June 23, 2014

On Diversity

After XOXO ended last year, we were curious what the gender ratio looked like. Anecdotally, it was a lot of men, but how many?

We don’t collect any demographic information from XOXO attendees, but we did find one way of measuring gender: looking at men’s vs. women’s t-shirts. It wasn’t perfect — some women chose men’s sizes — but it’s the closest we have.

The results were dismal. Both years, with two completely different approaches to registration, the ratio stayed consistent — about 22% of attendees were women, a little over one woman for every four men.

We don’t have demographic information about how people identify in terms of race or ethnic community, but using the (admittedly very imprecise) method of looking at the crowd, it’s clear we’ve had an overwhelmingly white audience.

This isn’t unusual for tech conferences, but XOXO is not a tech conference. It’s an arts and technology festival about independence, and there’s no reason it should inherit the problems that plague the tech community.

We want XOXO to represent the broad spectrum of amazing and interesting people across art and tech, but we haven’t done enough to let everyone who cares about these ideas feel welcome. More than 80% of the people who’ve wanted to attend XOXO in the past are white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied dudes, and we want everyone who’s not in that category to know XOXO is for you too.

We can do better. So we’re trying something new this year.

When you register, you’ll see a new addition to the survey:

Do you identify with a group that’s been underrepresented at XOXO?

Your answer is entirely optional and confidential, and freeform text instead of multiple choice. Diversity means much more than gender or race alone, and it isn’t easily pigeonholed into a series of checkboxes.

We’ll review the responses and factor them into the admission process, using your answers to prioritize attendees that have previously been underrepresented.

Like everything else at XOXO, this is an experiment. And like any good experiment, we’ll measure the results, report on them, and keep trying.

We won’t get this perfect right away — we’re still learning how to address these issues — but we’re committed to trying.

A Word About Conduct

Our code of conduct has always been pretty simple — we don’t tolerate harassing behavior of any kind. Anyone violating it has been and will be dealt with appropriately.

We want everyone to feel safe and comfortable at XOXO, and we try to cultivate an atmosphere of empathy and belonging. For the last two years, we’ve announced this policy on stage during the opening remarks.

Last year, we needed to enforce it for the first time when a drunken attendee sexually harassed an XOXO volunteer. We took her report in private, tracked down the attendee, and permanently removed him from the festival after he confirmed the details. (If you’d like a third-party take on how we handle harassment, the volunteer that was harassed wrote about her experience in detail.)

This year, we’ve gone one step further, and formalized it as policy. As with previous years, we’ll talk about it on-stage so everyone’s aware of our rules.

If you have any questions, please get in touch at [email protected].

— Andy & Andy