Diversity at OggCamp

Important note: This is a personal blog post on my personal blog. While I was largely responsible for the organisation of this year’s OggCamp, there is no formal organisation called “OggCamp”, and this post is intended to communicate my personal thoughts on these issues, not those of anyone else involved in past, present or future OggCamp events. At this point there are no plans regarding an OggCamp in 2015, as to where it will be, who will organise it, when or even whether it will happen.

OggCamp 14 took place this weekend in Oxford.  Shortly before the event, Twitter user @zenaynay mentioned that she would be keeping a tally of how many non-male and non-white attendees were at the event.  I was interested to see what she found, and today looked over her timeline from the weekend to find the comments posted below (with her permission), which I felt warranted a considered response.

Before I continue, I feel I should point out that I’m a middle-class white male living in the UK and working in the IT industry, which means I have no first-hand experience of what it’s like to be part of an under-represented minority in my everyday life. This means that when talking about these issues I fear that I may come across as patronising, insensitive, or otherwise offensive. However, to avoid discussing these issues on that basis would be to say that improving diversity is the sole responsibility of the under-represented, which won’t get us anywhere.

To summarise @zenaynay’s observations, she found that while there were a lot of white women (WW) at the event, there were almost no people of colour (POC) in general or women of colour (WOC) in particular, other then herself. In addition, the vast majority of the speakers at the event were men. As a result, she felt out of place, and as though she wasn’t part of the culture of the event.

This is a problem for me, as I want OggCamp to be an inclusive place for everyone. We have done a better job than other tech and open source-related conferences I’ve been to at attracting women and children, although we have made no specific effort to ensure this. To realise that we’re still excluding a group of potential attendees is disappointing, but I choose to take the criticism as an opportunity to make future events even better rather than a reason that this event was unsuccessful.

Personally, I’m more concerned with the content of the talks being diverse and interesting than the people that give them, but I also understand that members of a diverse audience may feel out of place watching a homogenous group of speakers to which they feel they dont belong, and may therefore be put off attending the event in the first place.  This isn’t a situation I’m happy with.

One point of @zenaynay’s observations that I don’t agree with is the assertion that the organisers use the unconference model of the event to get us off the hook regarding speaker diversity. This isn’t the case. From my point of view, one reason why we use the unconference model is that it gives OggCamp the energy and dynamic atmosphere that makes the event unique. The second (and probably main) reason why is that arranging a 3-track 2-day conference schedule is serious amount of work, and we simply don’t have the resources to do it.

We do have a small number of scheduled speakers each year, which is usually made up of people who I can think to ask. This is, of course, limited by the people that I know about, and then further by those who respond to me.  I dont think this has ever resulted in us having an all white-male schedule, but they have certainly been in the majority. If we had the capacity to manage the process, an open call for papers may be a useful device for getting a more diverse line-up of speakers.

As for diversity among unconference speakers, I’d like to hear from existing non-white-male attendees as to why they don’t tend to offer talks. It’s not necessary to indicate your gender, race, or age when submitting a talk to be voted on, so I can’t imagine that attendees use those metrics to decide which talks to watch.  However, there’s clearly something we’re missing here that’s putting people off.

Finally, we come to what I see as the most important issue, which underpins all of this: the diversity of attendees. More diverse attendees means a more diverse pool of speakers to draw on for the unconference, and a more diverse and inclusive culture to bring future attendees into, hopefully allowing them to feel more comfortable.
I don’t know for sure how people hear about and decide to come to OggCamp, but I suspect that it was initially members of the LugRadio community, plus listeners to the UUPC and Linux Outlaws podcasts, and then word of mouth spread from there. For whatever reason, this word of mouth didn’t spread to many people of colour.

Perhaps, therefore, what we need for OggCamp is more widespread marketing. The easiest way to market the event (and therefore the one I focused on this year) is to speak to previous attendees on social media, which is obviously never going to increase diversity. Knowing where and how to promote the event to make it visible to attendees who don’t necessarily fit the existing “mould” which we’ve apparently developed could be a big step in the right direction.

Another step in the right direction may be to adopt a formal code of conduct (CoC).  It’s not something we’ve ever felt the need to introduce before, but I was made aware this year of someone who was put off attending by the lack of a CoC.  Codifying and honouring our intention to make the event safe and welcoming for everyone may help encourage those who worry that they might not be welcome, to attend.

I’ve mentioned to several people this year that I’d like to increase the involvement of the community in the organisation of OggCamp by creating a permanent online discussion forum (web forum, mailing list or whatever). If we go ahead with this and you’re interested in helping OggCamp become more diverse, I’d encourage you to get involved in the discussion. Follow @OggCamp on Twitter and we’ll keep you posted as plans are developed.

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14 Responses to Diversity at OggCamp

  1. Stephen Parkes says:

    I’d consider a name change to reflect the broader appeal of OggCamp compared to lots of other events. Hear me out on this.

    Looking at things like Maker Fair’s, in comparison to the average tech event, there is a much more diverse range of people and OggCamp should be able to attract that same audience. It’s primary people who do things or want to do things that come. People who use technology in interesting ways and like to share information. That is specific to any race or gender those are traits that drive all the good that humanity manages to do.

