Organising a conference is difficult. First and foremost, there are the logistics of putting a team together, finding a location, and getting the financial support. Then there’s the issue of the talks — making a speaker line-up as diverse as possible while also offering a wide range of interesting talk topics — and of making sure that the event is as inclusive as possible, by offering a code of conduct, a way to enforce it, and thinking of the many little details which turn a good conference into a great one.
Offering diversity tickets — dedicated free tickets for people from underrepresented groups in tech — is one of those details which, for many conferences that have introduced them into their concept (OTSConf, kod.io, .concat(), CSSConf EU to name a few), has proven to mean so much to the attendees and to the conference itself. Reaching your audience as a conference organiser is just as much work as looking for speakers — it takes time and effort, but it is infinitely rewarding. Similarly to a Code of Conduct, diversity tickets show that conference organisers really care about their audience and think ahead for their attendees. Of course, every conference should think about how to make the whole conference more inclusive for everyone and affordable even without diversity tickets. And we still have a long way to go to make that happen. In the meantime, diversity tickets, opportunity grants and travel assistance is a step in the right direction.
Supporting attendees who would not be able to attend the conference otherwise also sends an amazing message to the world: You belong here, too. After all, what is the purpose of an inclusive conference if the audience is made up of very similar members?
With years of expertise in the field of conferences and of diversity in Open Source and tech, Travis Foundation has been offering diversity consultancy to conference organisers, to support them in making their conference more inclusive, one change at a time. This consultancy also includes helping organisers with the extra load of work that comes with offering diversity tickets, using our very own app. We have partnered with RubyMonstas, a Rails Girls study group based in Berlin, to create a platform that would allow conference organisers to quickly and easily set up a diversity ticket system for their conference: meet diversitytickets.org!
Ruby Monstas | Image: Anika Lindtner
The concept is simple: Organisers can add their conference to the platform and outline how many diversity tickets they’re offering; this also includes information regarding the offer of travel grants or accommodation support. As soon as we start working together with the conference, it’s visible in our overview and applicants can apply for a diversity ticket through our system. We handle the applications and selection process, which includes a triaging of the applications, an unbiased raffled out selection and the communication with the applicants; we can also handle travel grants if needed. In this way, we hope to reduce the workload for conference organisers around the world, so they can concentrate on other tasks. With a centralised place for diversity ticket applications, applicants can also find conferences they would not have otherwise known about, using the app as a “hub” to find interesting new inclusive conferences to attend.
It is very inspiring to work on this project, because I believe it is very meaningful as it will help the tech community to be a more diverse place. I hope that events find it easier to give out free tickets for underrepresented groups in tech, as Travis Foundation can now offer to handle the applications with this app. I am really proud to be a part of this and can’t wait to work on all the ideas we already have to make this app even better.
Unbiased* selection processes and meritocracy
We have thought about and experimented with different ways to select “the best” diversity tickets holders, for example through a jury process. A jury seems like the most obvious solution for many, however jury selection is based on the myth of meritocracy, which is an ideology that is in the end harming Tech and Open Source and we wish to step away from. Jury based selection also introduces bias, no matter how hard we try to select applications objectively.
This leads to the people who make out the majority of tech deciding who “deserves the ticket the most”, and puts underrepresented people in tech in the position of having to educate others again and making themselves vulnerable by having to answer intrusive questions about their background and private situation. This is why we don’t believe in jury based selection – the process of having a jury decide who’s worthy enough to get a diversity ticket alone is questionable.
For these reasons, we’ve realised that raffling out the tickets after removing fake or non-serious applications has produced the most fair results. This is the process we found works best and in the least intrusive way for diversity ticket applicants.
*We use the word unbiased here because we want it to be that way. But of course there is no such thing as an unbiased process (even by building the app in English and using a specific design we introduce some of our biases and assumptions about diversity ticket applicants into the whole app). We want to learn how to build a process as unbiased as possible – so if you have feedback, please let us know.
Is it free?
Since we are a non-profit organization we depend on donations to continue the projects we build. To be able to put in working hours to manage your conference tickets and meanwhile still support our other projects, we ask for a small donation to Travis Foundation for our service. We will take into consideration the resources and size of the conference when asking for a contribution and are sure we will always find a way to make this work.
Get in touch!
While the app is currently only used specifically for conferences interested in working together with us, in the near future it’s going to give all conferences the possibility to use diversitytickets.org to advertise their diversity tickets, so that applicants can get informed about the conferences that offer special tickets or grants. Are you interested in making your conference more inclusive and offering diversity tickets for your attendees? Get in touch!
We’re grateful to the Rubymonstas for building this app for and with us, and can’t thank them enough for the amazing work they’ve done. A big shout out to their whole team, including Justine and Lisa, Matt and Joe — and a huge thank you to Katrin, Johanna and Ariane.