Striving for better diversity in the development space
We’ve previously written about the diversity issues that the IT industry faces and felt it was time to turn the attention to our own actions in this regard. Here we share how we’re hoping to get more women involved in current and future JAX conferences. Can you help?
If you look at the IT industry, the lack of women is obvious. When meeting engineers in an office or at a conference, you mostly see male developers. No, not mostly, but rather overwhelmingly so. While there’s a solid consensus in the industry that this needs to change and that IT organisations should be an open space for men and women to work, connect with peers and develop one’s own personal skills, it seems that things have stagnated. This is especially the case of IT offices in Western Europe and North America.
As conference producers, we create experiences for hundreds of thousands of people, which reflects to some degree the state of the IT industry: it’s dominated by men. We’re realistic and know we can’t change the world, but we believe we can help influence and stimulate more diversity in the IT market.
The focus is on us
For JAX London for example, there has been an open call for papers for several weeks, a lot of social media buzz around the event and consistent reporting on JAXenter.com. Guess how many submissions from female speakers we received?
The problem is, we don’t know exactly whether a conference brand like JAX London has a reputation for being male-dominated (from the past) and is thus why many female experts perhaps feel uncomfortable joining in. Or does the lack of women in the engineering field also reflect the number of female speaker submissions for a conference like JAX London?
To this end, we’ve started to think about how we can change things. Our conference chair Sebastian Meyen had an inspiring conversation with Trisha Gee during JAX London 2014, where she explained two simple, yet important things: First and foremost, conference organisers shouldn’t be advertising their call for papers as “we’re looking for female speakers”, nor approach women asking them to join the conference just to increase the number of female voices (completely understood and never our intention). Most women, she said, don’t want to be respected and treated equally because they are women, but want to be acknowledged for their expertise independently of their gender.
Secondly, she recommended that conference organisers simply invite more female speakers proactively to demonstrate that they’re interested in both male and female expertise.
So we did. We got in touch with a number of women and managed to incorporate 7 female speakers into the JAX London lineup – 16% of our speakers in total. That number doesn’t sound huge, but if you compare it to last year’s JAX London conference and to many other tech conferences, we’re pretty proud of it.
But who do we mean by “we”? Of course it’s the JAX conference marketing team and JAXenter editorial team, but a special mention must go out to Petra Loibl, who cares for speaker communication and never faltered in making sure to highlight the gender factor while creating the conference program. But we don’t want to stop here.
Working towards a better balance
We are continuing to talk to female experts and invite them to join the JAX speaker community. This will hopefully encourage more women to submit their talks for future conferences. We are continuing to think about how we can provide a better welcome to everybody who’s an expert in something and has an important and interesting message to tell – whatever gender they may be.
If someone feels that there’s something we could do better, then we’re more than happy to receive your feedback. We’d really like to understand how we can make JAX a space where everybody can feel comfortable, harassment-free and can benefit from the numerous conversations to be had.
Interestingly, the number of female attendees for this year’s conference has increased as well. After having only 5% women in attendance in 2014, we are now expecting about 14%. That’s something to be proud of too.
Being convinced that software development is an excellent industry to work and thrive in, we deeply believe it should be consequently open to all people – wherever they come from, whatever their gender and however they identify themselves. We hope we can have a positive impact on the industry with our upcoming conference.