Contributed by Tracy Ragan, DeployHub (CDF Member)
cdCon 2020 was the Continuous Delivery Foundation’s first crack at hosting an annual summit of DevOps and pipeline professionals from across the globe. When a group of member volunteers stepped up to the plate to make cdCon a reality, diversity and inclusion became a natural priority. Member volunteers, including professionals from Armory, CloudBees, DeployHub, JFrog, OpsMx, and Puppet gathered on a COVID-style zoom meeting to sort out how to create an IT conference that included women and people of color.
As a woman in IT, I can testify to how “out of place” one can feel being the only female attendee in the room. I cannot imagine the compounding effect of being the only female in the room, and the only black person in the room. And believe me, black girls do code.
The absence of women and minority attendees has become the uncomfortable norm for most IT conferences for the last 20 years. Kicking off the first cdCon was a big enough lift. The team asked itself, “How do we make diversity and inclusion one of our top priorities and build a new industry conference at the same time?” This seemed like two big lifts, but one could not be done without the other.
The team quickly realized the road to success was to showcase as many minorities and women in keynote panels and speaking sessions as possible. We also included a fund-raising effort for two non-profit organizations, Black Girls Code and Women Who Code. We thought we had it covered.
The word went out. The CFP was pushed across social networking channels, emails and through the membership community with a message that women and minorities were encouraged to submit a speaking proposal.
I served on the cdCon 2020 selection committee and still remember the sinking feeling when I opened the spreadsheet of talks and saw only a few women had submitted, and one of them was me. Obviously, this was going to be a bigger challenge than any of us expected. So we did the unthinkable. We agreed to select 60% of the talks and leave 40% to be curated. Yes, we were going to need to do some phone outreach and recruitment. I can still remember the voice of one of our female members who said, “I did not submit a talk because I’ve tried before and never got selected.”
Over the next 30 days, we got to work. We reached out to the CDF Member companies asking for women and minorities to submit talks. We looked at previous shows where women and minorities presented and “pinged” them to submit. We mentored first-time speakers and encouraged them to go out on a limb. We helped tweak product lighting talks submitted by women and minorities turning them into presentations about a particular CI/CD problem their solution addressed. We reached out to women and minorities who have risen to the top to join us at keynotes, or to encourage their team members to consider a proposal.
It took work, but we did it. By the time the speaking spots were set in stone, we had close to 40% of the presenters self-identifying as either women or a person of color.
What we learned is a diversity and inclusion policy requires a focused action plan with the commitment to make it happen. Yes, it requires extra work, but so worth it in the end. I personally tried to view every female presentation and was “over the moon” with pride to see people like me presenting deep technical topics.
Now, 5 months later, this happened.
Thank you to the CHAOSS Project for recognizing our achievement and our efforts for the upcoming cdCon 2021 this June. The reward of their gold badge is an honor that should be celebrated by all CDF members who made our dream a reality. Let us hope that it sets a standard for all future industry conferences.
cdCon 2021 is being planned right now with the same diversity goals. We hope that women and minorities will apply to speak, but if they don’t I can promise you they will get a call from someone on the selection committee with encouragement and support to be part of the show.
A message to conference organizers across the spectrum. Put in the work to broaden your audience—it’s easy. Just start asking underrepresented groups to be represented at your conference. And if we keep doing this, those groups will soon recognize themselves as having a seat at the table, leading them to submit talks without the extra encouragement. But for now, reach out and encourage women and minorities. Everyone has an important story to tell and we can all grow learning from them. Let us make sure everyone feels welcome to tell it.