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Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

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You're running an online conference but get called out for having an all-male speaker lineup 2 days prior. Yo, What do you do?

We just wanted to get folks into serverless...

Imagine you are are a small-time startup trying to build a serverless framework along with a serverless platform.

Maybe after reading Andrew's Brown think piece "Serverless is ready, but users are not" you decide to get more folks into serverless by hosting an online conference around emerging serverless SaaS offerings.

You register a funny domain around a headline like "Is Serverless Ready?" and many LOLs ensue.

So you reach into your own personal network, and assemble a speaker list from other small-time SaaS offerings along with some community members.

As the online conference approaches, you repromote the event and oh no....

Your conference is getting called out by notable Women in Serverless for having an all-male lineup.

The conference is in a couple of days.

Yo, what do we do?

After some googling you come across Andrew Brown's suggested guide titled "You're running an online conference but get called out for having an all-male speaker lineup 2 days prior. Yo, What do you do?" and proceed to read these 6 Suggestions.

Suggestion 1: Accept, Acknowledge and Apologize

Firstly, you accept that you made a mistake during the execution of your conference. This is an internal dialog you need to say to yourself. Put any internal excuses aside eg. "We're just a small company with a small budget" and simply accept it.

Once you've accepted where you are now, the next thing to acknowledge are the shortcomings directly which could be something like this:

  • We booked an all-male speaker lineup
  • We failed to have a open CFP
  • We failed to have mechanisms in-place to uplift a more diverse speaker list
  • We rushed into an online conference
  • We failed to build and maintain a diverse network

Now with acceptance and acknowledge out of the way we can deliver a strong apology. The purpose of an apology is to lay up a community promise which will be the start of our course correction. Just please, don't put any excuses in the apology.

Suggestion 2: Cancel the Conference

I crunched the numbers and sorry buddies but I think the best route is to cancel the conference.

Even if you do suggestion 1, if you proceed with the conference with no corrections it will undo all your efforts of suggestion 1.

If you throw in a few diverse folks into the lineup last minute (which right now would be super awkward for anyone to accept), its not going to do shit for you because it just shows how poorly planned the conference was.

Just cancel, its an online conference LOL. Its not like you have paid sponsors, or physical costs.

I say "cancel" instead of "reschedule" because lets signify we are doing a "hard refresh". Let's plan for Serverless Conference 2.0 and there are other things you need to do first before you even think about doing a conference.

Suggestion 3: Build Your Diverse Network

First ask yourself, Why did you end up with an all-male lineup?

This is what I'm thinking you're thinking:

"We wanted to focus on emerging serverless devtools and we wanted to go as expert as we could in each respected tool so their collective voice would tell you Serverless is Ready. Why is it our fault they're all dudes? Thats all we could get"

But dudes (and I know you're dudes) listen.

The bar to expert is low, (I know this for sure) because:

  • I make a course on Terraform, now I'm Terraform expert
  • I run a single workshop on K8s now I'm a K8s expert
  • I do a Twitter-Space panel on GCP I'm now a GCP expert
  • I do fast-track talk on Security at a local meetup and I'm a AWS Security expert

You can flip or uplift basically anyone into an expert within a couple of good event opportunities.

Why aren't their more PoC, Womxn or Neurodivergent or etc if its so easy to become an expert?

Because many of our legacy "expert making" spaces where folks are flipped into experts are not inclusive or conducive for these folks.

When we pull from the most "expert of experts" the folks that have had years to climb the track are going to be overwhelming males.

Why is your network not diverse? Thats on you.

You can go on Twitter search #BlackTechTwitter and start filling your feed with folks that don't look like you and figure it out from there.

Its not a fast process it honestly could take 6 months to 2 years.

This is why you haven't seen me put on an online conference, because I want to have this stuff in place before I do anything.

Suggestion 3: Plan for an open CFP

If there is open Call For Proposal (CFP) I sure is heck didn't see it.

Have this at least 3 months out and ensure folks know about it.

Make it really easy for folks and tell exactly what you want.
Ruby always done a great job of this:

Suggestion 4: Clear Table Stakes

When I'm running my AWS User Group I start each event with clear table steaks about creating an inclusive space.

  • I let neurodiverse folks know there is is a private channel of communication to me so they can for future accommodation so the events are inclusive for them
  • I let women know they don't need to go on-camera or that I will not tolerant unwanted attention from other community members
  • I let beginner know I'm not going to put up with the "back-of-the-room" "uh actually" stumper questions that make the idea of being a speaker such an anxiety-enduced experience
  • I let speakers know I provide 1-on-1 private sessions prior to events to help them maximize their outcome to get flipped to "expert"

Tell folks upfront, what are going to do to make this conference/event thing work for everyone?

If this too much work for you, sorry you should not be running a conference.

Its like folks thinking they can run their own Twitter Clone or Social media but they don't want to bother with Content Moderation and Trust of Safety lol.

Suggestion 5: Mentor in Other Successful Communities

If you try and build that network, if you trying to signal to folks this space is safe for your conference or event, but you aren't get anywhere, then instead of doing your own thing, contribute and learn with other folks that are doing it better than you.

ServerlessDays has done better, so be part of their community, until you can get traction on your own and try to match suite yourself or do better.

