Prioritizing inclusiveness at startup events

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During Startup Weekend Nebraska, participants experienced incidents that were sexist and racist in nature.

Addressing the situation has been a learning experience for me. Beth Haubert and Sumeet Jain of Omaha Code School (our venue) reacted with speed and tremendous compassion. Working with them has helped me realize there are many things we can do to lead safer and more inclusive events.

A challenge to UP Global and other organizations

UP Global trains its volunteers to assist people with special needs at its events. They also post a sufficient code of conduct on every Eventbrite page. However, as an organizer of over 60 of these events, I’ve not received training on handling the incidents we encountered this weekend. In light of the obvious lack of diversity and inclusiveness in the tech community and society as a whole, this should be a priority.

I urge UP Global and other organizations to include diversity training for their volunteers and I encourage all of you as individuals to consider this a call to action.

What you can do as an event leader:

Proactive measures:

  • If you haven’t already, institute a code of conduct. I like this one.
  • Make the code of conduct a checkbox or signature before buying a ticket, not a footnote on the event page.
  • Put the code of conduct on display at the event. Consider printing it and asking people to sign it when they pick up their name badge.
  • Appoint an ombudsman to whom participants can feel comfortable expressing their concerns and who will be in charge of investigating code of conduct violations with compassion.
  • The emcee should verbally review the code of conduct and plainly explain the expectations you have for participants.
  • Encourage other local event leaders to do the same.

What to do in the moment:

  • Pay attention and trust your instincts. This is about being proactive, not reactive. If something feels like a violation, it probably is, so don’t ignore it.
  • If anyone at the event reports a code of conduct violation, you must take every incident seriously.
  • Ask the reporter if they feel safe or need assistance to exit the event safely.
  • Put a stop to code violations swiftly and calmly.
  • When confronting code violators, don’t share your opinion, simply state that you are acting as you must to enforce the code of conduct.
  • Explain to the violator that they have acted inappropriately. Enforce what the the code of conduct dictates (for example, asking the violator to leave).
  • Document the incident.

Events like Startup Weekends are a first-step into entrepreneurship for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. A few small actions by UP Global and you could go a long way in making the global startup community safer and more inclusive.

Bonus: If you’re in Omaha this Wednesday evening, Omaha Code School is hosting a discussion on making tech events more safe and inclusive. I encourage you to attend and discuss the timely incidents that occurred at Startup Weekend Nebraska.

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