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Group discussion guidelines

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Group discussions at unconferences, BOFs, or similar events often has more or less subtle ways of discouraging women from joining in or diminishing their contributions. Here are some useful tips for conference attendees, potentially included in the program booklet.

Tips for improving group discussion

Group discussions have some familiar failure modes. Here are some tips we've learned.

Compensating for gender socialization

We are socialized - trained - to treat people differently based on our perception of their gender, and to act differently based on our own gender identity. Often we are unaware of the effects of this socialization. Many of us are working hard to overcome these biases, but it is hard to reverse a lifetime of training all at once. We don't believe anyone at this event is consciously sexist, just that we can all unintentionally behave in ways that favor men over women and genderqueer people.

Prevent self-censoring of marginalized groups

Women and members of other marginalized groups are likely to self-censor more often than most men. Men should keep in mind this tendency and watch for behavior that will reinforce that: interrupting women more often, hostile questioning, denying someone's experience. We hope women will feel more confident about speaking up knowing that we have asked people to be more supportive.

Encourage women to speak

Both men and women, but especially women, are trained to give men more encouragement when speaking than women, by directly praising, listening more attentively, and interrupting less often when men are speaking. Be aware of this bias and try to give women the same attention and encouragement. Men should be aware of this bias and consciously reduce the amount of time they spend speaking, even if they are being encouraged and praised for speaking by people of any gender.

Don’t derail

We discourage distracting responses that attempt to redirect discussion of the desired topic in an unproductive way ("derailing," "concern trolling," etc.). It's hard enough to stay on topic and make progress in a discussion without people redirecting discussion on to their pet concern or trying to win an argument by going down a rat hole.

Don’t dominate the conversation

In round-table discussions, try consciously to not dominate the discussion or turn it into a talk or lecture by one person. We encourage everyone to pay attention to how much they are speaking and to speak less if they are taking more than their fair share of speaking time (simple math can help - take the time for the session and dived by the number of people). We also encourage everyone to help quieter people to get time to speak as well.

Staying present

[conference] is a rare opportunity to talk face-to-face with people who care about the same things we do. We encourage attendees to be fully present in sessions and use laptops and phones only to support the discussion: e.g., note-taking, looking up references, or editing wiki pages about the session. If you need to check email, work, etc., we ask that you step out of the session so that you avoid distracting others.

Social media

We encourage sharing and writing about [conference] on social media [, as long as you respect our policy of no attribution without permission [see our "Reporting/blogging/social media policy"]].

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