Diversity report from the first conference of Research Software Engineers

Posted by s.hettrick on 19 December 2016 - 9:25am

RSE conferenceBy Catherine Jones, Diversity Chair.

Why did the RSE Conference have a diversity chair? What was the impact? What can we do better next time? These are the three questions I hope this blog will answer.

Different backgrounds and experiences enhance a team and help to avoid group think. Diversity has many different aspects, but the main two that the RSE conference focussed on were gender and ethnicity. It was an aspiration that the conference organisers, speakers and attendees reflected the makeup of the RSE community. Having someone responsible for diversity ensured that it was consciously considered during planning. As part of this commitment to diversity, the RSE Conference had a diversity statement  and code of conduct.

Who organised it?

What was the makeup of the committee? This was remarkedly gender balanced for the domain, the chart belows shows the gender split. Sadly it wasn’t very ethnically diverse.

Gender on committee

Who contributed?

Of the registered attendees 72% were male, 16% were female and 12% preferred not to say or didn’t answer. So that for those who identified their gender 18% were female. Looking at ethnicity: 76% of people identified themselves as white, 14% preferred not to say or didn’t answer. The remaining 10% of attendees were from a range of ethnicities

The numbers of submissions are small, so any conclusions need to be taken with a pinch of salt.  Women were less likely to suggest workshops, at 8% of the total applications compared to 21% of talk submissions which included female authors. 13% of talk submissions were women only. Talks were more likely to be accepted if a women was on the author list as 29% of accepted talks included at least one woman.

Conclusions and the To Do list for RSE 2017

Having two hundred people attend the first conference for Research Software Engineers was an inspiring event. It wasn’t an entirely white male event, but the attendees didn’t truly represent the RSE community. By collecting statistics in this area we can build from this.

The commitment to diversity ensured that it was one of the factors when choosing keynote speakers, and I was pleased to see that this had been noticed by the attendees from some of the feedback we have received.

One area in which I was keen to make a difference was around transport to the conference dinner. Getting to and, more importantly, from meals in strange cities is always a concern for me. It turned out that this wasn’t necessarily a gender issue as there was agreement within the gender balanced committee that this can bring stress. For this conference we offered to make contacts to enable people to walk together, I am not sure this was a success from an administrative point of view. For RSE 2017 the conference dinner will be in the same location as the conference and hopefully this will address this issue more successfully.

I would like to encourage more women into leading workshops, and I hope to be able to work with the RSE2017 organisers in this area. On a personal front, I have made contacts with other Diversity Chairs to see if we can share best practice and statistics.

I enjoyed being involved in the organising of the RSE 2016 conference and I am passionate about ensuring diversity within our community, but I look forward to the day when we don’t need to ensure gender or ethnicity balance by special efforts.

If anyone has any ideas about Diversity within the RSE community or next year’s conference, please get in touch.

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