    The problem of the future growth comes from the past. Because OggCamp appears established people may decide it’s obviously not for them without looking to see exactly what is available.

    What I am suggesting is the same sort of folk who come together to make OggCamp come together to make something with the same spirit but make it clear from the outset this just isn’t male tech podcasters having a circle jerk or based around cliques.

    You’re all doing something wonderful. Don’t be limited by what you have when you can have so much more.

    Watching OggCamp from the outside I think you’ve already tried to be inclusive from the outset but like you say you’re all limited by who and what you know when it comes to bringing in speakers and most people who are available to do this sort of thing are either boring middle aged white men or entertaining middle aged white men.

    We’ve been around for so long now that most of us remember having beers with those middle aged white men when they couldn’t grow a beard let alone a white one 🙂

    Perhaps keep OggCamp as it is but get more partners in to host other events in the same city or town over the same week culminating in a Sunday night get together where the best of the best discuss their projects and everyone mixes.

    TL:DR
    Use OggCamp as a template for something bigger and better even if it means sharing the timetable with more birds of a feather.

    I speak as somebody who probably spent more time swearing on the first season of LugRadio than attending LugRadio Live. I’m not a fan of face to face interaction or crowds where people know my name so haven’t attended any OggCamp but I have enjoyed them from afar through tweets, facebook and podcasts.

  2. Joe Ressington says:

    I can’t stand attempts at forced diversity. Obviously it’s a great idea to spread the word about events like OggCamp as far and wide as possible but if it’s mostly white men who want to come then I don’t see a problem.

    I witnessed nothing but good feeling and a sense of inclusion between all attendees, irrespective of their background. As long as this “vibe” continues then I don’t see why a person of any heritage should feel out of place.

    In fact I see blog posts like this and in fact the original tweet by @zenaynay as creating a problem that doesn’t exist. No doubt some will argue that I am being naive but I honestly think that this is a “problem” that is far better left ignored.

    Encourage as many people as possible to come and treat everyone with the equal respect that I witnessed. Whoever comes, comes. Whoever doesn’t, doesn’t. Why make it into a big deal?

  3. Rich.T. says:

    I was in the process of writing a very lengthy comment, but I’ll do that elsewhere, as this isn’t the place, and you’re probably too ‘Ogg’d out’ at the moment, to read through all that. 😉

    So, my suggestion is that ASAP:

    Reach out to some established groups for some help and advice around the diversity issues brought to your attention.
    “Open-source” OggCamp: Start the organisation “OggCamp” on GitHub and licence it.
    Set up separate repositories for the organisation, event planning, publicity, website, technical infrastructure, etc.
    At first, actively encourage direct contributions from your social circles and encourage forks from all comers, step back to see what happens while taking a breather for a bit.

    I will have a go at this myself (while learning more about using GitHub in the process) and will share my efforts with you, but I’d encourage you to set up the organisation ASAP and give administrative access to people you trust.

    What do you think?

  4. mark says:

    Joe,
    I’m not talking about forced diversity, but about inclusivity. I dont think things like speaker quotas are productive uses of time, and I dont think it’s a problem in itself if most people who come to OggCamp happen to be white. I just want anyone who comes to OggCamp to feel like they belong there.

    From the feedback I’ve got both here and on Twitter, it sounds like the way forward for future events is to work with the community in the organisation of the event to spread the word of OggCamp and, if anyone in the community identifies barriers to inclusion (most people dont think there are any at the moment), work to remove them.

    Of course, any of this is for if and when we decide to start thinking about future events. For now, normality is calling.

  5. Fab says:

    As I said on Twitter: I don’t think OggCamp has a problem with diversity. As far as I see it, our goal has always been to foster an atmosphere where anyone can attend and give talks and I think we have pretty much succeeded so far. I can’t see any valid arguments here why someone (whatever sex or colour they may be) would have felt like they couldn’t give a talk at OggCamp 14. And literally everyone I’ve talked to at the event seemed to feel the same.

    Now, it is true that the audience is predominantly white males. This is (IMO) due to the fact that LO and UUPC listeners — which formed the core group from which most attendees somehow opriginated — are predominantly white males. You can argue that this is a problem, but I don’t think it is OggCamp’s problem. As the event grew, this has changed too and I think we are doing all we can to help. Short of actively doing anything to change the makeup of the conference to have more of Group X (colour, sex, age group) there, which I feel would be a very bad mistake. As would be to enforce a Code of Conduct. So far we have dealt with any problems efficiently and without needing a CoC and I can’t see why that should change.

    Look at the original OggCamp banner I designed. There are male, female, Asian Oggs and other Oggs of colour on there. For a reason. I have personally, in more than one situation, helped to encourage transgender participation in the event. From my perspective, we are as open as possible.

    If you don’t think that is the case, tell us so. AT THE EVENT. TO OUR FACES. So that we can help you and change the situation. Whinghing on Twitter does nothing but give you attention at the cost of the OggCamp name, which is a damn shame. This event is open in every way. You can help organise it, if you want. If you think it needs changing, get involved, get your hands dirty.

