On Saturday 13th April 2019, we got a diverse group of 10+ people together for a diversity & inclusion workshop facilitated by Sawsan Khuri, using some Design Thinking techniques to try to understand some of the root causes of diversity issues in Tech Exeter and other tech groups in the region and come up with new ways to address them. This document summarises some of the insights that came out of that session and thoughts on next steps.
Diversity Vs Inclusion
We began by asking each member of the workshop to give their own understanding of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. The general conclusion was that ‘diversity’ felt to many people like a corporate buzzword that was perhaps more aligned with hitting hiring targets, and there was a general preference for the term ‘inclusion’, which felt more aligned with representation and making anyone feel welcome in our groups.
Next we had a discussion about the positives and negatives of current Tech & Digital Exeter activities.
- There was a huge amount of positivity about our family-friendly events, like the GAME>PLAY festival
- Collaboration was felt to be really valuable, with a feeling we could do more
- The community is starting to be noticed and engaged by key groups in the region, like Exeter City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the University
- The topics and speakers are interesting
- No prior knowledge is needed or expected to join
This last point is interesting, because it contrasted with one of the most consistent negatives, which was a sense from new joiners that they didn’t have enough knowledge.
- It’s tough to be a new person in the group, being uncertain of what to expect and finding it hard to join a group where you don’t know other people.
- There are negative associations which come with the idea that the group is for ‘geeks’.
- Similarly there are prior conceptions of what it means to be ‘techy’, with a lot of people feeling they wouldn’t be ‘techy’ enough to join the group, or that tech isn’t fun.
- The description of us as a ‘community’ can be off-putting for people who don’t feel they belong to that tech community - it makes the group feel exclusive
- ‘Imposter Syndrome’ puts people off because they think that they don’t know enough to join and have a sense that everyone else attending is an expert, this makes it especially tough for beginners just getting into tech.
- Talks are not always accessible enough, with some niche topics and complex talks.
- The venue can be off-putting, for example the space can feel dark and unwelcoming.
- People are concerned about social interaction, especially if they have social anxiety.
- Accessibility needs to be considered.
- Childcare issues make it harder for mothers to attend.
- There is a clear gender disparity, with few women attending and some uncomfortable behaviour from male attendees towards women.
Having grouped the different positives and negatives, we then had a brainstorming session to think of different ideas to address the issues raised. These included some ‘quick wins’ that we’ve already been able to implement, along with longer term ideas about how we structure events and additional activities we could support. The full list of ideas is included at the end of this document, but here are some key ideas to highlight:
How can we be more welcoming for newcomers?
- Labelling - we might think of our events as open to everyone, but people won’t know that unless we make it clear in our branding, communications and advertising.
- Welcome Committee - place a friendly volunteer at the entrance to the venue, to welcome people and make it easier for newcomers to find the room.
- Buddy Scheme - set up a scheme for current members to act as a buddy / mentor to new members, especially those who are also new to tech.
- Diverse Representation - we need to make sure that people can see ‘someone like me’ in our groups, especially in speaker positions. We intend to make sure we always have at least one female speaker in each of our meetups, and to always push for 50:50 gender representation at the Tech Exeter Conference. We also need to think about representation of other under-represented groups, such as BAME, LGTBQ+ and those with disabilities.
- Accessibility - we should consider accessibility right from the start of planning an event, this might include physical access, considering how to include people with anxiety, and how to make events autism-friendly.
How can we increase networking and make social interaction easier?
- Stack the Chairs - we used to put out chairs before people arrived, this left no space for standing and chatting, and meant people arrived and immediately sat and looked at their phones or spoke to people they already knew. Now we only put out one row (for people with mobility issues), and leave the rest stacked. This means that people come in and stand in groups to chat, and then put out their own chairs when it’s time to start.
- Pacman Circles - during this initial networking, we remind people to stand in ‘pacman circles’ where there is a gap left for someone else to join in.
How do we ensure we have talks for everyone?
- Talk Levels - clearly label talks by the level of prior knowledge required (e.g. beginner, novice, expert), and try to get a good mix of different levels each meetup, perhaps starting with a beginner-level talk and finishing with an expert talk.
- Different types of talks - explore new topics, perhaps in partnership with other communities e.g. arts, humanities, business, education
How do we raise awareness and reach out to new people?
- PRIDE - we had a stall at the Exeter Pride festival this year
- Roadshow - could we take Tech Exeter on the road to other parts of Devon?
- Welcome events - introductory events for new joiners
- Promotion - advertise in local magazines
- Engage with schools - Tech Exeter’s first event at Exeter College was a great success
To follow on from our this idea generation session, we plan to select some of the strongest ideas and develop them. A key issue to overcome is the lack of capacity to take on new projects while we are entirely volunteer led. We plan to review our fundraising strategy with the aim of being able to have some funded staff to help move projects forward. For diversity initiatives, we hope to explore options for grant funding.
