Diversity tickets - an avalanche of good!
It is definitely true that you are reading this because thousands of people worked on the technology that allows you to do so: the creators of the internet and the world wide web, the developers who wrote the framework and browsers plugins, and the designers who crafted the user experience - just so that this article could reach you. Isn’t that amazing?
Let’s quickly name some of the people that come to mind when we think about the tools and technologies we use every day. We have that guy Tim Berners-Lee who invented WWW, and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who did the cool hardware and software things. The first email was invented by Ray Tomlinson, and Facebook was created by Mark Zuckerberg. And before Facebook, many of us would check in daily on MySpace with Tom Anderson.
Some great guys there, huh? But they have more in common than technical brilliance and creative insight: they share a specific set of characteristics (such as ethnicity, gender, and access to education) that afforded them opportunities. Often though, people are denied such opportunities based on the lack of those specific characteristics.
Is that changing now? Well.... Not really. The British Computing Society (BCS) “Diversity in IT" report states that in the United Kingdom only 10% tech directors are female, and just 17% of IT specialists are female; Disabled people make up 8% of the tech workforce, 21% are from older age groups, and 17% are from ethnic minorities. The report does not reveal the proportion of women from ethnic minorities working in IT, but I would suspect it is very small.
There are of course many reasons for this and this is an incredibly complex topic because we, as people, are complex.
What's worse is that we also know that women are leaving the industry. I could not find data on the UK population, but the National Center for Women & Information Technology in the US produced a report in 2016 that states that the attrition rate is more than twice as high for women as it is for men. The major feature of the report is that “Workplace experiences emerge as one of the most significant differences between women who stay in computing and those who leave”, and that “Women who left were less likely to report opportunities for training and development, support from a manager, and support for balancing work and other competing responsibilities. They were also more likely to report undermining behavior from managers. “ Even worse, men [are] “four times more likely than women to say that they don’t see discrimination happening.”
So you see, my industry - which is full of design, innovation and laptop stickers - is also is full of obstacles that make it harder for me to find my place in the workplace and excel in what I do. But not all hope is lost!
In an attempt to even out the playing field, many tech conferences now offer diversity tickets. These tickets are aimed at supporting underrepresented groups in the tech industry. Essentially, a diversity ticket is a free ticket, removing one of the barriers to attend a conference where they can learn more about their craft and make connections. And sometimes, when conferences are trying to diversify their attendee list, they also create environments in which people feel comfortable in and so they keep returning.
So for me, ScotlandJS did just that. I received a diversity ticket to attend the conference (organised by Peter Aitken), through Ladies of Code Glasgow (organiser Carole Logan). I was super excited to get the ticket - this was a fantastic opportunity for me to learn about an area of development I have less familiarity with.
Around the time of the conference I began interviewing for a new job. Spoiler alert: I got it! My interviewers were impressed with what I was learning - and that I wanted to learn. At the conference, I was able to meet with people from all over the world, learn a tonne, and use what I’d learnt pretty much straight away (a particular highlight was the chrome dev tools talk from Lora Vardarova). It was really great - I felt welcomed and thrived in the environment. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I was given through the diversity ticket, and it benefited me greatly.
But I believe there is another side to this diversity ticket story.
The thing is, I wasn’t always as aware of diversity issues as I am today - it took time, many embarrassing moments, and curiosity for me to learn. And what I imagine is that for majority for people, it is the same. I believe that when people come to a conference that offers diversity tickets, often attendees are exposed to a different environment than they might be used to in the office. They are shown that there can be a better way of treating each other, and that we are all here to do cool things. At ScotlandJS, there was a clear message that bullying of any kind would not be tolerated. We saw diverse groups in positions of knowledge, and we were educated on our privilege thanks to Kim Crayton’s talk. Experiences and tips were shared across the board on how to make the technology and our working environments better - wrapped in an easy, fun and informative way. People saw the amazing thing which tech can be - and should be. Hopefully this causes people to share their experiences with others and to appreciate and support diversity in the workplace.
So, diversity tickets not only benefit the person receiving the ticket, they benefit all attendees and beyond.
And this is why diversity tickets create an avalanche of change for good.
P.S Thank you to Peter and Carole ( mentioned above for the opportunity.) I would also like to thank Rosalyn Taylor who’s fantastic editorial skill made this article readable. Also massive thanks my friend Anne for putting me up in her flat so I could attend the conference.