Technology

Netlify’s Head of Community Perry Eising on Creating Accessible and Inclusive Tech Events

17 Sep 2019 3:00pm, by

When applying for an open award for activists in the Portland tech community, Netlify’s Head of Community Perry Eising found himself having to identify outside of his gender identity. The form didn’t have an option for nonbinary people to be recipients of the award. After realizing he was getting mixed signals, he decided to ask the company about it directly.

“That moment of bravery was just, I didn’t know how they were going to respond,” he said in this episode of The New Stack Makers podcast. “I didn’t know how clued in they were to having people who were nonbinary as part of their organization, whether they knew what that was, whether they were going to treat me well, whether they were going to laugh at me.

“As underrepresented people in tech, I think there’s always that nervousness if we’re going to bring up a concern to people who were organizing something, whether they’re going to have the knowledge to take that in, or whether they’re going to reject us, or whether they’re going to laugh at us,” Eising said.

Eising’s experience addressing the issue of exclusion with the awards event organizer turned out positive, as they didn’t realize their form had been excluding those that were nonbinary. This interaction began a collaboration between Eising and the organization where he volunteered with them to make their events more inclusive.

“It’s not always like that, you don’t always have those experiences where you’re welcome when you bring something forward and so I decided that I wanted to respond to this personal event of mine by creating a guide that kind of laid out that experience, of this sort of mismatch of signals you can experience,” he said, “and give opportunities for people to understand why that was the case but also provide really hands-on solutions for people that are planning, promoting organizing, orchestrating events to be more gender-inclusive.”

Thus, the Gender Inclusive Events Guide was created. Inspired by the Gender Inclusive events guide, I created an Accessible Events Guide which is still very much a work in progress, centered around the needs of those that are fat, disabled, autistic, or otherwise neurodivergent.

Though there is still a long way to go, many events are taking steps to become more inclusive and accessible, whether this is through introducing pronoun stickers, adding gender options to a diversity scholarship form, adding accessible seating, or providing captioning and American Sign Language (ASL) during presentations. The list of ways in which the tech industry can be more inclusive spans a variety of options which will continue to evolve and differ, as the needs of any two events’ attendees will never be exactly the same.

It should be considered a best practice for tech event organizers to start with an inclusive Code of Conduct that attendees must abide by at their conference or meetup, for example. Events should also have a clear and inclusive diversity scholarship application for attendees that self-identify as belonging to a group that is not part of the cisgender, white male tech industry majority. And event organizers should identify and address any accessibility concerns that may arise in the space chosen for the event.

Later in the conversation, Eising addressed the issue of how straight, white, cisgender, and neurotypical allies can help raise these issues and foster more belonging, diversity, and inclusion at the tech events they are attending, and in their own workplaces.

“I think it’s really important to have allies outside of the communities that are needing help and support. I think one thing that does nowhere near happen enough is actual hands-on work. It’s not so hard to find straight white people who are able-bodied and neurotypical that will say, ‘Yes! We should be helping!’ But getting them to actually help, as in actually donate money, or donate time, or run errands, or help in really practical ways can be really difficult to do. And that’s ultimately where the bulk of ally work, it’s not as glamorous, but it’s absolutely where people can show up,” Eising said.

How can event organizers and companies aiming to be more balanced and inclusive improve? Eising emphasizes understanding what you are signaling before you invite diverse people to an event. Otherwise, it’s potentially a worse experience for the diverse individual attending or participating. Thus, identifying and using the proper signals, and sending the right message, is key to improving and building one’s company culture and events.

“Understanding the use of signals is really important,” he said. “I think that also it’s important to not want to do diversity or inclusion work to hype up your own ego or make yourself feel like a good person. It’s really not about you. You’re doing this work to become obsolete, really. It’s about serving a bigger, wider community and making sure you center their needs as opposed to what you think their needs might be, or your version of their needs. Listening, before you do the thing, is a great way to ensure that you’re not centering your own experience too much.”

In This Edition:

0:56: Perry, can you tell us a bit more about why you decided to create the gender-inclusive events guide?
4:28: What has been your experience in terms of these sorts of efforts being undertaken by event organizers–Or has it been the responsibility of the gender diverse community to bring it to their [they being the event organizers/overseers] attention first?
9:50: Do you have any thoughts on creating more accessible tech events?
14:17: What are some things you would like to see tech events and organizations do to become more accessible? Do you know if Netlify is doing anything to help make its offices more accessible, for example?
16:47:  What is some advice that you’d like to give our listeners in terms of creating meaningful, positive change for inclusivity and accessibility in their communities and at their organizations?

Feature image via Pixabay.

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