’s being said or someone who is distracted by looking at the slide and didn’t fully hear what was being said or was tweeting and thus, didn’t catch the next thing that was said or would like to tweet that last comment and is really glad that it’s been captured so they can quote it accurately.
There are so many reasons why live transcription is tremendously valuable and then afterwards, you get to just pop that right into the video as captioning. There’s this long term benefit that doesn’t just exist at the talk itself. But when you just see these things as accessibility and you think, “We’ve never had someone who is deaf asked and it’s unlikely,” don’t reserve that for someone having to ask. It’s putting a burden on them, especially since these things are not cheap and it’s missing an opportunity for a whole bunch of people to benefit. I see this over and over again, following the hashtags to so many conferences over and over again, people are saying, “Wow, this is great.”
Now, let’s talk about the other one, the sign language. That one seems like would be far more specific, unlike say typing, people who can read sign language are a lot smaller subset. Here’s the neat thing. Watching sign language turns out to be highly entertaining. People end up really loving it. They learn some signs for things that they would never otherwise heard because the interpreters usually have to deal with are highly technical language by getting to see the slides, the script, the transcript or whatever you can provide so they’re able to prepare in advance for our jargon. It’s this neat opportunity sometimes to see how our unique jargon is translated into sign language. People get really excited.
There’s also been some cases were a speaker was speaking so fast that the audience just goes bonkers overseeing the interpreter keep up and it becomes almost like rock stars doing a riff together. It’s like they’re jamming so it becomes something that’s really exciting and dynamic and brings energy into the room. These are things, again where if you’re only thinking accessibility, you’re missing out on something that’s really bringing a spark to the conference and certainly reputation. People are taking notice and they’re really excited to want to participate next year.
Then as a speaker, if I know I get to do the guitar riff on stage, I’m kind of excited about that and thinking I want to propose next year. Obviously, for some people, it’s totally scary and that’s also a great reason to have that public. You want that to be known in advance. Put that on CFP that they will, for instance be an interpreter because you do want to find that up before you walk out on stage. I think accessibility is a really exciting to topic, once we see it as something that is about access for all, rather than access for a handful of people who need to go out of their way to ask for it.
CORALINE: I can say at RubyConf Australia last year, there was a live transcriptionist and she got a standing ovation at the end of the conference. She was an absolute rock star. It was great. She improved the conference for so many people in a lot of the ways that you mentioned.
JAMEY: Anecdotally, the first conference I ever spoke at was AlterConf and they have live transcription in ASL. It was my first speaking day. I was very excited about it and my dad who was also in tech and really wanted to come and he was not able to come to New York City to see me but he was able to read the live transcription while I was speaking from home so that was really nice.
CORALINE: That’s so cool.
CARINA: Yeah, [inaudible] also had a live feed of their live transcription. It’s much more uncommon to do this for small live feeds and general are less common and then combining it with a live transcription is even less common. It’s really exciting to see these highly technical talks scrolling by in real time like that and being able to follow it from remote. These are really neat things to be thinking about and doing. There are services now that are incredibly experienced at doing a live transcription of tech conference specifically and have gotten really, really good at being able to make that work well.
CORALINE: Carina, I want to go back to something you said earlier about conferences competing for speakers. It seems to me and this is something Sam pointed out in chat, that the way we think of conferences is that we are competing through a CFP process but you’re sort of flipping that perspective, instead of conferences should be competing for good speakers.
CARINA: Yeah. Realistically, it’s both. They have to compete to even have us propose and then we’re competing among other proposers. That’s assuming there’s a CFP. There’s also noncompetitive processes where the speakers are selected by invitation or sometimes, it’s a pay-for-play spot. Sponsors sometimes can buy a speaking spot and they put usually an employee into that. Not every speaking spot or speaking slot is competitive but those that are going usually through the CFP process — actually, I should have define it a long time ago for those who are new to this. That’s ‘Call For Proposal.’ That’s literally a conference calling out, “Please, propose things to us that we can consider and hopefully be able to pick.” That’s CFP. We’ll keep on saying that. So yeah, there’s two stages but the conference doesn’t have the opportunity to have a competition among speakers if they haven’t done the work of competing for speakers.
