What do you get when you bring together 500+ people to talk about diversity and inclusion issues in the tech industry? We found out!
Field Notes: Tech Inclusion 2015
Automatticians, the people who build WordPress.com, participate in events and projects around the world every day. Periodically, they report back on the exciting things they do when not in front of a computer.
Earlier this month, Happiness Engineers Kathryn Presner and David Cole, Theme Wrangler Michelle Langston, and Community Organizer Jen Mylo attended the inaugural Tech Inclusion conference in San Francisco, CA. The event, which took place September 11-12, was created to explore solutions to the lack of diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, and drew more than 500 attendees as well as hosting a career fair attended by hundreds more.
Diversity in the tech industry has been headline news lately. It’s no secret that white men make up the majority of employees in Silicon Valley/the United States’ tech sector, despite the fact that white men only make up about 30% of the US population. Tech companies like Apple, Twitter, and Slack have been responding with their diversity statistics and creating programs intended to address this disparity and create more diverse workforces. At Automattic, we’re a distributed company. 40% of our employees live outside the United States (and of our American employees, very few live in Silicon Valley/the Bay Area), but we struggle with the same challenges as other tech companies around increasing the diversity of our applicant pool and being inclusive.
We went to Tech Inclusion not only to support the conference as a sponsor, but to learn what we can do better. Tech Inclusion brought together people from all walks of tech — developers, HR people, educators, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, etc. — to talk about what’s working (or not), to make connections with each other, and to brainstorm new solutions, and we took full advantage of the experience and talent being shared.
We met so many great people at the event: speakers who were unflinchingly honest in sharing their experiences in the tech industry, people heading up organizations to bring more people from marginalized groups into tech, attendees trying to figure out how to make their own companies more inclusive, and job-seekers brave enough to put themselves out there in an industry where not a lot of people look like them. Unlike many industry events, at Tech Inclusion the speaker lineup was very diverse, and featured people from leading tech companies who aren’t normally as visible at events like these: women, people of color, people from the gay and transgender communities, etc. It was easily the most diverse tech event that I have ever attended. And we met so many people who use WordPress!
The Twitter feed for #techinclusion15 was trending that weekend, full of people sharing pictures, ideas, and reactions to the sessions.
In addition to talking to a hundred or so people at the career fair, Kathryn, David, Michelle, and I were able to connect with people from organizations and events that we hope to partner with in the future to help increase diversity in the tech pipeline, and foster inclusion for the people who are already in the industry, something we are all very excited about. The four of us came away from the conference brimming with ideas, and hopeful.
In the spirit of inclusion, I thought that instead of just one voice telling you about our experience at the event, we could all share something. You’ve already heard from me, so here’s what my colleagues had to say about Tech Inclusion!
I’ve never attended a conference quite like Tech Inclusion. I’ve always found tech conferences to be inspiring, but this one was especially inspiring for me, thanks to the diversity among the attendees, speakers, and panelists. The organizers went out of their way to create an environment that was safe and welcoming for all people, regardless of gender, gender expression, race, cultural background, age, and physical ability. Likewise, I was happy to see a large, diverse crowd at the career fair on the second day of the conference. This was encouraging and empowering to me, and I’m more inspired than ever to connect with other people of color in technology. I’d like to become involved with organizations that work to encourage young people of color to consider careers in technology.
— Michelle Langston
I’ve been to a lot of conferences throughout my career, and I’ve been to a lot of tech conferences specifically. But I’ve never been to a tech conference like Tech Inclusion. When I walked in on day one, I immediately felt at home, like I belonged, even though I didn’t know anyone there beyond my colleagues. I was struck by the fact that I’d never seen a more diverse crowd at a conference – not just the audience, but in the spotlight as speakers, panelists, and workshop leaders.
The event reinforced my belief that making the tech industry more inclusive is something that not only benefits the individuals being included, but the field as a whole. The entire conference made me think hard about how I can be a better ally for people of colour and other groups to which I don’t belong, but want to support, whether it’s the LGBT community or deaf people. While there aren’t any easy answers or quick-fix solutions to the diversity conundrum, I’m determined to keep up my own efforts to encourage women in tech — mentoring them in public-speaking, among other things — and to be a supporter of other inclusion efforts where I can.
— Kathryn Presner
I was pretty intrigued when I saw the roster of speakers lined up for Tech Inclusion. I wasn’t familiar with some of the names, but I knew about many of the larger organizations represented. They were doing great work that I was interested in, but this clearly wasn’t the typical “tech conference” speaker lineup. I didn’t mind that, though. I saw people who looked like me, and I wanted to hear about their journeys. I was curious about the similarities our stories might share, and I wanted to learn from their experiences. The biggest motivator though, was that even before attending, I felt like I would belong.
While I gained a lot of what I’d hoped for from this conference, I also came away with much more than I anticipated. Two experiences stick with me most:
- While I felt simultaneously welcomed and included, I was also given the opportunity to set aside some of my own comfort to help empower and include people unlike myself. Both of these experiences were invaluable, and I’m thankful that neither existed without the other.
- I spoke at length with students from Hack the Hood who will be entering the workforce in the next few years. They are a diverse group of highly-skilled problem solvers who may not have had the opportunity to realize their talents, if not for adults taking the time to invest in them. These students and their successes are not anomalies. I’m convinced that the opportunities for economically disadvantaged students like them are too few, so I’m also brainstorming ways to make a meaningful impact with students from my own community.
— David Cole
In all, Tech Inclusion was hugely inspiring for all four of us. Wish you could have been there? Aren’t you lucky that they were livestreaming, and you can watch the recordings online for free! Day 1 Day 2
Oh, and by the way, Automattic is an equal opportunity employer that values a diverse workforce made up of people from all over the world — and we’re hiring. 🙂
Hi and thanks so much for this post. I used to teach in the area of gender diversity and disability but I have never really given any thought to specific industries where the lack of diversity is so prevalent. It was very thought provoking and uplifting and the comments were wonderful.
Thanks for attending tech inclusion. I’ve not yet had this privilege, yet believe we need the input, to update our blogs posts etc. The more we know the more we’re able do.