Conference diversity is your responsibility

If you organise conferences, we need to talk.

If you have invited me as a speaker to your conference, and I am the only female or ethnic minority speaker, and for some reason I have to pull out, it is not my responsibility to find you another BME woman.

Do not make me feel guilty for screwing up your (already abysmal) gender ratio or panel diversity. Have you considered getting, heaven forbid, more than one woman or minority to speak?

This has happened to me more than 3 times now, and I am tired of it.

When I suggest a male white counterpart, who is capable of giving the talk that I would have given, but even better, then don’t say “no we don’t want that” because not only does it suggest that you didn’t want the content of my talk, it suggests you only wanted me because I tick boxes in the first place.

As if I don’t suffer from enough self doubt already.

If you actually believe that diversity is important at your conference, you won’t pin your hopes of diversity on one speaker. Sky divers have more than one parachute in case the first one fails. People will drop out.

Don’t make your one BME or female speaker feel like they are shouldering the burden of diversity for the entire event. Diversity is your responsibility.


After I published this post, Shappi Khorsandi soon tweeted this:

This is another symptom of this diversity limited approach; getting the last minute call to fill a spot.

I think it’s not too much to ask that organisers have more than one BME or female speaker planned, so if one drops out, it’s not considered a disaster, and there’s no mad rush to fill a spot for fear of having zero diversity.

Plan for people dropping out.