No alcohol at barcamps...
August 5, 2012 1:34 PM   Subscribe

How should I effectively promote a regional barcamp/unconference?

My department organizes semi-annual barcamps, partially to build the department and university's brand, partially as cheap training and education for students and staff, and partially to fill out our student worker application queue.

The conference has been performed well in the past, but we have no desire to rest on any laurels. I'd love to see us improve the turnout, fill more session slots, and perhaps most challengingly, improve the diversity of the attendees and speakers. The conference skews heavily male / CS, being an open source oriented tech conference, and it shows in our recruiting and graduation rates as well. I imagine interest in this event is limited to day trip range of about 150 miles, but our outreach in the past has either been extremely local (paper fliers in a couple of buildings) or extremely broad (Twitter). I've been trolling a bit browsing local groups, but I'm not sure about the etiquette for promoting a conference in a group I'm not directly a member of.

Also, I welcome advice on how to explain to freshman what a BarCamp is and is not.
posted by pwnguin to Education (1 answer total)
I have sort of an ongoing issue with conferences and the well-intentioned whining about "why are there not more women in IT?" so forgive me; I hope some of this is useful to you.

One reason there are not more women in IT/CS is that we don't see a lot of women in IT/CS at the place we see leaders and mentors: conferences. One reason we don't see more women at conferences is because of the way they are organised. If you want women at your conference or unconference, you can do a few things:

1) Encourage and plan panels. Women are culturally reared to be cooperative. Panels tend to be a more comfortable speaking gig for a woman who has very possibly not done a public speaking gig before. I'm sorry this sucks but next year, you can probably bring one or more of these women back to lead solo sessions.

2) Invite women, individually and specifically. Women are less likely to assume authority. This means they are less likely to put their name on the wall for a Barcamp session, and less likely to submit themselves as a speaker in open calls. Call or email specific women and invite them, to attend and to speak.

If you invite a woman to speak/do a barcamp session, and she says no, in my experience there's a 70% hit rate if you say "Well, would you be willing to panel?"

3) If it is appropriate for your demographic, and this is a "day trip range" event on a weekend, ideally you would provide some kind of childcare (you can charge for it) or you undescore that the event is family friendly and you make it so.

I don't want to get into why dads attend weekend conferences without their kids and moms much more often don't, because fixing Western culture isn't my job today, but I can tell you that at a conference where we provided childcare, we sold out to women who were delighted to be able to attend.

4) Reach out to women's tech organisations. If within your catchment area there are Geek Girl dinners, Ada Camps, that Open Source Bootcamp day thing, whatever - contact them. Invite them to come, specifically invite them to send someone to speak and/or to organise a panel.

5) Reach out to industry. Some company near you makes cool software, or employs one or more data analysts, or employs programmers, or whatever. If you are doing this at a university, one big advantage is that you can dig out women (see point #3) in any number of roles and invite a couple to come sit on a panel you put together on "Getting your first job: career paths to and from CS." And God knows you'll pack that one out.

6) Pillage LinkedIn. Look regionally for keywords like developer, programmer and speaker. Invite those people, and ask them to let their network know about your event.

7) Show women. Let's say you have 24 slots in the day. You can confirm speakers in advance for 6 of them (even if you don't know what they're speaking on and don't want to schedule them) and put up speaker bios with headshots. More than one speaker should be female.

I have done all of the above at Barcamps and not given a flying hoot if any of it is technically outside the Barcamp ethos. I want women at my conferences, and just throwing open the doors has not delivered them. The above is what I've had to do to get them. I'd love to hear more people's ideas on what's worked for them because I'd love to do better!
posted by DarlingBri at 6:59 PM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

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