Let’s put our money where our mouth is. One big reason that tech conferences are not more diverse is because of economic reasons – let’s put our money toward mitigating that issue (This is surely not the only reason, but reducing the economic barriers is a great start!).
So what can we (tech industry) do to help? Provide more discounted conference tickets, volunteer options, or scholarships. You can create interesting incentives, like asking each awardee to write a blog post about their experience at the conference. Help a young struggling entrepreneur to a conference they really want to attend and you’ll forever have an ally.
Making your conference more diverse is important for more reasons than “it’s the right thing to do”. Conferences are the professional networking gateway for people who are new to the industry. Helping them get to a conference to experience the connections, see good pitches and demos, and know where they stand relative to their industry is a very healthy thing. I’ve seen this myself, where scholarship attendees to Women 2.0 credited this event with new-found motivation, new connections, and actionable steps to move forward with their startups.
— Jennifer Arguello (@engijen) November 15, 2013
I want to take this time to celebrate a few folks who are already doing it:
- David Pollock, Carin Meier, and Kyle Kingsbury announced they are subsidizing attendance to Closure West and other tech conferences:
- Google gives scholarships for women to attend a few tech conferences:
- Lesbians Who Tech provide scholarships for those with financial need:
- The Kapor Center provides scholarships for underrepresented folks to attend many conferences. Of note recently are Grace Hopper, She’s Geeky, and Women 2.0.
- Black Enterprise piece on The Kapor Center: http://bit.ly/KCGJRn. Full disclosure, The Kapor Center is my employer. Self-serving on my part, perhaps, but I think it’s worth celebrating.
- Others? Please let me know of other folks providing scholarships to conferences – I’d love to have a more comprehensive list here
— Kelsey Gilmore-Innis (@kelseyinnis) January 21, 2014
You’ll hear plenty of Silicon Valley insiders talk about the lack of interest of underrepresented folks: “We don’t exclude people, anyone is welcome!” The economic burden of attending a conference is difficult for any bootstrapped entrepreneur– but more so for those that don’t come from a network that can help them raise that infamous “friends and family” round.
You might say – I can only afford to sponsor a few people, is it even worth it? The answer is YES. Any little bit counts. Just make sure you sponsor at least 2 people. Also – even if you personally cannot finance this, use your network: start a crowdfunding campaign to finance scholarships, ask for donations from other attendants, ask your friends to host these folks at their home. The will is there to help. We can all take our small part.
Check out this Indiegogo campaign for Kronda Adair, who wanted to go to Lesbians Who Tech but couldn’t afford it. She’s reached her goal!: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-me-go-to-lesbians-who-tech-in-san-francisco
Here’s a great aggregated list of scholarships for travel by Geek Feminism Wiki: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Travel_funding