Wanting diversity in the line-up of your ELT conference isn’t just about doing the right thing. By having a range of speakers from diverse backgrounds, you will also be improving the quality of your event. Diverse perspectives and experiences make for a more interesting experience for the delegates. Furthermore, speaking at a conference can be an important stage in a teacher’s professional development, so it is vital that teachers’ associations and other parties ensure that access to their events is open to everyone. Below are are our suggestions for creating an inclusive ELT conference:
Try to have a diverse organising committee
As much as you can, make sure that the committee responsible for choosing the speakers at your event contains a variety of voices. As well as increasing the sensitivity to diversity, it will also show that you are prepared to ‘walk the walk’ and will display your commitment to the cause. If you are invited onto an organising committee, make sure that you bring this subject up as early as possible, and if you feel that the subject is not being taken seriously, take a stand by quitting.
Invite your critics to help you
If, in the past, you have been criticised for failing to create a diverse line-up, invite your critics to join the process so they can provide an alternative perspective and advise on how things could be better this time around.
Do your research
Stay in touch with other events and look out for new talent. Identify diverse speakers that you believe have the potential to deliver great presentations and invite them to take part in yours.
Create specific targets
Create a commitment that, for example, you will have an equal gender split in plenary speakers. Other areas that you could create targets for include geographical distribution (this could include how many local plenary speakers you have, as opposed to flying or Zooming people in from English speaking countries), ethnicity, sectors in ELT (public school teachers, for example, are often poorly represented), and seniority (reserve a number of spaces for newly qualified teachers).
Turn your targets into a mission statement
State your targets publicly before you announce your line-up so that members and attendees understand exactly what your intentions are. Create a ‘mission statement’ which expresses your commitment and the terms of how you will be organising your conference, and share this with everyone via your website, mailing list, and social media.
Be aware that there may be some resistance by those who claim that you should ‘just choose the best people regardless of who they are’. What these people are ignoring is the structure that privileges certain members of society, which you are attempting to redress by opening up spaces for those who have historically had less opportunities.
Speak to your sponsors
Often plenary speakers are suggested by sponsors. Make sure that they are aware of your diversity commitments, and encourage them to adopt their own. This should help you avoid difficult conversations when they suggest another white, male Native speaker.
Replace like for like
If it is necessary to substitute a speaker, make sure that you replace them with someone with a similar profile.
If you are interested in encouraging new speakers, then offer them mentorship with more experienced speakers, and pre-conference training with presenting tips and technical support. If you have the means, you can offer scholarships, discounted or free entry to speakers who are part of your target.
If you don’t reach your targets, explain why
There may be a perfectly good explanation as to why you did not reach the diversity targets you were aiming for. If that happens, you should be prepared to explain yourself. If you genuinely tried and it didn’t work out, most people will be understanding. Commit to succeeding and redressing the balance in the future.
If you have any additional suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.