Preparing the Dance Floor for Inclusion

Lisa Rosenfelt

By this point you’ve probably heard this popular phrase about Diversity & Inclusion….
’Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.’

It highlights the point that it’s not enough to just invite a diverse group of people to an event, conference, or even job position. Real effort has to be extended to make sure everyone you invited feels welcome and has an opportunity to really participate. This mentality has made a lot of headway in empowering women in male-dominated industries (like tech and entrepreneurship) to find their voices at conferences and around meeting tables. 

But, in many cases, this concept of inclusion isn’t really enough either, because before you can ask someone to dance, he or she has to accept your invitation to the party. And, in reality there are many reasons that women and others under-represented in tech are turned off by tech events and opportunities before they ever walk through the door. 

So, How do You Properly Prepare the Dance Floor for Inclusion?  

As co-managing director of Girls in Tech San Diego, the local chapter of a global non-profit focused on the engagement, education, and empowerment of girls and women who are passionate about technology and as co-founder of Ivy Street, a community focused co-working space in San Diego, I have learned a few things about creating a welcoming space. 

While I can’t speak for all women (and definitely not all minority groups), I think some of the ideas below are a great way to start creating an event or work environment that more people will feel welcomed to join. 

1) Remember that Representation Really Does Matter

One of the first things I look for when considering an event (or a job) is an indication that there will be other people like me there. So, I look for clues in the invite. For example, how did I come across it — did someone make the effort to outreach to me (and others) through women in tech focused channels? Or does the website and/or social media promotion include language that speaks to everyone, by including female and non-binary descriptors and pronouns? Do pictures of past events show a diverse crowd of attendees? 

And, perhaps most importantly, I look for diverse representation in the speakers, mentors, leaders, and members of the planning or hiring committee associated with the event or organization. A mix of ideas at the top tends to lead to thoughtful practices and policies that make everyone feel welcome! 

2) Break Down the Barriers to Entry 

When I was just starting in community building in San Diego, I helped organize an awesome workshop called RailsBridge, which outreaches to women who want to learn to code. 

Railsbridge has a groundbreaking policy in place — anyone who wants to host a workshop has to offer ALL DAY FREE CHILDCARE. I had never even thought about this as an obstacle before and yet it’s so obvious — if you invite women to spend an evening or a weekend at a tech event, finding childcare is going to be the Number 1 barrier to their being able to come. 

Now, I’m not saying that Girls in Tech has been able to implement this for EVERY monthly event we put on — but we’ve started to host childcare for our all day workshops and it is a GAME CHANGER. Even if only a few women bring their kids along, it lets all women know that you are serious about wanting them as participants. 

There are some (perhaps simpler) ways to cut down on obstacles as well. Make an event or conference physically easier for people to attend — pick locations where access (parking, wheelchairs, easy to find signage) is not an issue (and make sure you broadcast that in your invite). And avoid venues, like bars, that may make some of your participants uncomfortable. 

3) Make Your Invitation Enticing to a More Diverse Crowd

We all remember the startup days where you’d enter an office and are immediately shown the beer kegs and ping pong tables. These are fun, but they aren’t perks for everyone! Similarly, pizza and beer as refreshments at an event are only appetizing to a certain crowd. 

Think about options (whether it be flexible and remote work hours for a job position or wine and healthy bites for an event) that will be attractive to a wider audience as you promote your event or job position. 

Though, good snacks aside, the most enticing thing will always be Item #1 on my list – showcasing a diverse group of speakers, mentors, and leaders will bring me to the dance floor EVERY TIME! 

I know it may take extra effort (and to be honest a lot of work) to put all of these factors in place, but each one indicates how much an organization cares about inclusion. And the more of these considerations you make, the more people you’ll find showing up to accept that dance.

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