On February 25 Rahul Gupta and Beth Haubert led an evening round table discussion at the Omaha Code School on diversity in tech and creating safe and inclusive events. Joe Gerstandt, who was slated to lead the dialogue, was unable to attend. Over 20 people attended the event, mostly current code school students and local event organizers.
The idea for a conversation started as a Twitter conversation about increasing diversity at local tech events. However, the evening was primarily driven by recent incidents that occurred during the Startup Weekend event hosted by the Omaha Code School.
At the end of the Startup Weekend two attendees approached Haubert with incidents that had violated the code school’s code of conduct. The Omaha Code School staff, as well as one of the event coordinators, Shane Reiser, attempted to reach the offenders. At least one was contacted. The situations are still being resolved. Haubert said she wanted to meet in coming weeks with those who came forward to make sure they felt heard.
“The biggest thing is we want them to feel supported,” said Haubert.
The incidents were a first for the space. Both Sumeet Jain, an instructor, and Reiser blogged at length about the incidents and the lessons learned. (“Safe & Inclusive Events”; “Prioritizing inclusiveness at startup events”)
“It was not until this weekend at Startup Weekend that we had to put our Code of Conduct into play,” Gupta said.
Sumeet Jain, an instructor at the Omaha Code School, was frank with his self-evaluation.
“We didn’t act quickly enough,” Jain said.
Shane Reiser also said he regretted not acting sooner. There was an open discussion about appointing code of conduct liaisons to help improve the response to future incidents.
Several attendees of the round table expressed how rare discussions like these are–and the need for more conversation.
“Many people are realizing that this is about so much more than political correctness,” said Gupta. “There’s human value, creative value, collaborative value in creating safe spaces.”
Gupta recognized at the beginning of the evening that the attendees were self-selecting. They are likely already on board with creating inclusive spaces.
Nevertheless, when he asked later how many event coordinators already had a code of conduct, only one person raised a hand.