Gender diversity at GORUCO: A follow-up

Posted July 19 2013 by Francis Hwang

Last year, after we finished GORUCO 2012, we decided we weren't happy with the gender diversity of our event. We took some steps to see if we could improve the situation. Now that we're done with GORUCO 2013, this is our report to talk about how we did, what we learned, and what's next.

How we did

Based on the numbers, it looks like we did substantially better in women attendees, proposers, and speakers.

Attendees Proposers Speakers
All Women % All Women % All Women %
2011 169 8 4.7 - - - 9 1 11.1
2012 260 16 6.2 47 0 0.0 13 0 0.0
2013 274 34 12.4 105 12 11.4 14 3 21.4

Note that for attendees and proposers, counts of women are fuzzy since we're going by first names. And we seem to have lost our 2011 proposals, so those numbers are unfortunately missing.

The statistical improvement agrees with our anecdotal feedback: Many remarked to us that this year felt noticeably more diverse. We even ran out of women's t-shirts, which is a good problem to have. (If you were there and didn't get a woman's shirt, email us at and we'll mail one to you.)

What we did

Advisory Board

The best idea we had was to reach out to DevChix and NYC Ruby Women, two organizations with strong histories of working on gender diversity in tech. We held an initial meeting to discuss the issue and then we formed the GORUCO Advisory Board as a way to keep in contact throughout the year.

This input was a lot of help. The GORUCO organizers wanted to improve the situation, but many of us were not deeply immersed in the issue. We learned a lot from the other Advisory Board members and as the year went on, they helped us get the word out about attending and speaking at the conference.

The Advisory Board is still around, and we're planning another meeting soon. If you'd like to help out, you can request to join here.

Giving advice about how to speak at GORUCO

One thing we heard was that some people found the process of getting a GORUCO talk accepted to be mysterious and intimidating. In an effort to level the playing field and demystify the proposal process, we posted tips about how to improve your odds of getting a talk accepted. We also cajoled our good friend Sandi Metz into writing a post about how to get over being afraid of public speaking. And we participated in a few Google Hangout sessions where people who were interested in proposing talks could ask questions and get real answers from some of the organizers.

Student scholarships

In cooperation with the folks at RubyCentral, we offered scholarships to ten students who otherwise would not have been able to attend GORUCO. The main purpose of the scholarships was to help recipients overcome financial hurdles to attend, but this also had the added benefit of helping our gender diversity goals. Of the ten students we selected, six were women.

Code of Conduct

Our Advisory Board recommended we adopt a Code of Conduct. Although we had never heard of any serious incidents that would have required one, we agreed that it's better to be safe than sorry, and to be explicit about the behavior we expect from attendees and speakers.

A Code of Conduct is yet another way of talking about issues in the open and signaling to the community that we take seriously the idea of providing a welcoming environment for everyone.

Discount codes

Hoping to encourage people from under-represented groups to attend, we offered a $25 discount code that we distributed to meetups that served those groups in the engineering community. In the end, however, this code was only used by seven people (some of whom we think might have attended otherwise), so it's hard to say if this had any meaningful effect.

What others in the community did

Rachel Ober organized RailsBridge NYC, which offered a free Ruby on Rails workshop for women and their friends in the days leading up to GORUCO. By all accounts this event was a great success, and we're grateful that Rachel stepped up to the plate.

What we learned

There will be talking

Diversity in tech is a sticky situation: There are no silver bullets and there are lots of sensitive feelings. If you're an organizer who wants to engage with the subject, you will spend a lot more time talking. It's time-consuming to meet with people so you can listen to their concerns, or to write blog posts explaining your selection process—and not all programmers like doing this much talking. But it is an important part of the process.

Small changes are better than no changes

It is very easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issue—after all, what can one conference do to change things?—but that's not an excuse to throw your hands up and do nothing. By making relatively small changes, in just one year we managed to have encouraging results and we're looking forward to even more improvements for next year.

What's next

We have another meeting scheduled with our Advisory Board where we'll go over the year's results in more detail and talk about things might be improved going forward.

If you'd like to join that discussion, you can ask to join the Board here. We're going to keep chipping away at this issue. Maybe you can help us.