An interview with a conference organiser

22 October 2013, 01:54

INTERVIEWER: Hi there, thanks for joining us.

CONFERENCE ORGANISER: No problem, thanks for having us.

INTERVIEWER: Now, you’re the lead organiser of this conference, which has been running for several years now, is that right? Can you tell us how this year’s edition is shaping up?

ORGANISER: That’s right, this is a conference which has really come from a humble grassroots beginning of barely a few dozen attendees, growing to what it is today, the premiere conference in this region for this field with several hundred attendees. It’s really a must-be-there event for people working in the field thanks to our incredible line-up of speakers. The program has just been released and we are super excited about the latest and most important developments with the best speakers.

INTERVIEWER: I noticed one of your keynotes is from the local university here, which is a bit different to the usual industry crowd I suppose.

ORGANISER: Yes, we wanted to make a real effort this year to hear voices from a wide range of fields, so we have some great speakers from academia, from government and even a CTO from a non-profit. We think they will provide a surprising and perhaps even controversial counterpoint to the accepted wisdom, and it’s so valuable for professionals in this field to have an opportunity to hear from them.

INTERVIEWER: Indeed. Has the incident that occurred at an industry conference just a couple of months ago had any influence on the organising of your event?

ORGANISER: Oh, yes, that was terrible. Thankfully that guy has been identified and won’t be causing any more problems. Just a terribly unfortunate story to hear.

INTERVIEWER: You haven’t decided to adopt an anti-harassment policy?

ORGANISER: It’s not really relevant to our event, I believe. We have a different vibe and it’s always been fine. And we don’t want to be seen as censoring our speakers.

INTERVIEWER: How much work goes into organising a conference of this size? Are the hard yards done now or are the late nights just beginning?

ORGANISER: Well many late nights of planning have passed to get us to this point, which is really laying the foundation. But at this point registrations are now open, and it’s all about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s to bring a superb conference experience to our attendees.

INTERVIEWER: I couldn’t help noticing that none of your invited speakers are women.

ORGANISER: …Oh, is it? I hadn’t noticed.

INTERVIEWER: In fact you have a stuffed toy listed as a speaker, but no women.

ORGANISER: Well, Sparky is standing in for our secret mystery speaker. But, uh, it’s certainly not a deliberate decision to not have any women speakers. In fact we invited several, but they all refused. And, uh, there are some among our submitted talks, I believe.

INTERVIEWER: There’s one.

ORGANISER: Well, again, that’s just based on what was submitted. Our submissions are judged purely on merit. If women don’t submit anything we can’t accept any more talks from them, obviously.

INTERVIEWER: How many women did you approach to give invited talks?

ORGANISER: How many exactly?

INTERVIEWER: Yes.

ORGANISER: Uh, two.

INTERVIEWER: And they both said no?

ORGANISER: One was busy and the other one couldn’t attend because it’s in the school holidays.

INTERVIEWER: Your conference doesn’t provide childcare for attendees?

ORGANISER: What? No, it’s a conference for IT professionals, not mothers.

INTERVIEWER: Right. And so after they both declined you didn’t think to approach any other women?

ORGANISER: Well, seriously, who else would we have asked? Like, we are open to suggestions. It’s not like we are not open to suggestions.

INTERVIEWER: You don’t know any other women working in the field?

ORGANISER: Well, no, not personally. But that’s just because there aren’t many women in the field. It’s not like I’m avoiding them. At the local monthly meetup, there would be maybe one woman out of twenty, and actually maybe she stopped showing up about six months back. I can’t remember.

INTERVIEWER: Do you go to the local Girl Geek Dinners events? Or the local Women in IT Society?

ORGANISER: What? Of course not — look I don’t appreciate this suggestion that the conference is somehow anti-women. All we aim to do is invite the best technical speakers and accept the best proposals that are submitted. We are not discriminating and throwing out anything with a woman’s name on it. We simply don’t get anything to throw out. It is hardly our fault if women choose not to be part of the industry or choose not to participate in community events like ours. We are not going to have some token woman just for the sake of having a woman. That would be insulting to our other speakers and also insulting to women.

INTERVIEWER: Did you reach out to any groups attempting to target submissions from women? Did you reach out to individual women on Twitter or via email that you knew of in the industry? Did you make any effort whatsoever to encourage women to submit to the conference?

ORGANISER: No, we just sent the call for papers to the mailing list of the local meetup groups like normal.

INTERVIEWER: Like the group that had one woman six months ago?

ORGANISER: Yeah.

(beat)

INTERVIEWER: It looks like your conference has some new schwag this year. This pen-sized electronics board is going to be a popular item I suspect.

ORGANISER: Oh yeah, people are going to love it. That took literally months of wrangling by our organising team, trying to get stuff organised with the Chinese factory. We’re really proud it’s finally made it into the schwag bag. I think it’s really that attention to detail that we bring that makes this conference so special, you know?

INTERVIEWER: Thanks for your time.

——

Any resemblance to reality is coincidental. Imagine this being read by Clarke & Dawe for a superior experience.

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