php Central Europe Conference Canceled Due to Lack of Speaker Diversity

phpCE, a central European PHP conference that was previously scheduled for October 4-6, has been cancelled due to a public fiasco resulting from a lack of gender diversity in the speaker lineup. The event, previously known as PHPCon Poland, was set to be held in Dresden, Germany, after the concept changed last year to rotate host cities and include a larger region of the PHP community.

After phpCE had boasted a “rich and diverse lineup,” the published schedule was criticized for including zero women, while several speakers were given two sessions apiece. The 2018 event had a similar lack of diversity among speakers. CFP Land founder Karl Hughes’ tweet precipitated a flood of critical feedback.

Organizers received the public criticisms as an attack, a response that disappointed many who were previously considering attending the event. Speakers started to withdraw from the conference and ticket sales dried up, as organizers demonstrated an unwillingness to do further diversity outreach beyond their initial call for proposals.

Mark Baker, one of the speakers who decided to cancel his engagement, said organizers attempted to persuade him not to withdraw by offering to put the sole female speaker applicant on the schedule. Baker said he was uncomfortable, as that would put “a lot of pressure on the woman, knowingly being invited to speak after an all-male speaker list has already been announced, making her a ‘token’ to diversity.”

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make, because I do enjoy sharing my coding passion; but having advocated for diversity at PHP developer conferences for the last several years, I have to follow my beliefs that diversity should be a cornerstone of the PHP developer community,” Baker said. “Diversity matters more to me than speaking.”

Larry Garfield (@crell), who is active in the Drupal community, reported that he also tried to work with phpCE’s organizers to diversify the lineup before being forced by his personal convictions to withdraw.

“I messaged the organizers, asking them to drop some of our double-sessions in favor of more female participation,” Garfield said. “We also offered to work with them to figure out ways to reduce the cost of bringing us in (a number of us were transatlantic, and Dresden is not the cheapest city to get to) so they could afford to cover more speakers.

“Unfortunately, the organizers indicated they were not open to such an arrangement. According to them, they had only a single woman submit a session proposal this year despite having women present in previous years, and hers was a repeat from a local conference last year. They were also firm that the Call For Papers was done and over and they’re not open to reaching out to new people now. Sadly, from what the organizers told me, they actively don’t want to do outreach.”

A situation that has gone this far is often irreparable once it reaches the point of becoming an international debacle. If a diverse speaker selection hasn’t been established before the schedule announcement goes out, backpedaling to arrive at inclusion inevitably sends a signal to potential attendees that this might not be a welcoming event.

Due to the way it was handled, phpCE’s cancellation became a spectacular failure of inclusion that played out in a public way over the past several weeks. phpCE’s organizers remained defensive in their replies to critics on social media, clinging instead to what the community has deemed to be an outmoded and ineffective approach to organizing more diverse events.

phpCE did not publish a post regarding why the event was cancelled but rather cited several blog posts and exchanges on social media as factors in the decision.

How WordPress Is Equipping Event Organizers to Create more Diverse Speaker Lineups

Many organizers of large tech events are making proactive attempts at getting more diverse speakers and the web is full of countless resources from those who have shared their processes and tips on the topic. In the WordPress world specifically, the Community team has created a Diversity Speaker Training Workshop to help meetup and WordCamp organizers cultivate better representation from different groups in their communities.

This particular workshop, which was created by Jill Binder and sponsored by Automattic, has produced positive results in 55 WordPress communities in 26 different countries.

“All of the communities that held this workshop experienced a real change in the speaker roster for their annual conferences; many of their WordCamps went from having 10% women speakers to having 50% or more women speakers in less than a year,” community organizer Andrea Middleton said. “In 2017, Seattle had 60% women speakers and in 2018, Vancouver had 63%.” Organizers of large events like WordCamp US and WordCamp Miami have also created more diverse lineups in recent years with their own proactive strategies.

