Photo Credit: Paul Szymkowiak

Diversity at events

There’s a great post that my colleague, Cindy Alvarez, shared with me earlier today which I wanted to share here. It’s written by the team at Spotify and walks through how they approached running a hackathon that was truly diverse, focusing on gender mostly in their first event. Reading the post, I’d say it’s been a terrific success.

The post reminded me a lot of the themes we would discuss and debate when running Trampoline in Melbourne in the early days. I thought I’d share a few things we picked up on when running these Unconferences, to keep the conversation going. A big hat-tip to Melina Chan and Pat Allan, who constantly had their eye on the diversity of the group we’d be forming through these actions.

The invite process matters. The Spotify article highlights this, but we used to focus on this so much it’s worth highlighting here again.

The channels where you spread the event decide the crowd that will apply. We wanted to expand outside our Facebook hacker groups. So we talked to university teachers, local communities, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends from other cities to push the event outside the usual “tech bubble”.

For us, when we ran the first and second Trampoline events back in 2009, Twitter was the main channel we used to market the event. But we also put a lot of effort into curating a list of all the people we could think of that we would LOVE to be at the event. This list ended up being a mix of friends and acquaintances that we knew had an interesting and unusual story to share and so ended up being quite diverse. We then emailed and personally reached out to many on the list to encourage them to come along.

After the first Trampoline, which we felt was a success, we had to think even more about this the second time around. We increased the number of tickets we made available to 150 and also planned staged releases to help ensure different groups got several chances to book – rather than just the folks that saw the invites go out on Twitter in the first instance. When we released the tickets, we had the first release (around 100 tickets, I think, but I’m most likely wrong here) go in about 10 minutes. After that, we kept the releases going over the next week or so to fill it all up.

I’ll be the first to say that this did add extra friction to the mix. And confusion. I’m not sure we’d approach it in the same way again if we had our chance, but generally it helped make sure that a diverse group ended up coming along, because tickets weren’t being snapped up by people who were generally able to be online, ready to register, at 9am on a weekday morning.

At the next event, Trampoline 3, we implemented a ‘gift ticket’ with registration to help combat this even more. Once you registered, you had an extra ticket that you could forward to someone else, which we encouraged people to use for someone that had never been to a Trampoline. Whilst this was a good idea and worked in some cases, we didn’t see most of the gift tickets get used – so they were eventually returned to the pool closer to the event.

For Trampoline, diversity meant more than the categories we use to define that now. Whilst gender, race, religion etc were all important form of diversity we were hoping to attract was in people’s careers and interests. By that, I mean we wanted to attract people who chose to use the productive hours of their weeks in a variety of ways. That led to some amazing sessions, from how to swim the English Channel, to juggling lessons, to 3D printer displays and barefoot running lectures. We also had a mix of technology talks, career development talks and family/parenting talks. At one event, we had an 8 year old run a session and an 80 year old! It was this diverse group of topics that led to the most interesting event. I think, in hindsight, it led to the attendees also being diverse, too.

I’d finally add that, even with all of this, the group became more homogeneous over time. As people connected at the events and got to know each other they would come back time and time again, which meant the ‘interestingness’ slowed down a little bit. Even so, the events today remain some of the more fascinating and interesting ways to learn about a whole host of topics. It’s been far too long since I managed to attend one!