…along with Anna Walters, Head of GRC at Zenzero Support and Victoria Masso. We had been invited to prepare responses to the questions “Do we have an inclusive Tech Community in Greater Birmingham? If you think we do, could you explain how/why we do? If you don’t, can you think of a way we can be more inclusive?”
At the event, we didn’t have enough time to get into the whole subject due to time constraints so here’s the full text what I would have said – I’d love to hear what you would have said in response!
Tech community in Greater Birmingham and inclusion
The tech community in Greater Birmingham, as well as the award organisers Silicon Canal, includes Innovation Birmingham, Birmingham.io, parts of the Custard Factory, Fazeley Studios, Longbridge Technology Park, Google Digital Garage, Birmingham Science City, School of Code, Tech Wednesday, Canvas conference, Venturefest West Midlands, incubators, accelerators and multiple other tech meetups including the monthly one I run, Net Squared Midlands: tech for social good
Yes, I think parts of the community are inclusive in that it includes the Silicon Canal working groups Diversity in Tech and Women in Tech, and the 200 Silicon Canal Ambassadors. Many of the physical locations are quite accessible and some of the events include a variety of speakers, not just the usual suspects.
But no, I think other and more parts of the community are not inclusive in that the community and our events does not reflect the diverse demography of the communities in the Greater Birmingham area, and some events and meetups are held in inaccessible venues.
How can we be more inclusive?
So, in and around a smart city like Birmingham, how can we be more inclusive? I have some suggestions:
For under-represented people in tech and our allies:
Join relevant meetings and networks to gain and give peer support e.g. Ada’s List, a global community for women* in tech (“*by women we mean all women (trans, intersex and cis), all those who experience oppression as women (including non-binary and gender non-conforming people) and all those who identify as women”), based on principles of inclusion, empowerment and diversity.
For tech groups and organisations:
Recognise that not everyone can afford to pay to attend events, so, unless the event is free and in an accessible, welcoming venue anyway, offer a sliding scale for tickets according to what people can afford, from free to top whack, trusting people to pay as appropriate; and if you’re providing free refreshments, beer and pizza appeal to some demographics, but why not try offering prosecco and cake instead – and monitor what happens?
Diversity data – start gathering data on diversity in your group or organisation to help you measure the impact of diversity, and then talk about it internally and externally, and share it widely amongst your networks
Sign up to the Tech Talent Charter – this employer-led initiative brings together industries and organisations to drive diversity and address gender imbalance in technology roles.
For everyone in tech
Rather than sticking to your tech comfort zone with people like yourself, places you know well, and things you can already do well, seek out unfamiliar people, places and experiences, in order to learn, share and grow, and make the Greater Birmingham tech community a better place to be, for all of us. And when you do this, please tweet or blog about it!
Here are 345 women in the UK who could speak at your tech event by Charlotte Jee, Techworld, Dec 15, 2017
#ITWomen – Lists of women speakers and presenters & Resources for planning gender-inclusive tech conferences Crowdsourced list, started 2012 by Catherine Cronin
So it snows, and you have to cancel the seasonal market for which you’ve been preparing for the last few weeks, or even months. There are so many disappointed people – you, the organiser, your staff, your stallholders, their potential customers.
You and your staff have allocated time and resources, stallholders have prepared and/or refreshed products and services, customers were expecting to see and probably buy something new.
A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE?
Before completely abandoning the market, maybe there’s a viable alternative to cancelling it. Stallholders will have prepared products and services for sale, and many of them will have been planning to offer customers some special offers or discounts.
What about creating and organising an online virtual market on your website, or other shared platform, offering at least some of the above?
A ‘VIRTUAL’ MARKET
This ‘virtual’ market could start whenever the actual market was due to start, and run up to whenever the season ends. You could use posts in your social media channels and have a catchy unique hashtag, which both stallholders and customers can re-use and cross-post.
Stallholders could submit some copy/video about their products/services for you to use (reasonable quality video can now be done on a smartphone) – they can make whatever they were planning to have had/sold/displayed at the actual market look as good as they can make it.
