How should people organise software developer focused conferences in order that they achieve socially acceptable representation across relevant demographics (eg gender, ethnicity) in terms of speakers and attendees?
My answer to How should people organise software developer focused conferences in order that they achieve socially acceptable representation across relevant demographics (eg gender, ethnicity) in terms of speakers and attendees? on Quora
No one wants to feel like they have only been invited to speak because of their gender/other demographic factors, especially since they risk losing some the respect of the audience if there is a feeling that they weren’t invited purely for their expertise.
JSConf EU used a brilliant mechanism to avoid this problem last year, which is described in this article: Beating the Odds—How We got 25% Women Speakers for JSConf EU 2012
The trick is to have an anonymised call for presentations—so talk submissions are judged on their merits by a panel of judges, without any risk of selection bias based on gender or personal reputation.
If you set this up properly, you almost completely remove the risk of someone being selected on anything other than the merit of their talk. Which means you can then have a separate team who go out and actively encourage people from a wider range of demographics to submit talks. [UPDATE: see the comment on this answer from Chris Williams which goes in to a lot more detail about this point]
JSConf had 234 submissions, 10% of which were from women. They ended up with 40 speaking slots, 25% of which were women. The feedback from attendees on the quality of the talks was excellent.
I’d like to see more technical conferences try using the same pattern. Early indications (from both JSConf EU and the We Are All Awesome conference from which they borrowed the idea) are that this is a very effective technique. As for attendees... hopefully, increasing the speaker balance will help encourage an improvement to the attendee balance as well.