REIN: We’re talking about conferences competing for speakers and I guess the main way they could do that is trying to offer more value to the speakers to go to their conference over another conference. I’ve been thinking about these different ways of trying to benefit disadvantaged groups and there is a frame that may be useful to think about this that I’ve been trying to work through where there are certain actions that intentionally favored disadvantaged groups. For example, ASL intentionally favors the deaf and hard of hearing community.
But there are others that don’t intentionally favor disadvantaged groups but they counteract this systemic equality that’s caused by discrimination. A good example of that in the broader sense would be universal health care. It’s intended to help everyone but it disproportionately helps minorities because minorities suffer from structural inequalities where they have lower incomes, less access to capital, and things like that. There are things that conferences can do that are of value to everyone but just proportionally help disadvantaged groups. Does that makes sense?
CARINA: Yes, although I’m going to push back on the language of that because when you’re starting from a point of significant disadvantage, really all these things are not advantaging those people. They’re trying to level up and at best, that’s usually what they accomplished. They’re not benefiting the people who are being targeted typically. I do want to make that clear and I think we’re probably in agreement on that —
REIN: Yeah, absolutely.
CARINA: — But it is meaningful language when we think about this. For instance, like anonymized review is being a good example of that. It’s not advantaging anyone. It’s making sure that as near as possible that we can get to everyone have the same level of opportunity to compete.
Some of the other things — I’m going to really come to money — we have pay gaps in general. We have pay gaps specific to our industry. We have pay gaps specific to programming side of things and when you look at those, the bottom line is that there are many people who are underrepresented at programming conferences and it’s for darn good reasons that are purely pragmatically financial.
I’m kind of alluded to this a little bit earlier. When your company can afford to just cover all your expenses, including getting you work time to prepare your talk and even giving you, for instance fellow employees to provide mentorship, giving you opportunity to practice your talk in front of your team or your peers. All of that stuff tremendously advantages people who have not just benefited from pay gap but are benefiting from their employer’s resources. Compare that with someone who self-employed, every single hour that they’re not spending on generating billable hours is out of that loss. They don’t necessarily have a circle of people to help them polish that talk. If they do, that’s more time that they have to take away from earning a living. The structural systematic, cultural pay gap is one thing.
There’s also just the pay gap between what kind of advantage do you have in your employment environment. We have really clear understanding that in our industry and in general, black women and Latina women are significantly underpaid compared to white men and Asian men. In fact, even significantly compared to Asian women. But talking just about gender here, we’re looking at as much as half of the income for a Latina versus a white man.
If you consider that they have similar expenses, we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars per year of disposable income for someone to invest in their speaking career and being able to take unpaid, without any covering of expenses by their employer or by the conference, they’re able to go and really put themselves out on the international stage and be able to do that incredibly well-prepared because they had purely financial access to do so. It puts people who don’t have that financial resource because of structural reasons, completely at a disadvantage. You cannot really talk about having a commitment to diversity at the podium without talking about money.
SAM: Yeah, I’ve observed that just in my own career. A lot of the time that I spent getting into public speaking in the first place was when I was working at LivingSocial which had a really good policy about sending you to, at least one conference a year and sending you to more if you were a speaker on a case-by-case basis. I spoke at four or five conferences when I worked there and now that I’ve moved on to another job that doesn’t have the same policies, I go to a lot fewer conferences and I don’t speak at very many of them.
REIN: If you have two people, one of whom are benefits from this structural inequality, has access to the spending money to go to conferences and one who doesn’t, financial aid offered by a conference, travel stipend and things like that, would let someone who couldn’t otherwise go, even though nominally have benefits both of them the same.
CARINA: Yeah. There are a number of conferences that offer financial aid. I think there is some problematic things about that. One problem is that financial aid implies something that is stigmatized, essentially implying poor, need, having to ask. If one has experienced having financially process, for instance in school, it comes with lengthy paperwork requirements that can be not just time consuming but doing documentation and being fairly intrusive. I think when you use that language, even though conferences usually are not doing that kind of stuff, it comes with the baggage of our understanding of that word, that phrase.
I would like to see it, first of all come up with better phrasing and secondly, I think again flip the paradigm, offer up front to everyone that this is what we cover and then — a few conferences do this — essentially saying, “If you don’t need it, if you would like to decline it, we will use it to invest in other things such as being able to offer more diversity scholarship –” I’m going to use that word just because I don’t have better language for it either right now, “Or we’ll invest it in paying speakers or we will use it to expand how much we can cover for our speakers.”
