Using Intersectionality to underpin a conference

One of the advantages of the framework I have developed is the ability for it to be used in almost any situation.

A good example of this was the first online Research Software Engineer (RSE) Asia Australia Unconference that was held from the 14th to the 16th of September 2022.

As the co-chair, I used this framework to underpin this event from the ground up. In my opinion, this extended Diversity, Equity and Inclusio (DEI) best-practice in a number of ways that I have not seen in other conferences or events. It also built on the DEI best-practice that I have seen in other events.

Some of the more interesting ways we extended best-practice was:

  • to keep the accessibility high with pricing and making the event online,
  • to value the people who contributed to the event,
  • to commission a high-level accessibility report before the conference,
  • the creation of a sponsorship package to fund accessibility for the conference,
  • a commitment to create accessible documentation throughout the conference, including the conference report,
  • a commitment to “pay the rent” to the custodians of the lands on which we live, and
  • an intersectional approach to identifying keynote speakers.

We deliberately wanted to make the event accessible to those with high risk to COVID, limited access to funds and visas, and who have limited physical access as well. This is why we made the event online and made the cost of the most expensive tickets $20 AUD. We also provided scholarships so that people could attend the event for free.

We ensured that all the volunteers, speakers, and panelists were offered an honorarium for their contributions. While this was small ($100 AUD), we wanted to recognise their contributions and their value to the community.

An accessibility report was commissioned just before the start of the event, with the aim of using this as a benchmark in which to aim for in 2022 and 2023. We asked Dr Liz Hare to provide this for us, as she has a history of improving the accessibility of conferences and had co-written the paper “Ten simple rules to host an inclusive conference”. She provided us with an open source document that was put online. While we were able to achieve some of the goals set out in the report, we still have a long way to go in 2023.

There were some initial challenges in the first keynote as closed captions were not enabled by default, but we had it in all other sessions. One key suggestion for 2023 would be to identify an individual to focus on this before and during the event, and to review the event’s accessibility. A second key suggestion would be to review the accessibility report when the organising committee first meets to ensure that everyone is aware of what the benchmark is and to incorporate that into any decisions made.

This accessibility report was funded by an “Accessibility Partner”, the Society of Research Software Engineering. They also paid for the $50 AUD accessibility micro-grant that was there to help with internet, headphones, childcare etc. We had two people request these accessibility micro-grants. We would have asked them to fund the writing of an accessible version of the final unconference report, but this was done for free by one of the co-chairs. This accessible version was written in a word document and attached to the figshare website.

We also agreed to make a 1% donation to the Dhadjowa Foundation to “pay the rent”. We also provided an option to the volunteers who were offered an honorarium to add their honorarium to the 1% donation. We had a number of volunteers offer their honorarium to the Dhadjowa Foundation.

The diversity of the speakers was well received with their new perspectives. The criteria for the speakers was to find speakers who where intersectional (ie. belonging to one or more marginalised groups) that would not usually have the opportunity to speak as an RSE to the community. We were lucky enough to find three wonderful speakers.

This event was considered a success as the community is small, yet 141 participants were registered for the unconference. But I think the thing that most impressed me was the commitment to DEI from the organising committee and the way that we implemented that throughout the event. Do we need to improve on this? Absolutely, but we still need to celebrate these small wins.