    I personally want to make clear that I don’t think positive enforcement of diversity or a CoC does any good. On the contrary. I don’t want to be part of an OggCamp like that. I want to be part of an OggCamp that continues to keep doing what it does already: Create an atmosphere where EVERYONE can feel welcome to attend and to participate.

    • mark says:

      Generally, I agree with your points about positive discrimination and CoCs. I also agree with your point about it being more valuable to get this feedback on the day.

      However, it’s worth noting that @zenaynay didn’t refer specifically to OggCamp in her tweets, so I’m not sure it’s fair to characterise it as working “at the cost of the OggCamp name”. Anyone reading the tweets out of the context I put them in would just know it as an anonymous tech unconference.

      • Laura Cowen says:

        I think there is a problem (not confined to OggCamp but which OggCamp could help with). As a white but female podcaster (and former OggCamp organiser), I think that OggCamp has generally a really nice, inclusive atmosphere. I think there are probably many implicit things that spoil this though. So I disagree with people who say we shouldn’t do anything.

        In my personal experience, seeing ‘people like you’ (ie people I can relate to) on an event’s website, photos, podcast recordings, etc makes *such* a difference to whether I feel welcome. While I too am pleased that we’re getting more women coming along, the numbers really aren’t that high yet that we can congratulate ourselves.

        If the people you see at an event (in person, on the website, etc) are people you can relate to (eg white, male), I can understand why you wouldn’t see a problem in the diversity.

        There are a lot of reasons why getting diversity at events is hard. But not doing anything about it is worse. If potential non-white, non-male attendees are put off by the event because it seems to be all about white men, and meanwhile more white men come along each year, diversity will get worse, not better.

        Positive discrimination has a bad name but doing nothing is discriminative too (it’s just more implicit). So we could (and this is my fault as much as anyone’s in the case of OggCamp) make more effort to get, say, female speakers on the scheduled track. There are a lot of them out there but if you only see the same speakers at the events you go to, again you only invite the people you know. And make more effort to get female attendees (eg try marketing in different places). Tobi’s suggestion below of how to get more women (and, in fact, more different people) proposing talks is something worth thinking about, IMHO.

        OggCamp is a brilliant conference (well done everyone who organised and attended!). As Tobi says, in my experience it’s a lovely, inclusive event. We just need to make sure it actually *is* inclusive.

        • mark says:

          With that in mind, things like Tony’s photo project from 2011 and the time-lapse videos from this year are a great resource for showing off the diversity of people we already get. We should definitely use them in promoting future events.

  6. Tobi says:

    @zenaynay raises a valid problem, not just about Oggcamp, but about all tech events. Compared to every other tech thing I have ever been to, Oggcamp is enormously diverse, at least in the male / female ratio, and the atmosphere at Oggcamp is far more welcoming and inclusive than almost any event (not just tech) I have ever been to.

    It is, however, still the case that very few women volunteer to give talks (the number I saw this year was 0, with the exception of one of the keynote speakers who I missed). I am not quite sure how that can be addressed though.

    Maybe what we need is more rooms, and a clearer message about what the talks are supposed to be – not every talk has to be something deeply technical and a showing off of skills (which is a more male idea of giving talks). I don’t think it’s a good idea to move away from the Unconference scheme, as that is something that makes Oggcamp exciting.

    Maybe a mentoring scheme or a “How to do a talk” talk early on the first day could be a good idea to encourage other speakers than the usual suspects, together with an encouragement to go to that talk in the opening speech. I’m teaching students how to do presentations every year, so I would be happy to give such a talk if anyone thinks it’s a good idea. This could potentially help encourage people that do not belong to the crowd of white, well educated males that work in the tech sector and have attended 20 barcamps before.

    The ethnic minority issue is another problem, and again, I am not quite sure how to address this. The number of non white attendees is shockingly low at Oggcamp and at other similar events. I don’t believe a code of conduct would help at all – I don’t think that there are many people who look at Oggcamp and think they might not be welcome. The problem is more that the people who are aware of Oggcamp are mostly white, well-earning men in the tech sector. No idea how to broaden those circles and how to raise awareness of what a fantastic event Oggcamp is, but it is a discussion we should have.

  7. garry grant says:

    Tobi, I saw the Akademy pictures from last month and there were quite a few women and indian participants compared to tech events I take part in (not free software) but Im not sure if thats more or less than OGGCAMP?

    Is it something taht KDE folk work at or is it just the interest is different (KDE is a varied topic)?

  8. JonTheNiceGuy says:

    The “Dev Hell” podcast 23 has some stuff about diversity and is actually quite good, and discusses improving diversity at conferences (mostly about getting Women into the events, more than POC, but still appropriate I believe).

    http://devhell.info/post/2012-11-25/the-bozo-brush/

    It’s a bit NSFW, but generally it’s a good podcast. I was recommended to the podcast by @LornaJane

  9. JonTheNiceGuy says:

    I should add however, that I’m glad that @zenaynay brought up her concerns about the environment – without awareness that it’s a concern, you aren’t even able to address whether you think it’s worth doing something about it.

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