In some way, make it optional to opt out, rather than put pressure on people to do the uncomfortable thing of asking for something that can feel stigmatizing and potentially really hard. Change the way that that’s offered and if that does mean potentially almost certainly, you’re going for budget for more because there are people who have held back. But again, if you’re serious about diversity, these are things that are mandatory. You can’t decide that it’s too expensive to pursue diversity.
REIN: It’s funny. This is exactly why I used universal health care as an example because it’s not aid. It’s a human right that everyone should have access to. I think that it’s going to be hard to find language that’s not stigmatized because the very idea of helping the structurally disadvantaged people is stigmatized in our culture. Whatever language there is around, we have to try really hard to find that neutral or non-stigmatized language.
CARINA: Well, right now what conferences do when they offer this is they say, “We cover travel and lodging.” You don’t have to call it scholarship at all. You’re simply saying, “This is what we pay for.” We can have a whole discussion about whether covering travel or lodging is A, quite an accurate description of what gets paid for and B, whether that is truly covering all the speaker’s expenses. I’m going to say meekly, “No,” but you can describe it in ways that are affirmative, neutral and don’t put a mental burden on people to feel they’re asking for something special and burdensome in itself.
REIN: Yeah, I think we are in strong agreement about that.
JAMEY: Another thing I’ve noticed since I’ve started speaking is that I try to apply for conferences that say they’re going to cover travel like you just said. Aside from it, not always carrying all the expenses, I’ve noticed that normally I am booking things and getting reimbursed later. I’ve noticed that if I were paycheck-to-paycheck and didn’t have the expendable income to be able to wait for this money to come back to me in a month or two, I wouldn’t be able to do this. That’s been something on my mind lately when I’ve been doing conference.
REIN: Access to capital was a huge limiting factor.
CARINA: Yeah. I would go back to questions of who has access in the first place and you’re actually right, that for some people, the salary or their ability to save is really not making that viable to prepay on behalf of the conference. I think of it as also a geographical issue and a class issue. There are plenty of people and plenty of, not just in other countries but within the US who make far less money than they do in major tech centers of the US.
I know people who in Eastern Europe, $10,000 a year is a good salary as a programmer. Pre-paying $1000 to travel to a foreign country is absolutely not viable under any circumstances. Not a matter of being able to save or borrow. If you want someone to come from places that aren’t wealthy and that aren’t themselves individually well-paid, regardless of whether their area is wealthy, again diversity is not realistic without dealing with the money barriers.
Another one is visas. There are many countries that have essentially reciprocal agreements on visas where you just can show up at the border and if your passport is valid and if they don’t think you’re trying to overstay, you’re just going to be let in. Then there are many countries for whom going to travel is tremendously hard and expensive and you have to spend quality time, documenting through visa application. Every bit of travel you ever done, why, proving that you are legitimately going to be speaking at a conference, have no other purpose and definitely would not be staying and you have plenty of money back home, all of this stuff is even if the person can afford to do that, it goes back to, “What billable time are they losing on doing that? Is the conference willing to, at least pay for their visa application fees?”
I, at one point was concerned about entering a particular country that had been having problems. Yes, Rachel Nabors specifically is the one I was thinking of. I had to really lobby the conference, “Please have an immigration lawyer available to you that you’ve already identified. In case I get stopped at the border, I need to know that I’m not just going to be stuck there.” It did take some education on their part for them to understand that I’m not kidding. I can’t participate without knowing that you’ve got my back in a real way and it wasn’t, “Hey, have a retainer.” It’s, “Have it identified in advance that there’s someone who has requisite knowledge and you have their phone number and I’ve got your phone number. I can ping you right away if I’ve got a problem.”
Dealing with all of logistical stuff, these are all expenses for conferences. I get it. It’s really hard to raise sponsorship money. It’s complicated. It’s easy to gloss over these things or not be aware of them and I think particularly, not aware is the big one with dealing with now, which is why it’s really, really important to have these conversations and for people who are much more visible about the financial barriers that they’ve experienced or that they know of so we could start really pushing further on the stuff. Really educating and then frankly being more demanding, saying if you want people to come from developing countries, you’re going to have to really work with them on the visa process.