What are the potential benefits that could happen with a ‘virtual’ market? You and staff could get to use the allocated time and resources in a slightly different and creative way, stallholders could still show off their products and services, and customers, maybe even more than would have turned up in person, could still see and possibly buy something, and they might also recommend the market to their contacts – bonus marketing!
ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?
We know that not every organisation is set up for adapting to a situation like this. We know that not every organisation can yet take payment online or over the phone. We also know many smaller organisations don’t have a website, Facebook page or other online presence. These cases illustrate what we, for some time, in our business RnR Organisation, have been saying needs to be happening in our sector.
Non profits, voluntary sector organisations and social enterprises need to be using available technology, possibly in ways they haven’t tried before. A lack of digital skills and no organisational culture to use technology in our organisations and businesses can obviously be overcome, but, in this case, having an online presence where they can display, promote and sell their wares will have given your stallholders a proven competitive advantage over those who didn’t have one.
We want to encourage organisers to consider running virtual events online when opportunities like this arise, possibly having it as a Plan B when they start planning any future markets or similar events.
NEED SOME PRACTICAL HELP?
We hope this post also encourages those in our sector without an online presence to think about why that is, and how they can plan to address that.
We’re here if you want to talk to us about practical ways of doing something about it.
Cllr Karen McCarthy totally ignored St Patrick’s Festival in her introduction to the Cultivating Culture symposium on 18th March, focusing on Art Soak festival (Selly Oak) and Flat Pack. She promoted engagement in cultural activity as well as utilisation of artistic activity and the engagement and encouraging of individuals in arts / cultural activity – so, are the 80,000 people on the streets of Digbeth on March 16th and attendances at several related events in the week leading up to the Parade on Sunday not prime examples of this?
I’m confident Cllr McCarthy wasn’t ignoring the Irish, or the impact that the festival has on the City. I’m sure she was focusing on the programme funded through the ‘Arts and Cultural’ elements of the City Council, as opposed to a major City event that is supported through the Events Team within the Council.
It does, however, highlight a dichotomy in Birmingham City Council as to what people consider as arts and culture. What is the role of our arts champions within the City? More importantly, there is a need to identify the role of the whole arts champions programme – is it a community development and engagement programme that uses arts and cultural activities as a conduit for engagement, or is it an aesthetic development programme that aims to increase engagement in established or new arts activities?
Whatever the City Council decides, it has to acknowledge the role wider ‘City’ events, the Parade and Festival, Vaisakhi, Melas, Carnival etc play in its artistic and cultural portfolio. At the moment there seems to be an implicit indication that they do not fall into an arts and cultural remit.
Yet the Parade fits all categories. It is nothing without its participants – dance schools, music from a variety of bands, modern, traditional, pipe bands etc., sports organisations – GAA football and hurling clubs. As a Festival, leading up to the Parade, there were a number of events that focused on cultural activities – storytelling, music and dancing, and the art of the younger generation.
Community groups provide and decorate the floats, as well as fund the musicians – they host visiting bands as well as attending the Festival events.
The BBC recently asked the question “Is Birmingham still an Irish City?”. The article cited census statistics and the number of people who had identified as Irish. The Parade on the 16th March 2014 proves that Birmingham certainly is an Irish City – the multi generational presence, children as participants in social and cultural events and people celebrating their culture and heritage.
So I return to my opening statement. In an event promoted by the arts and culture team of the City Council the Parade gets no mention, neither did other ‘cultural’ activities.
The symposium focused on communities of geography, districts / constituencies, the multi cultural powerhouse that is Birmingham. Because those are the things that this department / section of the Council funds, and in an artistic elitist atmosphere, it seems that Parades are not worthy of presence or mention; even though they may tick all of the artistic, cultural, and engagement boxes you could think of designing.
So where do the Irish and their inclusive Parade fit in the cultural life of the City? Where does it fit in a silo focused City Council whose elitist arts programme ignores Parades leaving it to the ‘events’ teams?
Whose responsibility is it to identify the cultural, economic, marketing and community engagement element of the Parade and let it stand alongside local arts events?
One last thought, Birmingham festival website does not include any of the above mentioned festivals, but that’s another story.