Disrupting the Status Quo: Demanding Diversity in Coworking Conferences
Challenge #28 – Disrupting the Status Quo: Demanding Diversity in Coworking Conferences
The coworking industry has experienced significant growth in recent years, with conferences and events serving as key opportunities for professionals in the field to connect, learn, and collaborate. However, a persistent issue remains: the lack of diversity in coworking conferences. Speakers are predominantly white men, with limited representation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC), individuals from oppressed genders, and other marginalized groups, leading to a significant underrepresentation of these communities in the coworking industry.
Some organizations are paying attention, and have been building it into the entire event model – with a commitment to diversity, representation, sustainability, and accessibility, both physical and financial. But the larger, annual conferences are still missing the mark. We see intentional exclusion, with privilege and power elevated on stage, time and time again.
As a movement, we’ve been discussing these themes in coworking for years – pushing for change and asking space operators and event organizers to do better. We’ve been educating industry leaders and elevating these issues around the world, recommending speakers, sponsors, and industry leaders who haven’t had access to the same platforms or promotion. We’ve proposed panels, talks, and unconference sessions before, during, and after these events. But the change we want to see, has been painfully slow.
The last IDEA Challenge around Diversity and Representation at Coworking events was issued by Jerome Chang / Shervone Cherry in July of 2021.
So, who is responsible for changing the status quo and ensuring diverse representation at coworking conferences?
The answer is multifaceted, and it requires collective effort from various stakeholders in the industry.
Sponsors play a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of conferences, as their financial support and influence can impact the agenda and speaker lineup. It is imperative for sponsors to carefully consider the events they choose to support and ensure that these events align with their values of diversity and inclusion. Sponsors should actively seek out conferences that prioritize diverse representation and be unwilling to associate their name and financial support with events that lack such commitment.
Speakers, particularly those who hold positions of privilege, possess the power to demand change. They can take a stand by refusing to participate in panels or discussions that lack diversity and explicitly stating their requirements for inclusion. Moreover, speakers should actively build connections with other diverse speakers and leverage their influence to promote diverse representation in their networks, creating a ripple effect of change.
Participants, who are at the heart of any conference, have the ability to drive change as well. They can vote with their feet by refusing to attend conferences that do not prioritize diversity. Participants can also hold organizers accountable by inquiring about the diversity of speakers and participants during registration and expressing their expectations for inclusive representation, thereby setting a higher standard for conference organizers.
Event organizers play a critical role in shaping the diversity of conferences. They can choose locations that are accessible and welcoming to diverse communities, ensuring that all individuals feel included and valued. Organizers should also actively work with programming coordinators and moderators to prioritize diverse representation in their speaker selections, fostering a more inclusive environment for all attendees.
In addition, Pay What You Can Tickets, Pay it Forward Tickets, and Virtual Tickets, are various strategies that can make conferences more accessible to individuals from underrepresented and historically excluded groups.
Virtual options for conferences, in particular, can play a significant role in promoting diversity by eliminating barriers such as travel costs and minimizing some accessibility issues, making it easier for individuals who are unable to travel to participate. Some participants wish to attend the event but are intentionally minimizing travel to maintain commitments toward the environment and sustainability. It is essential for virtual events to prioritize diverse representation in their speaker lineup, and to offer options for making their virtual environments more accessible for all participants.
It’s crucial for the coworking industry to come together and take proactive steps to ensure conferences are representative of the communities they serve. By holding industry conferences accountable to diverse representation and co-creation, we can ensure a more inclusive and equitable coworking industry.
This challenge is intended to be a starting point for conversations within our events, organizations and alliances.
We invite you to join Jerome Chang, Shervonne Cherry, Ashley Proctor, and the Coworking IDEA Project team for an international conversation about how we can collectively disrupt the status quo, and ensure coworking conferences are committed to change and are representative of the diversity we truly value in this movement.
This is a free event. Join us online on May 31st. All are welcome!
May 31st 2023
9:00 AM Pacific | 12:00 PM Eastern
17:00 UTC | 18:00 CET