I know a number of conferences that have had speakers turned away at the border because customs just didn’t believe that that person was there to speak. That’s really insulting first of all. Also, that’s a loss of the conference, it’s a loss of the person and somebody paid a whole lot of money for a ticket that didn’t get to be used. What are you going to do to prepare in advance for not eating it on the cost of say, that person’s airfare? You can look at it as it’s really expensive to have an immigration attorney available or you can look at that as is really cheap to have an immigration attorney available.
SAM: Travel insurance, basically?
CARINA: Yeah. Actually, that would be really neat if the conference is when they’re paying for a flight, included paying for travel insurance because stuff happens. Great idea. Travel insurance, usually isn’t terribly expensive. Now, these are all things where individually do something. As a conference organizer, pick at least one of these things. If it feels overwhelming to do all of them, I understand that so much but this is part of demonstrating our commitment as actually look at some of these things and choose, at least one of them every year to add and make a serious long term commitment too. We’re not just experimenting with this. We’re doing this.
SAM: We’re almost at the end of our show but before we go, I wanted to give you another chance to talk about CallbackWomen and what that’s been like for you. I wanted to ask, have you been able to see any changes from the work that you’ve done on this?
CARINA: Yeah. Like I said, it’s been four and a half years and that’s amazing. First of all, that’s been going on this long. I did not envision that and part of the reason is because there’s still so much more work to do. CallbackWomen started off as just providing information, “Here’s a CFP,” and quickly expanded beyond that into advocacy and education. A lot of times that’s meant really having to do the emotional labor of conflict of pushing conference organizers who particularly in the early years, really didn’t see it and felt offended by being asked who felt very defensive about the idea that they needed to make changes, particularly on issues like Codes of Conduct, on outreach.
I heard so many times the answer to, “Why are there only men in your roster?” The answer was, “Well, there are no women in our niche of the industry. You don’t understand. It’s not our fault.” That kind of blew my mind but it also really spoke to the ignorance and the narrowness of the networks and the part of where CallbackWomen was originating from is the networks that conference organizers were drawing from were really small. It was people that they are, either in it personally or who they had seen as speakers at other conferences so those people were getting recycled over and over and over again because it’s the low-hanging fruit. Every time that that person is giving another talk, they become essentially more renounced. It becomes even more obvious to choose that same few people over and over and over again. Expanding the network of conference organizers is hugely important in order for things to change.
CallbackWomen started to be really promoting speakers and their talks and people raving about them and saying, “This is what I drew from that this. This is how I’m changing my work because of what that person said.” That was me, essentially pushing back on that, that it was easier to show that we are in every single niche in the industry, in large numbers with significant expertise that people value when they get to hear it. You don’t get to have that excuse because it never was a real excuse. It was never valid. The problem was we don’t exist. It’s that you didn’t know. You didn’t see us. You don’t know us. If you haven’t done the work of trying to do harder, do more.
The advocacy stuff and being able to make changes on that has been really exciting. I don’t usually hear that anymore. Occasionally, I do but it’s become a lot less common and I think that really has to do with doing that particular work. A lot of conferences for CallbackWomen and it is that opportunity to really push the needle forward.
Travel funding is one that I really do feel CallbackWomen has had a major impact on. That was very rare when I started in 2012. Extraordinarily rare and usually, it would turn out that if you were willing to ask because they were then just going to cover one speaker’s expenses, they’d say, “We probably can find some money for it. Let us get back to you,” so it became something where again, you have to be in the know. You have to have some sort of inside knowledge that these are okay questions that can be potentially met with a positive answer. Really pushing conferences A, to by default cover travel and lodging and B, to make that public as part of the announcements, as part of the CFP, as making this integral to their process.
Codes of Conduct was another one where I push really hard. Ashe Dryden made the Code of Conduct pledge. I’m trying to remember what year that was. I want to say something like 2015 or 2015 —
CORALINE: It was 2014.
CARINA: Thank you. I really piggybacked on that and really use that to push hard on Codes of Conduct and that meant that CallbackWomen had to take the heat of those. A lot times when I did this, I would switch the conversation off to my private or for personal rather account: @CCZona, rather than have it all come through Callback. But it was still regardless of which handle it’s under, me doing all of that emotional labor and dealing with a lot of confrontational stuff, which needed to be done but that’s how it gets done. It was me and a number of other people, certainly not me alone but a bunch of us deciding to take that heat in order to push the needle forward. We have seen a great deal of change.