The Diversity Speaker Training Workshop seems to be particularly effective because it focuses on actively creating and equipping future speakers in a more organic way at the local level. Any WordPress event organizers who feel they have no options for increasing the diversity of their events can get help from the Community team. Relying on the call for speakers to deliver a diverse lineup is not always the most effective strategy. In many cases, it takes a great deal of work to bring in diverse speakers, but the Community Team has worked for years to pioneer new resources that help organizers succeed in these efforts.


22 responses to “php Central Europe Conference Canceled Due to Lack of Speaker Diversity”

  1. This boggles my mind. It comes down to being unteachable.

    If an event is ruined because of the limitations of their call for papers, perhaps it wasn’t a great event to begin with.

    Among the issues with female speakers, in my experience as one, is that we have quite a lot of hidden costs to being away in the form of care taking (child sitting, parent care, pets).

    I’m glad diversity training is in place, but I’d like to see women value the business expense of attending a conference to speak.

    Basically, it costs me about $1000 to go to a WordCamp to speak for free.

    It’s really too bad these kind of conferences don’t offer in-kind donations as a tax write off.

  2. When will the diversity bandwagon realise that there’s a lot more to diversity than someones gender (or any other broad characteristic)?

    Just because speakers might be white men (and God forbid, straight too), doesn’t mean that they are replicants that think the same.

    It seems that left-leaning “diversity” bunch only ever want to be around people who think just like them.

    • The lack of racial and gender diversity doesn’t bode well for a “diversity of thought” either. You cannot include the full breadth of experiences and ideas in a conference hosted primarily straight white dudes.

      You also lose similar “diversity of thought” when the speakers don’t represent the diversity of the community. You wouldn’t go to a convention populated solely by women; we can’t possibly expect a woman or person of color attend a conference populated solely by white dudes.

      So not only do we end up with less “diversity of thought” in the speakers with a conference like this, you end up with less “diversity of thought” in the attendees as well. This is… not good. For anyone.

    • In general I agree. Being around the people that think just like yourself is kind of the opposite of diversity.

      It seems that left-leaning “diversity” bunch only ever want to be around people who think just like them.

      Although I’m not so sure if this is a being left or right thing. But I guess that perspective depends on what being left or right represents for you…

      • If by “improve conference quality” you mean create a better echo chamber then you are certainly correct. Driving away the people who don’t prioritize gender diversity does nothing to help your conference. There are many people who want the tech content without the politics.

      • I mean less of a people who are angry, hyperbolic, intolerant, slap labels on others, and make it about politics, while complaining about others making it about politics.

        Those people are exhausting to be around and listen to. If less of them fill up conferences, that’s a favorable outcome.

        I know your point was that others would miss people like that. Truth is… no one would notice, except maybe to appreciate it.

        So yeah, I fully support your suggestion. It’s a win win.

  3. I’m thankful that the WordPress community has a fairly good handle on seeking speaker diversity.

    With regard to conference speakers, I think diversity is less about left/right, male/female than it is about giving others a chance to speak.

    White males, like me, have a propensity to give other white males more credence when it comes to technical matters. That is wrong and needs to change.

  4. Playing devil’s advocate, do you want speakers chosen based on gender, or based on the knowledge they can tech/know?

    As someone who helped organized different tech events (non-wordpress universe related). I remember one of those events, 300 applications from people who identify as men. 15 applications from people who identify as women and 8 who I didn’t know. There was 100 speaking spots.

    You don’t get paid to speak at WordCamps and your expenses (transportation, accommodation) don’t get paid. That has a factor.

    These organizers did a horrible job but if woman don’t apply, if diverse people don’t apply to speak… what else can we do to encourage?

    When I help organize tech and non-tech related events…here is the form to apply to speak, I can’t force anyone to apply.

    • Playing devil’s advocate, do you want speakers chosen based on gender, or based on the knowledge they can tech/know?

      I don’t think these two are mutually exclusive so there is no need to choose between them

      I remember one of those events, 300 applications from people who identify as men. 15 applications from people who identify as women and 8 who I didn’t know. There was 100 speaking spots.