We have already been able to implement some of the ideas produced, including having a welcome person at Tech Exeter meetups, stacking chairs and encouraging pacman circles. Kris also paid close attention to representation in building this year’s Tech Exeter Conference website, making sure that the images and videos contain lots of female representation.
It is important to remember that equal representation is very difficult to achieve given the current disparity between men and women going into tech careers, but it is incredibly important in moving the dial for the next generation. A lot of studies have shown that role models and seeing ‘someone like me’ has a very direct impact on the likelihood of someone choosing a degree or taking up a career in a particular area. We will need to work extra hard to ensure we are representative. This was proven with the Tech Exeter Conference, where we had to specifically target potential female speakers from across the country to improve the gender balance.
All the Ideas
Different talk topics:
- Imposter syndrome talk
- Aspirational talks to balance tech
- How [tech] relates to everyday
- More examples of tech in different industries
- Intro to… e.g. “social media safety”
- Themed talks
- Different levels of talk (more or less technical)
- Theme events into topics e.g. “Fresh”, “Disruption”. Then you get a more varied talk set
- More obscure events - range of science, arts, lifestyle, everyday
Different talk formats
- Fun / come-and-have-a-go stuff as well as the talks
- Audience engagement - more participation
- Video and discussion at meetups
- Panel discussion
Different session formats / events
- More hands on workshops
- Lunch meets for self-employed or unemployed (temp or long-term)
- ‘Welcome’ social events as soft landing for new people
- ‘Proud to be a geek’ events
- More variety in events - more hands on; games!
- Lego collaboration or competition
- Board game event
- Inner beauty pageant
- Puzzle challenges async(?) around town
- Hike & picnic
- Tech Exeter Festival
- Flash mob!
- VR events where no-one has a gender or you have an avatar as someone else
- ‘Intro to tech’ meetup group
Workshops / teaching events
- Confidence-building sessions (might put confident people off though)
- Seminar workshop
- Learn to code as a family
- Social skills training
- Offer regular classes? E.g. in a coding language
- Coding workshops
More diverse speakers
- Diversity of speakers
- Curate list in advance
- Getting people who have gone to diversity-focused events to feed back
- Collecting “protected characteristics” data for past and potential speakers
- Showcasing voices from the community
- How to find out about events?
- Ad budget + targeting
- Do we need to explicitly state that those from “different” backgrounds are welcome and encouraged to attend?
- Can we use Exeter’s community builders more?
- Are we reaching diverse audiences through advertising?
- Community builders
- Exeter One magazine. Free local papers that are delivered
- Advertise in local magazines
- Exeter Living, other calendar
- Make venue more creative and physically attractive
- Describe what to expect e.g. timings, workshop, activities
- Focus on community building
- Capture what the current community likes so you don’t lose sight of what is currently working
- Label our events as accessible and anxiety-friendly
- If no experience is needed, state that everywhere and every time
- Include photos from other events e.g. showing families, women, all different people
- Weekday evening events
- Weekend lunch events
- Lunch meets for self-employed or unemployed (temp or long-term)
- Are we in the “right” places in town?
- Take events to different hosts
- Diwali festivals / carnival
- Literary festivals / Exeter library / Waterstones
- Document events and share resources - Video? - PR
- Sidwell Community Centre - Incorporate with their events
- Exchange with Exmouth or Newton Abbot
- Volunteers as welcome team
- Welcoming people - directing them (near Phoenix entrance)
- Welcome committee
- Creche at events
- Encourage people to branch out from their work groups - how? Lead by example? Stuff people can try out / join in with
- Pizza & drinks
- Intro facilitators
- Ask members what they’d like to do / where they’d like events to be
- Encourage members to bring a friend
- Buddy scheme or mentoring scheme - existing members help new members
- Consider accessibility in planning events - physical access, anxiety, autism-friendly
- Art outreach
- Collaborative events - art + tech + digital
- Arts + tech combo events
- Tech in the arts workshop / meetup
- Creative coding
- Digital humanities at uni (Emily + Lucy)
- Tech and humanities - ethics, anthropology etc
- Target the biggest businesses in the region to send speakers
- Invite more business leaders to understand how tech supports their businesses
- Business outreach
- Collaborate with student groups
- Earlier engagement (youth outreach)
- Education outreach
- Engage with younger audience
- Increase promotion to university students - FB groups; evening events 4-7pm
- Exeter College coffee mornings
- Students societies (have tried, will keep trying)
- Be more present at the uni e.g. staff news and networks