In 2015, the response that we got so commonly was if we adopted a Code of Conduct, it would look like something bad happened and nothing that’s ever happened at our conference so this would just be essentially tarring us unfairly. We can’t do this. It’s unnecessary and it would make us look really bad and that’s not fair to our attendees. I could spend a whole hour on the reasons why that is not valid but the important thing is that within a year of that Code of Conduct pledge and all those hard conversations we had, the environment changed a lot.
Conferences did truly get the message. They saw so many people saying, “I literally pledge to not participate in any conference that doesn’t have a Code of Conduct,” so it became something with fairly wide adoption. We still have some exceptions, which I think is great when they’re really visible about they’re exception because identifying themselves as a hostile space so we know not to participate. They have competed and lost. Please feel free to visibly eliminate yourself from competition for great speakers. I’m very happy with that choice.
CORALINE: Free speech, Carina.
CARINA: But I think that —
CORALINE: Diversity of thought.
CARINA: — Speak out saying you absolutely will not adopt the Code of Conduct and you find it ridiculous and offensive so that all of us know not waste any time at all in your conference. If that’s your posture, I’d rather it wasn’t your posture but as long as are candid and loud about it, awesome.
CORALINE: I have to say that as an attendee and as a speaker, it’s important to actually read that Code of Conduct because there are some very bad ones now.
CARINA: Heck, yeah. And deliberately so. Some of them were created to evade real responsibility after having called out. They are created for the purpose of being faux Codes of Conduct, for having no actual safety provided and no accountability for trying. I agree with you wholeheartedly on that. The other thing is that is their training. Did they link to a Code of Conduct without really reading it and embracing what that requires of them? Did they provide contact information for an enforcement officer and probably, at least two is really minimum. Ashe Dryden has a great 101/FAQ on the COC so I’m not going to spend too much time on that. But everyone should be reading that and taking very seriously what to do about that.
We’ve really changed now to the conversation is what is a good CFP? What is a valid CFP? What is their commitment to the CFP? How do they follow through with enforcement, rather than it being you must adopt one? That’s no longer good enough. I love that we’ve pushed forward the conversation. Again, that’s something where the work is clearly not done but we’ve moved into a next stage and that’s really exciting. It’s no longer okay to just be, “Meh!” We don’t want to do that or we have very strong reasons why we consider that absolutely unacceptable to do. Those have become marginal, rather than the rule.
Some other things that I’m really excited about are and I mentioned this earlier, getting much more conferences to care about having gender neutral restrooms and that was something where CallbackWomen could be a pretty easy influencer. Just by constantly retweeting people and showing pictures of the signs going like, “Oh, this is so cool. Look! They have gender neutral restrooms here and look at this neat logo for it,” and there are so many different kinds of variations and just normalizing CallbackWomen.
One of the great things that’s very, very easy to do is just normalize things that people don’t believe are normal. Sometimes creating that perception is not normal today but I can sure very easily, make it normal by having a whole bunch of people repeating that same message. You may not be paying close attention and noticing that was just from a handful of conferences at all that buzz was coming, but was legit buzz. People were that excited. Over and over again, you have all these people going to the restroom and taking a picture of the door. It matters. Stuff like that.
I think the live transcription stuff, I think also would have been a niche thing, stayed a niche thing without having something like CallbackWomen constantly promoting it. From that perspective of this, this is really cool rather than this is just something that accommodated me as an individual or the one person there. I think a lot of these things CallbackWomen has just had a real easy opportunity to provide exposure and normalization that’s helped get people on the same page about these are things that we just do by default rather than things that are something unusual to budget for or aspire to in some future year.
Here’s the thing, when I say that I follow these hashtags to find all of this stuff and promote all the speakers and all the wonderful feedback given to their talks, that takes time. Every once in a while someone will say to me essentially, “Oh, you just retweet.” Yeah. There have been days where I’m retweeting very carefully over 150 things and putting them all in buffer to make sure that you’re not going to lose with a wall of 150 things at once and that’s where I picked out reading a thousand or more tweets that day from one or a couple of conferences happening concurrently.
