Inspired by the recent paper Addressing the underrepresentation of women in mathematics conferences by Greg Martin, I decided to create a short and practical "to-do" list for conference organisers. This list does not apply to the specific field of mathematics, nor to women only. It's all good to involve all minorities, in any field. Take into consideration also developing countries, for instance.
Quoting Martin directly,
This underrepresentation is the result of implicit biases present within all of us [...]. These mutually reinforcing biases [...] oppose women’s careers through their effects on hiring, evaluation, awarding of prizes, and inclusion in journal editorial boards and conference organization committees. Underrepresentation of women as conference speakers is a symptom of these biases [...].
Giving more visibility to minorities can balance out the bias through offering real opportunities of growth; in addition, it creates role models, much needed to spread equal opportunities and encouragement among the younger generation. How many times I myself found courage to balance my family and my job in the stories of other women scientists, who had ever more kids. It really matters.
If you are result-oriented, you want it as well. Giving equal opportunities means also attracting the best talents and adding human and cultural diversity to a field is a proven-fact of increasing chances of success.
If you don't have time to go through Martin's paper right away, I took the chance to summarise some of his points in a practical to-do list for you. This does not replace the paper of course, but I hope to make the message more practical to be more easily implemented. Please notice that when I use the term "balance", I do not intend it exactly 50-50: use your good sense (or, in doubt, stats)! Martin suggests to even fix a proportion in advance and force yourselves to fulfill it at every decision stage.
- Balance the organising committee.
- Balance the key-note or plenary speakers, also when giving priorities to certain speakers' calendars when fixing the dates of the event.
- If you are in a prize committee, balance the brainstorming list of candidates.
- Balance the speakers of any panel you organise, balance the minisession chairs.
- Consider practical obstacles faced by the minority: in the case of women, childcare or travel grants can be crucial to participate.
- Do not hesitate to take a stand and explicitly declare your positive intents on the conference website: creating awareness is important.
- Consider organising a specific extra-session where the issue is discussed by the members of the community.
- In the specific case of women, harassment at conferences is a thing. Issue a clear statement on the event website (you can find some ready-made on the net), name a contact person and avoid pools of free alcohol at the conference dinner.
This is a short list. If you got interested in the topic, do not refrain from reading Martin's paper, which contains a more complete list of suggestions.
If you got curious about the topic of minorities in mathematics, I suggest also reading this book: Change is possible, by P. C. Kenschaft.