      These things happen, however if diversity really matter, as an organizer I would put it on the agenda as part of the planning structure (and answer questions like where to target, which networks, channels etc).

      Don’t forget that things haven’t been easy in the past (and still are) so an explicit effort needs to be made in order to change things. And if an organization does not care about diversity, do not pretend to be, because that won’t ever work.

  5. Putting speaker lists together by „quotas“ doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t care about the gender of a speaker, the most important thing is the content of the presentation and how it is presented.

    Somehow there seems to have been a shift in focus in the WordPress universe in recent years, at least that’s my impression. It often seems to me that the content of a talk is less important, but the gender or other characteristic of the speaker obviously has priority number one. Doesn’t make sense to me.

    In the early years of the WordCamps, I visited the first one in 2008, then in Hamburg, Germany, there was a completely different focus: it was about authentic, interesting content, about real discussions, shop talk. There was an atmosphere of optimism, it was a different spirit. In my eyes it was not really less professional. Often the opposite, the quality of the presentations and the depth of the discussions were better than today in my opinion – of course not always, but quite often.

    Nowadays, the talks on WordCamps almost don’t appeal to me anymore. One of many reasons why I don’t visit WordCamps anymore. I saw the WordCamp Europe 2019 in Berlin, Germany, as an exception for me (after 4 years completely without WordCamps): meeting people, having conversations. I visited 3 Sessions/Talks. To be honest, I could have saved myself that. Gain of knowledge equal zero. Of course they were all excellent speakers super personalities. But the talks were so perfect, so sterile, and far too general. No corners, no edges, the spirit was missing. Strangely enough, all the people I met with felt the same: hardly anyone was really interested in the talks. A real pity – especially for the speakers, because they are very involved, and the organizers have a lot of work to do, e.g. with all the quotas, rules, etc..

    Maybe it needs again a “less is more”? Maybe a bit more of the focus, spirit and spirit of the early years of WordCamps, BarCamps and Tech-Conferences?

  6. This diversity gone wild train of thought will damage any community it touches.

    I don’t go to conferences to hear men or women talk; I go to hear professionals share their knowledge.

    It is a shame that otherwise smart people let politics come into what should be a technical talk.

    I would not mind if all the speakers were women if selected for what they have to offer.

    Please stop ruining the world with your pretentious diversity. What is next, requesting bodybuilders at knitting conferences?

    • What is next, requesting bodybuilders at knitting conferences?

      Ha ha ha, that’s a good one! :))
      I also agree that the whole diversity thing and trying to be politically correct on all the fronts is doing a disservice. If woman didn’t apply to speak, then please accept that fact and live with it instead of trying to force the gender proportion.

      Another example that just came to my mind: railway model building. You can’t help but to accept that men are those predominantly interested in this hobby. You’d need to cancel all events related to railway model building, as you’ll never reach 50/50 gender distribution. That’s the fact.

      And the same holds true for other topics. Some are more often chosen by men and some are more often chosen by women. We really need to stop this political correctness before reaching more absurd situations.

  7. Umm they only had one female applicant who was a repeat from the year before.

    If there were so many women PHP developers that wanted to be there but were excluded, why didn’t they apply? Or, was the outcry generated by the diversity police alone?

    There is something fair about NOT doing outreach and just making a broad call for proposals in developer channels, selecting the best ones.

  8. I don’t know how the speaker application process works. But…

    If you’re accepting a proposal to speak based on topic / subject matter (which seems logical) then why not simply anonymise the application process?

    Strip age, gender, race from the initial application & there can be no cries of lack of D&I.

    Seems almost too simple.

  9. Some years ago I organised a conference session and came up with a selection of 8 talks. My co-organiser sent it back in order to come up with a more diverse one. The updated list actually made for a really interesting session. So, now I try to not only go for the people/topics I know/like best, but actively consider representing a diversity of topics, genders, ethnics and career stage.
    Also, it’s not always about getting 50% gender balance, but getting a speaker list that reflects the field.


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