Conference Perk: Tech Inclusion San Francisco

At dxw, one of the perks everyone gets is the opportunity to attend a conference annually. Farrah and I both wanted to make the most of our conference perk and go to a new place. We fancied going to something techy, so last month we headed to San Francisco. We began thinking about what we wanted to say in our joint blog on our final day in SF, overlooking the bay..

The conference we selected was Tech Inclusion. Tech Inclusion is a regular conference and events hosted by Change Catalyst. They focus on improving diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.

The conference took place over a day and a half and had a packed agenda, full of organisations, some of which we were familiar with and others that were new to us. Although there were lots of speakers, it felt like an intimate event and the organisers created a safe space for people to share their personal stories.

The topics covered were vast. They included understanding microaggressions, use of data to inform organisational change, machine learning and human rights, smart cities, accessibility and practical sessions on agile delivery and presentation skills. There were clear themes running throughout all the sessions such as identity, intersectionality and accessibility.

I attended a workshop about presentation skills and learnt how to think of the ‘sender and receiver’ of information when presenting to an audience. I took away useful tips about improving my presentation skills, with specific approaches for introverts and extroverts. I’ll take on board the importance of pausing and making space when you present, practicing advocacy and influencing techniques, making clear requests and giving honest feedback. The workshop raised the importance of nonverbal communication and being present and inclusive when presenting. There were also practical tips shared about how to reframe anxiety when presenting.

Farrah wanted to take away learnings from the conference and to share her own insights with others. She had the opportunity to do this in a workshop hosted by Pivotal about agile methodologies. During the workshop, small breakout groups used agile methods to prioritise and plan a project idea they chose to work on. Farrah’s group had a couple of people from Uber to whom she spoke about running unconferences.

I went to a talk on accessibility from the lead designer at Bitly. He used a series of examples to evidence how building accessible services and products benefits everyone, and not just the people who accessibility is often designed for. One of his examples was about the ‘Rolling Quads’. The Rolling Quads were a group of students with disabilities at the University of California, Berkeley during the 60’s. The group advocated for ‘curb cuts’, and took it into their own hands to destroy pavement curbs so that wheelchair users could get around the university campus. Following the groups activism, the value of curb cuts was recognised and they’ve since become widespread.

Farrah and I came away from the conference with a few reflections..

Diversity and inclusion is a vast topic

Diversity and inclusion in the tech industry is a vast topic to cover in a day and a half. The conference leant towards certain topics, namely race, gender, disability and LGBT. It covered these groups in depth, however, we noticed some gaps, such as mental health, age, religion and socioeconomic groups.

There’s a lot of good work going on

The conference evidenced that there are a lot of organisations, some small, some large, who are working hard at bring diversity and inclusion to the forefront and position it at the heart of what they do. There was a call for leaders and innovators to be an alert to their organisations, and be truly responsive to the needs of their organisations.

The conference was represented by a lot of large organisations such as Automattic, Amnesty International, Bitly and Intel, who evidenced a genuine and dedicated effort to making their organisations diverse and inclusive. Everyone that spoke and many people that attended had taken steps to drive forward cultural change. There was a clear consensus that diversity and inclusion is a vital and core part of any organisations.

Heavily represented by senior leaders

The conference speakers were mostly senior leaders and company directors, but the selected speakers didn’t represent a cross-section of an organisation. Farrah and I discussed how it would have been good to hear from more junior speakers as well, because when you’re thinking about diversity and inclusion it’s essential for the whole organisation to be involved.

Another important message was that inclusion is about both the person and their role, and that you need to consider both parts to be an inclusive organisation.