Getting to 50/50 women men participation: Polyconf, a very diverse conference

Ori Pekelman
CPO
08 Jun 2017

In a short month Polyconf, an incredibly cool conference, will be held for the first time in Paris (July 7th to 9th).

PolyConf is a three-day, single track, multi-disciplinary, non-profit conference on advanced technologies for programmers interested in polyglot approach to software development. It’s Rust meets Python, meeting Javascript, surrounded by Elixir and Erlang, filled with Pony Lang. And ZetaVM.

I went to the earlier version in Poland and it was simply one of the best conferences I have ever been to. And this year's line-up is amazing. I can't wait to hear Maxime Chevalier-Boisvert's ZetaVM talk, "You're the tech lead, now what?" by Erin O'Neil, or the bunch of Haskell, Rust, Erlang and Pony (!) talks. It is very much "StrangeLoop Parisian Edition".

At Platform.sh we love the polyglot approach to programming. Choose the right tool. Diversity in your team is good from any possible point of view. We code in Golang and Python. We use Drupal. The team has Lisp people, Elixir fans and of course Rust people. I personally still am very much attached to Ruby. And Javascript. Everybody does Javascript.

For those of you reading this who are early Platform.sh customers... you might have met us when we were very much targeting the PHP world... you might want to look at the breadth of our current support... You can run Python, Ruby, NodeJS, Golang... with multiple languages in the same cluster... and multiple managed data backends from MySQL to cool stuff like InfluxDB all strung together.

Appealing as it was to us, all this talk about diversity in languages is just one side of diversity.

When the organisers contacted us, we were more than happy to support the conference. But one of the things that really made us want to reach out is the strong emphasis on the other side of diversity - specifically the inclusion of women.

It is a complex subject... and we believe it is one of the most pressing ones in our domain. This is something that as a community I believe we have failed on miserably and we continue to fail. 

When it came to PolyConf, two main issues remained to be solved with regards to gender diversity:

One is speakers. There are many reasons why women are under-represented. And I believe it is often down to money. If conferences are willing to cover travel expenses for women, well, they get more women speakers. That is why part of our sponsorship goes towards covering expenses. So calling out to talented women far and wide, if you're interested in doing a session, there might still be a spot so reach out to the team today.

The other issue, which is linked to the first, is the female to male attendee ratio. There are multiple causes to this: the lower representation of women in tech in general; the fact the women tend to be sent less to conferences than their male colleagues; the fact that many women avoid conferences out of fear of harassment... and because it is not easy to be the token woman in the crowd. The dynamics will continue as long as women are in the small minority. That is why if we can achieve a more normal representation... well, much of the problem will resolve itself. 

So together with the organisers, we decided to go to the extraordinary step and offer 70% off for women participants. The lineup will be diverse, it would be great if the public could be more so too. To get your reduced priced ticket is very simple, just tweet to us on @Platformsh or @Polyconf and we'll send you a coupon code.

So, with our support, Polyconf is reaching out to you, to meetup organisers, and women developer groups to offer them the rebate and the speaking opportunities.

There will be a time where normal will be normal. It may not be this time. We probably won't get to 50%. But think about how cool, and how normal it would feel if it were so.

So please, please, if you find the approach compelling... help us reach out ..., contact @Polyconfhq on Twitter or through their website to get a voucher (for yourself as a woman engineer... or for your group if you are an organiser) and certainly spread the word or recommend a female speaker for one of the last remaining slots.

And to the males, please don't be upset with us. No, there ain't such a thing as reverse-sexism. And we can assure you, that if ever the tendency reverses itself, and systematically there are 90% or more women in tech events, we will reverse this offering and extend it to males.  

Lastly, to be totally transparent, we do have an ulterior motive here. We want there to be as many female developers present ... because we truly want our own technical team to be more diverse... we have met with relative success... but not to our ambition. We want 50%.