‘Just the beginning’: a view from the Government’s diversity unconference

By Michelle Conlin

I had never been to an ‘unconference’ before and wasn’t sure what exactly it would entail, but was encouraged to see the Scottish Government addressing a subject that is so often an ‘elephant in the room’ in the digital sector.

After registering my interest and receiving event notes from the organisers it became clearer what the format of an unconference is: the organisers provide the framework while the participants provide the content. In the run up to the unconference attendees were asked for responses on a number of issues which would inform the proceedings of the event: from the straightforward ‘What makes you care about diversity?’ to ‘What words would you like to hear about diversity come out of a senior leader’s mouth?’ Responses were shared on Twitter the day before the event and give an interesting insight into the current state of diversity in the Scottish digital sector and the issues that people are keen to address.

The event itself took place in Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth last Wednesday morning  (22 March). On arrival, each guest was given a few post-its and asked to note down ideas for discussion topics to offer up to the rest of the participants for voting. The event was then officially opened the Scottish Government’s Laurna Robertson, content design specialist and organiser of the event. Laurna explained the voting system for discussion topics – marking a dot on the post it notes of the two issues that most interested you – before handing over to Sarah Davidson, the Scottish Government’s Director General of Communities. Sarah highlighted that the conference was not just about government, or indeed about gender and that it was clear from research before the event that people were keen to speak about diversity in its broadest sense. The ‘winning’ topics chosen for discussion were then announced and we split into different rooms based on which topic we wished to discuss.

Using the ‘yes, and’ method the groups were encouraged to share openly, and facilitators in each room ensured that as many voices as possible were heard in the short time-frame for each discussion. Questions were posed and suggestions of best practice offered up for subjects ranging from recruiting diverse talent to imposter syndrome in the workplace. Often, at least in the discussions I took part in, the conversation became focused on gender. As outlined in the opening address, the event was intended to open up a dialogue about diversity in its broadest sense, and there were reminders from attendees and facilitators throughout the sessions that gender representation is just one of the barriers to overcome. Issues of class, race and disability were also raised, with one of the rooms being dedicated to a discussion entitled ‘Tech is very middle class.’

It was encouraging to see such a wide range of digital professionals, in both the public and private sectors, coming together to share ideas on how we can do better- striving for a workforce that is more inclusive and representative of Scotland’s population as a whole. Honest discussions were had and ideas shared, skimming the surface of a broad and complex subject matter. The key takeaway from the day, and one that the organisers were very keen to reiterate, was that this is just the beginning. There has already been talk of a community space to continue the discussion and work together to put the ideas discussed into practice. An encouraging day with a lot of hope for a more inclusive Scottish digital sector. Now the real work starts.

Michelle Conlin is a marketing assistant at TRCmedia