Quick Hit: a GF approach to events

I help plan technical events at the Wikimedia Foundation. I think we’ve improved in making them more welcoming and inclusive over the course of my time there. We just recently filled to capacity on registration for an upcoming event, and I thought I’d share a few things we’ve done:

  • A friendly space policy
  • Event info page shows photos of people of different genders, allows people to opt in to sharing their names/attendance
  • Registration form doesn’t ask for sex or gender; instead, it asks what kind of t-shirt we should provide (including a “None, thank you” option) and “If you need accommodation: would you prefer to share a room with a woman or with a man?” (options: “women’s rooms”, “men’s rooms”, “either will be fine”)
  • We’ll aim to document as much of the event as possible in realtime text
  • We’re ensuring that at least one of the social events is not booze-oriented
  • I’m working to ensure people can put whatever names they prefer on their badges, including handles/nicks for those who don’t want to share their wallet names
  • Free to attend, and we provide travel sponsorships to encourage participants from far away
  • Hostel very near the venue

I failed at:

  • childcare – just didn’t put in the time to ensure we could provide this
  • ensuring our venue is accessible to those with disabilities (I’m not sure, and didn’t emphasize this as a key criterion when my contact in Berlin was scouting venues)
  • clarifying many of the points above to prospective attendees
  • and probably more

What have you done to make your geek events more welcoming?

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About brainwane

Sumana Harihareswara is a geeky woman living in New York City and maintaining open source software, teaching newer coders, reading science fiction, writing technical documentation, and programming. She has managed programmers at an open source consulting firm, led the open source community behind Wikipedia, and co-edited a speculative fiction anthology. She dents and tweets as @brainwane.

15 thoughts on “Quick Hit: a GF approach to events

  1. anon

    ~ Mod note: you can use a pseudonym here, but please use one more unique than “anon”. ~

    wait, how does this deal with the creepy men who might want to room with women though?

    1. brainwane

      There is an International Journal of Event and Festival Management – neat! If you could point me to the text of the article?

  2. Cathy

    Sounds like you have a lot of the bases covered. Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t get everything right.

    I’m really cheap and like to stay at hostels even when I can pay for a hotel. The photos you use are pretty important. I went to Barcamp in Seattle this past weekend. The photo they had on their website showed only men and an example of a talk was “The internet is for p0rn”. A mention was made of that example and it isn’t on the website anymore.

    1. brainwane

      I really appreciate the “don’t beat yourself up” comment. It’s so tough. I’m the user experience designer for these events. Any problem that keeps people from full empowerment and participation disheartens me.

      Last year I helped run some hackdays cohosted with a Wikimedia-wide conference. An interested conference attendee came in and then left. After the hackdays, I happened to meet him during the general conference. He told me that he didn’t know how to get started or what to work on, and didn’t see any information on the room’s whiteboard about a person or Etherpad to consult, so he left. I made that mistake, that omission, that aborted his experience. I know that all I can do going forward is fix that problem so I don’t do it again, but it still bothers me. How many people have silently walked away from some event of mine because I’ve unknowingly done or omitted something and made them feel unwelcome or adrift?

  3. Jinian

    Generally: this looks super-awesome, and I applaud your excellent efforts!

    However, I don’t know about this rooming question. Without the options the question sets up a condition you have no way of satisfying, and with them you’re still forcing people to plan according to binary genders, albeit indirectly.

    1. brainwane

      Thanks for the kind words! Yeah, see the other thread in this comment section where I talk about fill-in-the-blank genders for the hostel question next time.

  4. just a reader

    “Registration form doesn’t ask for sex or gender; instead, it asks what kind of t-shirt we should provide (including a “None, thank you” option) and “If you need accommodation: would you prefer to share a room with a woman or with a man?” (options: “women’s rooms”, “men’s rooms”, “either will be fine”)”

    “wait, how does this deal with the creepy men who might want to room with women though?”

    Exactly. Suppose two people with given names that don’t reveal their genders to you (unisex names and/or names from a culture you’re unfamiliar with) register. One of them is a woman who doesn’t want to room with any men. Another one is a man who wants to room with women whom he doesn’t already know. Both of them selected “women’s rooms.” How do you avoid assigning them to the same room?

    1. brainwane

      In my case, no one at all selected “women’s rooms” so I didn’t have to deal with this situation. It sounds like all the women who are coming to the event from out of town are finding and booking their own accommodation, and I’ll try to chat with a few of them to see whether they felt that the hostel would be unsafe, or whether they had worried that they’d be sharing a room with a man.

      If anyone had selected “women’s rooms” then, to be honest, I would have checked on their genders somehow. I would have looked them up online, done a Google image search on people with their names (if the names were from a culture I was unfamiliar with), and emailed each of them asking whether they were all right staying with [name of other person] or whether they would prefer a single room. There were only 30-60 people to handle for this particular event, so that kind of personal attention can scale.

      I am trying to figure out how to do better for next time, in a way that:

      * respects people’s nonbinary genders
      * lets us save costs (so, can’t put every person in their own single-occupancy hostel room)
      * respects participants’ needs for safety, security, and reassurance
      * lets us save time by putting the question on the registration form instead of determining needs via 30-60 individual email conversations


      1. just a reader

        Could you ask gender and make it a fill-in-the-blank question instead of an either/or question?

        1. brainwane

          Yeah, that sounds like the best way to go. OpenHatch event report:
          Gender as a text field: this works just fine! We have 100% response rate to this question in the UMD and RPI surveys, and so far they separate entirely cleanly into “Male”/”Female” (or what I would call obvious abbreviations thereof). I am pleased by the idea that we can accommodate anyone who wants to answer differently, and yet still provide high-quality reporting if we want to summarize.

          So I’d probably structure it like: “If you need accommodation: what is your gender? [TEXTAREA]” and then basically match like with like.

    1. brainwane

      Yeah, see the thread elsewhere in these comments regarding how I’d like to do fill-in-the-blank genders regarding hostel accommodation next time. Not sure whether there’s any alternative to referring to men’s & women’s t-shirt sizes.

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