Suggestion 6: Turn your critics into your best allies

Nobody likes facing the folks that "called them out" but sometimes these folks turn out to be the best folks you can turn into allies.

Don't expect them to do the work for you, since educating and doing the leg work yourself is your responsibly, but if they're open to letting you listen and they want to do more, it can be great (especially decide to put on a conference again)

So reach out privately (or publicly) to the folks that called you out, offer personalized apologies and see where it goes from there.


✌️ ❀️ I'm hoping this provides a positive outcome to anyone running a conference. Peace and love everyone

❀️‍πŸ”₯ πŸ’¬ I haven't ran a conference myself, so anyone who wants to "tap in" here with more experience than me and light up the comments lets hear it!

Top comments (17)

integerman profile image
Matt Eland

I think for me the thing that trips me up is the phrase "two days before". At two days before, any sort of cancellation (event, speaker, whatever) has some pretty significant impacts that are likely not desired or intended.

To attend at a conference people need to:

  • Pay for it or secure payment from work
  • Arrange travel and accomodations
  • Arrange paid time off (PTO)
  • Hand off tasks to be covered by others
  • Plan their conference attendance (for multi-track conferences)

Most of these things are done at least a week prior to the conference. Conference attendees also have an idea of the sessions to expect and will be disappointed to not attend those (though understanding in many cases).

The impacts on speakers might be higher. Every time I give a talk I'm spending the week prior to a talk practicing it every night or almost every night, even if it's an old talk. I want to make sure that the attendees get the best possible experience and my presentation is optimized.

If it's a new talk, I've also been prepping the slides for at least the month before. New talks often require accompanying code, demos, or research which also goes on.

Cancelling a conference or a talk has a huge impact. Suddenly saying "Oh yeah, we forgot to give diversity even a cursory thought, my bad. Let's call it off" is probably not the right move in this case.

An honest apology at the beginning of the conference and a call for more diverse attendees to talk with the organizers about the factors that might have led to this alignment is much more appropriate.

Understanding why more diverse applicants didn't submit, get accepted, or confirm their talks is the key factor here. Mentoring early on, even starting during the prior year's event for the next year's sessions might be a solution. Listening is certainly a big part of the solution.

And, I think honesty is a big part of the solution. Being honest and transparent about your CFP process, discussing whether or not blind reviews and panel reviewers were used is important. Talking about evaluation criterion is important. Providing feedback and mentoring upon request for speakers who are rejected for all submitted sessions is important.

Cancelling doesn't feel like the right move - at least at that close of a date to the event. But it shouldn't be flagged that close to the event either. During session scheduling the conference organizers should have several personas in mind for session attendees and think "What would this person want to attend?". Thinking about speaker selection from their perspective should be part of this. If you find, when scheduling, confirming, or evaluating your CFP results that your demographics are highly skewed, that is the time to take action.

Good discussion on a touchy topic with many complex factors.

andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ • Edited

All good points.

As a speaker, I think there is a level of responsibility. I know some folks would put it all on the organizers.

For myself this is what I do to be responsible:

  • I ask who else is speaking to ensure what is the line-up
  • I plan to cancel (pull out) if what the organizer and I discussed did not match
  • I budget my content production based on the event of cancellation
  • I have a plan for salvaging produced content in the case of cancellation

I can understand if there is "undue burden" on the speaker that it's not fair or expected for them to take action.

For you Matt, I can understand the undue burden

Not all speakers are equal and I view most of the speakers here well-practiced in public speaking events, and its not Paid Time Off but rather they are paid by the work or its business as usual, so the cost of cancellation to themselves is low and the reuse is high.

integerman profile image
Matt Eland

And you are a smarter man than I - and a much bigger deal!

I love where your mind is on this.

Thread Thread
andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

I am second guessing myself on this stuff all the time.

This stuff is fluid and so contextual so changing or shifting your minds is just going to keep happening lol.

tagmeidareyou profile image
Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community. View Code of Conduct

Look at Andrew's other posts, the guy is nothing but a woketist in every single way yet he screams from the comfort of his canadian butt in a society that has everything given to him.

I'd like if these clowns that scream for all these random inclusion over-exaggerated crap, to be in a country with real problems and see if they would be willing to trade their comfortable starbucks-morning routine to walk 10 kms to fetch water.

andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
  • I live in a remote community in Canada of 1000 person town. There is no Starbucks. lol
  • I often walk 10 KM in the morning, while carrying at 20 lb rock lol.

I don't live in Ottawa buddy.

Thread Thread
michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington


mellen profile image
Matt Ellen

you have 7 suggestions. suggestion 3 happens twice.

andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

Oh! Thank you for pointing out lol. I'm dyslexic so this stuff really goes unseen by me lol

mellen profile image
Matt Ellen

no problem!

tagmeidareyou profile image

That's how these people try to deal with the fact that whatever they try to push onto others is nothing but another political agenda.

In their ideal world, you would have to start a sentence by apologising a hundred times for things you might say or said. "The sky is blue, and by blue I don't intend to..." such bs.

andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

You know in Canada we apologize a considerable amount.
Like I say sorry ever other sentence LOL so I'm not sure I mind what you're suggesting

Thread Thread
michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Lol! Your ability to shake off these trollish comments with a laugh is applause-worthy, Andrew.

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