Diversity at Web Summit

Web Summit has been running for four years, and we’ve been successful in scaling the conference each year to 20,000 attendees, 2,200 exhibiting startups, 1,100 journalists, and 800 investors in 2014.

However, what we have not been successful at is recognising the responsibility we bear in addressing diversity, both at our own conference, and in the wider industry.  We want, and need, to be better at that. This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight, and when you run events a handful of times a year, it can take time for that change to kick in.

However, there are some things we have made progress on, which we haven’t been very vocal on to date:

  • We have a 48/52 split of female to male employees working full-time for Web Summit, with 4 out of 6 of our primary functional teams being led by women.
  • We have formed an internal cross-functional working-group of employees who are collaborating on ensuring all our events from 2015 onwards have a more diverse line-up of speakers and participants, and who will continue to work on making our events safe, inclusive and welcoming for everyone.
  • We have published an Anti-Harassment Policy, which covers all events run by Web Summit.
  • We will be releasing a quarter of a million euro’s worth of tickets to developers, designers and early stage founders who are women. (Details to be announced soon.)
  • We are set to announce details of Web Summit for Schools, where 4000 secondary-school students will hear from, and hopefully be inspired by, a diverse panel of leaders. While it will be open to all, we will be making a particular effort to encourage young women/girls’ secondary schools to participate.

OK, so that’s great and all, but we still are well below where we really should be in terms of diversity in the line-up for Web Summit 2014. Here’s the facts about this year’s line-up:

  • 15% of our confirmed speakers are women, from 25 countries
  • 29% of our total invitees were women

Not as impressive as it could be, despite the hard work of our team. But we are committed to improving the diversity of our speakers and attendees over the coming years. We have set ourselves a goal of diversifying participation away from the majority white/male demographic. This is not an easy task, and we understand that this is not about merely assigning targets.

That being said, there are certainly things we can do to organically encourage our network and our pool of potential speakers to be more diverse. Likewise there are things we can do during the content curation process to remove selection bias.

Other conferences, albeit ones on a smaller scale, have done this, and have been successful. The likes of JSConf.eu have blogged about their success, while conference organiser and community activist, Julie Pagano, has written an incredibly useful post on how conferences can build a more diverse line up.

In 2015, Web Summit will run a number of conferences around the world, and from today we are making a firm commitment to diversity. That means that we will:

  • examine how we source speakers, and undertake measures to
    • get better connected with a wider network of speakers who better represent the growing diversity of the tech industry.
    • make it easier for speakers with diverse backgrounds to accept our invitations to speak
  • consult with community on how we can make our events safe, inclusive and welcoming for everyone
  • encourage our industry colleagues, peers, networks, and event participants to also explore how they can affect an industry-wide change in terms of diversity

There is likely more that we can do, and we are very interested to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to contact me, Eamon Leonard, on eamon@websummit.net

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