The idea that it’s just this quick thing you can knock off in a few minutes is really not understanding that 1300 conferences, all being active at once and having so much good stuff happening that we want to be able to share and we want to be able see and want to be able to benefit from, that actually is a significant amount of time. It’s a significant amount of processing. Some of the things, I’ll have to go back and forth over tweets about a given talk because there’s so much good feedback and I don’t want to be a wall of a feedback about just any given person so I have to figure out what is the best, say seven to eight tweets about this talk that cite the person by name. Please always cite the handle of the person so that we’re not just giving a vague quote that was good but attributing it to somebody.
I only retweets the ones that are attributing that talk or that thought to a particular person. Picking out those ones that form a narrative logically and can hold up on their own and cite that person’s expertise. It takes a lot of time and I love doing it. I wish I could do it full time for a living as a paid job and unfortunately, for four and a half years, it has largely been a nearly completely uncompensated job.
Fund Club last year was amazing and took it on very short notice and raised about $9600 which was great for paying my rent for several months. I really appreciate that. But it frustrates me that the industry individuals are benefiting financially from this work being able to get raises, being able to get exciting new jobs, being able to have other opportunities. Companies are benefiting from having their speakers represented and being able to have their message pushed out. Sponsors are benefiting from being able to, essentially put a halo over themselves by affiliating with these conferences. Conferences are getting better speakers and more variety. They’re having unique talks that if you want to hear this talk, you have to come to our conference. That’s a reason to buy a ticket to our conference.
There’s all of the system of people who are benefiting financially from free labor and significant amount of free labor. As much as I’ve talked about the free labor of speakers and how that’s completely unreasonable to not be covering their expenses at minimum and hopefully to treat with respect to the work enough to actually even do things like speaker pay, not just covering expenses. I would like to see people look at CallbackWomen too, as a vital necessary community resource that’s doing something a financial benefit and thus should return some financial investment that’s sustainable in order to make this work sustainable because there’s so much more work to do. I want so much to be able to do it.
At this point though, it’s really hard to be able to keep that up. I really am very torn about that. Every day, I have to do less on CallbackWomen every day. It really eats me up. I’m troubled by it and it makes me sad. I see more things I want to do not less and yet I have to do the less because I have to set boundaries between my ability to earn an income and my ability to help other people and then come quite frankly. What I really like to say as closing words is consider the value of CallbackWomen, consider the value of other services doing similar things and put your money behind them. Make sure it’s viable for these things to exist and make the impact that they’re making.
CORALINE: Do you have a Patreon for CallbackWomen?
CARINA: I will by the time this airs. Meanwhile on CallbackWomen.com, there is a donation page. You can use Square or PayPal to provide funding but I think Patreon has the really useful part of ongoing payments. The main reason I haven’t done Patreon is it’s essentially more on paid labor. The expectation that you do things like provide newsletters or some other work product, rather than just what CallbackWomen has already done or is continuing to do. It’s kind of not optimal because it still shifts the burden of being compensated for unpaid labor by doing more unpaid labor. I would like to see that model be re-thought a bit.
Fund Club was just amazing because there’s absolutely no strings attached to it. I think they had me write up a paragraph or two on what CallbackWomen is but otherwise, it was just them: Ashe Dryden and Shanley Kane, literally ordering their members to pay $100 each right now. You have five days to pay CallbackWomen $100. That is amazing and they do that every month for some other project that is for and about and benefiting marginalized people in tech and gaming. I absolutely love what they’re doing and you cannot imagine until you’ve experienced the impact of them just doing what I asked.
Every single donor on the donation page, how do you know about CallbackWomen and how does it impacted you, I think out of the 960 donors, there were two who didn’t even heard of CallbackWomen. They didn’t donate because they felt it mattered. They donated because they believe in Fund Club. Those kinds of things, you can do too, even if you don’t personally benefit from projects like CallbackWomen. Decide that you’re going to fund them and decide that you’re going to tell other people. You should too.
CORALINE: Actually, we were from clubs on a pick for June so I could definitely see the benefit there. We’re going to wrap up now and we like to wrap up our episodes with reflections on the conversations we’ve just had and maybe calls-to-action. Jamey, would you like to share your thoughts?
JAMEY: Yeah, this conversation has been really interesting for me, as someone who’s new to the conference speaking scene. I’ve been doing conference speaking for about six months and really enjoying it. But I’m having a lot of trouble with deciding what conference to go to and I think a lot of the things that we’ve talked about are things that I’ve been subconsciously thinking about without really always realizing that that’s what I’m thinking about.
