This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question. Questions are still being taken this round.
This one came up on the Python Diversity list:
How can we gather data on the gender balance and other aspects of diversity at our conferences without asking attendees intrusive questions? Is having numerical data not that important? But without it, if our female attendance goes from (say) 150 to 180 or to 120, we might just eyeball the crowd and think, “Not enough”, not realizing that we’re doing something important right or wrong.
Skud, Terri and I had a conversation about this in comments last year, focussing more on making it optional than on doing it without questions at all.
How do you suggest tracking the diversity of speakers? Gender can be approximated but not perfectly measured by looking at people’s first names (especially if you don’t have an ethnically diverse conference) but in general the problem we have with linux.conf.au is that we can’t see how to do this well without a demographic questionnaire, which women especially have repeatedly said they don’t want to see because they feel like they will then attend the conference as A Representative of Womankind.
Yeah, that’s hard. Can you make the question optional, and link it to an explanation of why you’re asking it? Something like, “$conf supports diversity and is working on improving the mix of speakers at our event. To this end, we are trying to measure our progress. If you don’t mind, could you give us a few demographic details?”
If that’s still not culturally comfortable, you can get an approximation by just working off what you know. Eg. “Of the people we know, N are people of colour/from other countries/mid 20s or younger/whatever.” After the conference, you will know more of the people (esp. first-timers), and be able to adjust the figures accordingly.
We went on to discuss Australian/US/Canadian cultural differences, namely that Australians (linux.conf.au is an Australian conference) are used to, at best, much more limited demographic questionnaires from, for example, employers, grant funding organisations and so on than people in the US and Canada.
What do you think, folks? Do you attend events that use demographic questionnaires? How do they go down, culturally? Are they optional or compulsory? Is there a third way between that kind of measurement and educated guesses?