Creating an entire Diversity program doesn't have to be overwhelming. In fact, having a short statement on your website is a great launching pad for creating a more inclusive event. This week we chat with Ari Stiles who consults with numerous conferences (as well as creating her own events) on inclusion, accessibility and specifically diversity.

What Does a Diversity Statement Look Like?

Estelle Weyl who runs #PerfMatters Conf lays out a very clear diversity statement on their conference website.

"We want to ensure the conversation is stimulating and help everyone see their own Web app issues from new and different perspectives. For that, we need attendees with different perspectives. While we love everyone, conferences where all attendees come from corporations with generous continuing education budgets aren’t as interesting for participants as when attendees represent different work and life experiences."

Discover Your Why

Why do you want to create a diversity scholarship for your event? It may simply just be because you believe in inclusion, and that's great! Having a diversity scholarship (or simply a statement) opens the doors to attendees who normally might not feel safe or welcome - or couldn't afford your event.

Justin Reese is the Founder of Code & Supply and co-creator of several conferences based in Pittsburgh, PA. Occasionally he uses scholarship funds to send up-and-coming hometown speakers to other cities. He said, “We want people to see the talent and resources we have here in Pittsburgh.”

Tenessa Gemelke, organizer of Confab, may have said it best,

"More than anything we wanted to remove obstacles, not just check boxes.

It’s easy to tell ourselves that because we’ve recruited a few women or people of color, we’ve “taken care of” conference diversity and we can move on to the next task. The needs of your diversity scholarship recipients are not checklist items — they are the building blocks of a more inclusive community."

What Can You Offer?

Ari Stiles: We decided from the outset that this is something that we were going to do for Artifact, but different companies go about it different ways. We asked ourselves what can we cover before even talking to a sponsor? At least five people is what we could cover on our diversity scholarship.

Sponsorship Help

Create a clear plan of your goals, who your diversity program trying reach and what that particular sponsor will get in return. Scholarship recipients usually range from 2-15% of total ticket sales.

Ari: Then with the help of Jen Robbins, the co-founder of Artifact, we started talking with sponsors to help cover more tickets, travel, accommodations, transportation, meal stipends, childcare and even private rooms for nursing.If you want to offer more than just the basics, you will probably have to work with sponsors. The good news here is that sponsors enjoy investing in diversity initiatives.

Decide Who is Eligible

Underrepresented people in the tech:

  • People of color
  • Indigenous persons
  • People with disabilities
  • People who identify as LGBTQIA+
  • Women
  • People who work for nonprofit/educational/government institution with limited funds
  • People who are currently unemployed / underemployed
  • People experiencing temporary financial hardship

Ari: We included people that we wanted to help out who don't necessarily fall under traditional diversity umbrella such as:

  • Veterans
  • Current students or recent graduates
  • People over 55 in tech

Create a Diversity Application Form

You can use something as simple as Google Forms or Wufoo to collect applications. It doesn't have to be complicated or even require applicants writing a long essay. The basics you'll want to collect:

  • Name
  • Contact information
  • Reasons why they qualify. Leave room on your form so they can express why they qualify.
  • Type of aid they are requesting. Be sure to list what help you're offering.
  • Optional statement of why they'd like to attend or what they're interested in learning about at your event

Choosing Your Applicants

Creating a double-blind like voting system is one way to unbiasedly choose scholarship candidates.  

Ari: Take out all the identifying information (gender, age, company, etc) and make it just about qualifications and why they want to come. Then I showed it to my colleagues and have them pick their top five each. We ended up with six people total and four of them we were able to provide things beyond just a ticket. Some of them we were able to do a meal stipend and some were accommodation.

There’s effort involved but you have to think about what it contributes to your community, having people that aren’t all the same person over and over again in your crowd.

Everybody brings something special and you have to bring something outside of the norm in order for it to be a good community.

Ari Stiles wrote an amazing, step by step article for CSS Tricks about creating diversity scholarships. Her article, along with our podcast interview, helped enormously in the writing of this article. If you need any help creating your diversity program, she is available for consulting.

Diversity is just one step to making your event more inclusive. Check out our other interview with Ari & Chris Schmitt about making your event more accessible.