The aspect having travel and such expenses covered, it’s important to me when I look at conferences but I definitely have this mindset of like, “I’m a beginner and I have to establish myself. This conference isn’t going to pay all my expenses but I really need this experience,” so being able to be part of the conversation must have like, we deserve to have this and we should be able to be more demanding about what we need, what is really valuable to me. Thank you, everybody especially Carina.
CARINA: Thank you. That’s exactly the kind of impact that is the point.
SAM: If I can piggyback on that, that was one of the aspects that I picked up on and has really been catching my attention throughout this whole conversation. That idea of flipping the paradigm, I always love finding those places where I don’t even realize I’ve been looking at a thing in a particular way or through a particular lens until somebody comes along and says, “But what if you look at it from this completely different angle?” and then everything just falls into place in a new way. I love watching my brain do that. I love the feeling that I get from having that happen. Thank you for being able to frame the competition angle in a completely different way. I really enjoyed that.
CORALINE: Yeah, I really enjoyed that too. One of the takeaways for me in this episode is I’ve been speaking for about four years and I’ve given close to 50 talks. I want to think about what influence I have and how I can use that to affect change as someone who’s woman for speaking. It’s definitely something I would be thinking about, maybe tweeting about. Thank you for that, Carina.
CARINA: I love that you brought this up because this is something else that CallbackWomen has been able to do and I would love to be able to do more, which is retweet women, making the offer to do mentorship of speakers. There have been a handful of people who’ve been doing this consistently for years and [inaudible] Ricky Ensley, Susan Axtell, Jen Myers or Jen Meyer, I forget which her last name is but people who have decided to make a long term commitment to helping new speakers get a leg up and it would be really cool to have more people choose to do that, to just say for instance typically something like, “I have office hours. I’m willing to give 30 minute slots. Feel free to DM me,” whatever it is that you want to do and whatever scale, we all have expertise, even I would like to say Jamey, newcomers and especially newcomers.
This is something that I’ve really, approximately annually have done, a speakers panel on video. I always try to make sure to have speakers from a range of experiences, including new speakers who have given one or two talks total because you actually have tons of valuable feedback to give to new speakers and to conference organizers. Your perspective is so valuable and it’s that phase when you’re figuring everything out and everything that you have to say, you can say to a brand new speaker because you are closest to the problems and you’re closest to the questions and you just discovered what is okay and useful and clever and you can share that right away with someone else. They’re going to have that sense of empathy of like, “Well, you think you are totally a beginner and unqualified and you’re doing it and you’re really need that.” It’s not just some senior person saying giving lip service the idea that I could do it too, it’s someone who genuinely knows that it’s like me saying, “You can because I did.”
REIN: So much of this conversation has been meaningful to me but I think the thing that strikes me the most is that it’s taken CallbackWomen four and a half years but there has been a real change in the conversation, a real change in how conferences go about organizing themselves, inviting speakers. They’ve changed things in a real material way, not just for conferences but also for the people that go to conferences. If you’re a person that cares about gender inequality or racial inequality or class inequality and all of these things are deeply connected.
This is the kind of activism that needs your support and there are a lot of ways that you can support it. You can support it by donating your money, your time but I’m reminded of a quote by Margaret Mead, which is, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” CallbackWomen is exactly what she was talking about and they need your support.
CARINA: Jamey, you also mentioned the difficulty of pre-paying for travel and of course, the obvious solution would seem to be to have conferences pay for the travel expenses up front. I do have some sympathy for conference organizers why this is difficult. I talked to some who have said the reason that they can’t is because there are people who abuse the system who literally take the money, either been given as a grant to cover expenses or who take the free ticket and don’t even show up. They don’t speak. They completely cheated their system and that’s really shocking to me but I understand why a conference would need to have some safeguards, controls.
It’s typically why a conference does something like either reimbursing only on-site when you arrive or after the fact. Of course, it will also give them time to raise sufficient money if they have to pay expenses a couple months ahead. That’s also harder for them but there are genuine reasons for a lot of these problems and I think it would be really helpful for all of us to come together and try to find ways to, at least moderate, minimize, reduce the effect of those kinds of dilemmas.
REIN: I want to thank Carina and all of our co-panelists for this episode. It’s been really important to me and I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks everyone.
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