Photo credit: Alice Chautard/REACH Conference on Water Security and Poverty, March 2019

Photo credit: Alice Chautard/REACH Conference on Water Security and Poverty, March 2019

As we prepare to apply for a Silver Athena SWAN award, SoGE has published a new practical guide to making conferences and events more inclusive – not only in terms of the diversity of speakers, but also the ways in which participants are welcomed, respected and involved. Written by Alice Chautard and Claire Hann, the guide draws on examples of best practice from conferences around the world, and was also informed by the findings of the authors’ own online survey of more than 230 people working in SoGE, the University and other higher education institutions, as well as the wider public and private sectors.

Almost 85% of survey respondents agreed that it is important for conferences to have policies in places to promote greater diversity amongst panel members and other speakers. However, less than one third of respondents (32%) felt that conferences they had attended had been organised in a way that promoted women’s participation and exposure. Respondents shared their experiences of attending conferences and offered creative suggestions as to how these events could promote greater equality in speaker line-up, greater inclusivity in audience participation, and greater accessibility in networking opportunities.

Photo credit: Alice Chautard/REACH Conference on Water Security and Poverty, March 2019The guide is wide-ranging in its coverage, incorporating sections on pre-event logistics; programme development and speaker selection; encouraging inclusive participation in Q&A sessions and networking events; representing diversity in conference communications; as well as how to prevent and deal with harassment and discrimination during the event and to support the needs of those with caring responsibilities. Whilst the primary focus is on gender, the guide also includes recommendations that relate to other aspects of inclusivity and diversity, such as ethnicity, religion and disability. In her foreword, Head of School Heather Viles sums up the guide as “designed to be practical not preachy, and to encourage rather than prescribe.”

The idea for the guide arose whilst planning the REACH international conference on water security in Oxford in March 2019, and we were delighted that many of the recommendations from the document were successfully put into practice at that conference. The high-profile event was described by several delegates as the most inclusive they had ever been to. Half the speakers at the conference were women, half were from a Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) background and one third were early career researchers. All session chairs were asked to take a question from a woman or early career researcher first, which visibly changed the dynamic of the Q&A sessions, allowing a wider variety of views to be expressed in an open and receptive setting. Alice, who organised the event, said “we feel that our efforts increased the visibility of many researchers, energised our audience, and provided a benchmark for future events.”

This new guide demonstrates that it is possible and desirable to organise conferences that are both high quality and inclusive. We hope that it will serve as an accessible step-by-step tool to assist organisers of other events, large and small, in promoting diversity of attendance and inclusivity of participation.