Creating a welcoming and inclusive Bristech

By Nic Hemley, Bristech Founder

Wednesday 16th October 2019

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As you may have already read, one of our founding values at Bristech is to be diverse and inclusive - although that doesn’t mean we always get it right and we are making a concerted effort to recognise our shortcomings and do something about them.

The next step in this journey is to focus on creating a welcoming and inclusive Bristech. This is something we strive towards at every single one of our monthly meetups, but is especially important at our annual conference where many people may be venturing into the world of Bristech for the first time.

Why is this so important?

There is nothing worse than feeling you don’t belong. We have been actively listening to the tech community in and around Bristol and the South West and again and again we have heard stories about diverse people entering spaces in which they were not made to feel welcome.

Of course, it’s vital to recognise that not every space is unwelcoming - but when you are a diverse individual on any axis, that doesn’t need to matter.

Being made to feel not welcome may be enough to discourage a return visit and that is a shame for both the individual and the event in question.

Why doesn’t this always happen?

The technology world is dominated (even more acutely in the software sub-sector) by white heterosexual men.

It’s a current fact, and we’re not going to shy away from it.

This can mean that women, non-binary people, people of colour, people with disabilities, and other diverse groups feel incredibly self-conscious and out of place in those spaces.

What makes this even more complex is that diversity is not always something that is visible. A white heterosexual man may have anxiety, making it challenging for them to be in a loud, networking space. A person of colour may be non-binary with a very femme gender expression. A young woman may be hard of hearing but not wearing a hearing aid.

We do not want a single person to feel unwelcome at a Bristech event, which is why we’re holding ourselves to high standards and making active decisions to combat this ahead of time.

So what are we doing about it?

Lots. Here are just some examples of the plans we’re putting into place to support all people from all backgrounds to feel welcome at our events:

  • No planned photo-shoots

Unlike in the past, we will no longer be organising planned photo-shoots during Bristech. This can lead to profiling, a desire to include visible diversity on camera, and that’s not fair on individuals who are visibly diverse and may already feel uncomfortable.

Instead, we’ll be photographing candidly, taking shots of genuine conversations between people. If you would like to talk to us about our use of photography and videography at Bristech, please get in touch.

  • Horseshoes, not circles

Is there anything more intimidating than trying to break into a circle of people talking? Although some companies purchase Bristech tickets as groups, many people attend as individuals. We’ll be actively encouraging conversations in horseshoes, not circles, so people can more actively mingle and bring new people into their conversations.

  • Social butterflies and quiet caterpillars

Some people just naturally love to talk - and that’s great! When you register at Bristech, everyone will be offered the chance to identify yourself as a ‘social butterfly’ by adding a butterfly sticker to your lapel. That means that everyone will know you’re happy to chat to anyone, giving quiet people or lone attenders an easy way to find a Bristech companion.

Already know you’d love to be a social butterfly at the conference? Let us know now.

But it’s not always easy to strike up conversation, and even less so if you are not neurotypical. For those of our delegates who have anxiety, are on the autistic spectrum, or have another reason why they find it difficult to speak to people they don’t know, we have the quiet caterpillar stickers.

Everyone will be offered the chance to self-identify as a ‘quiet caterpillar’, in other words, someone who may have difficulty or anxiety speaking to someone new. We don’t need to ask or know why, but they definitely still need to be included in conversations. 

Already know you’d love to have a quiet caterpillar sticker? Again, let us know now.

It’s our hope that social butterflies will recognise quiet caterpillars, and draw them into conversations without asking personal questions. If you have thoughts or questions about this, get in touch.

  • Hosted at an accessible venue

We choose to host Bristech at the Watershed, a venue that has actively worked to make the site accessible and welcoming to deaf and hard of hearing individuals and communities. That has made it possible for Svetlana Kouznetsova, a technology and UX consultant who is also deaf, to speak at this year’s Bristech. We hope to welcome delegates who are deaf and hard of hearing to Bristech this year.

There’s still a long way to go

Until diversity is a given, our work will not be done. 

Bristech is now partnering with Global Diversity CFP Day (an initiative by Peter Aitken of ScotlandJS) and will be offering a series of workshops, both online and offline, before and during the CFP for Bristech 2020 to ensure that everyone who wants to get a chance to submit has the knowledge, tools, and support to do so.

Our first CFP diversity day workshop will be held on Saturday 18th January 2020, facilitated by public speaking specialists and involving speakers past and present, as well as members of the CFP selection panel. This will be followed by a series of webinars and workshops by experienced practitioners to help people of all backgrounds on their public speaking journeys.

Our focus will not only be on gender. It’s not our role to dictate what diverse looks like since there are many types of diversity: race, age, class, gender, sexuality, disability, neurological, and more. Instead, our focus will be on intersectionality.

Please do join us in making the tech space in Bristol more welcoming and more diverse.

If you would like to talk to us about getting involved in the workshops, or on getting more involved as a diversity ambassador for Bristech, please do get in touch.

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About Nic Hemley

Nic is a founder, technologist and concerned human. Concerned as disconnection seems rife in our society and the basis for many social and ecological ills. After working in the technology space for 15 years as a software developer, he founded Bristech meetup (2013) as a vibrant space for passionate individuals to share their experience and knowledge. The conference (2015) built further on this vision. Nic is motivated by the desire to explore ideas and approaches; he loves words, books, podcasts and the human spirit. He also finds it a bit strange describing himself in third-person.

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