Best Practices for Conferences

IEEE Computer Society encourages all our conference organizers to promote and facilitate greater diversity and inclusion in their activities.

The IEEE Computer Society is committed to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) across all its sponsored activities, including conferences.

These are some ideas to promote and increase D&I in your conferences and communities. Most are best practices already implemented at conferences sponsored by IEEE and other organizations. Does your conference already do some of these D&I activities? Is there a super cool activity that we have not thought of? Did you try one of these activities? How did it turn out? Send an email to with (1) a short description of the activity and (2) a link to a description of the event from the conference website that hopefully includes pictures! We will make sure to add your conference as an example on the list below.


Small Group Activities

The goal of these activities is to create spaces for underrepresented communities or affinity groups to meet in person to discuss plans for increasing representation, create collaborations, find support, or simply mingle with other people.

  •  Breakfast, lunch, or meetup for an underrepresented group within your community

This is a very simple activity that is very easy to organize; for example:

  •  ICSE and ICSME host an annual LGQBT luncheon
  •  ICSE 2019 had a meetup for African attendees
  •  ASE 2019 hosted a women’s breakfast

There are many groups that exist but rarely get a chance to meet in person. These activities provide an opportunity for these groups to make stronger connections and plan activities for the future; for example:

  •  The Tapia Conference organizes a face-to-face annual meeting of the Hispanics in Computing mailing list members
  •  Workshops or symposiums for underrepresented communities, organized by underrepresented communities

It is so much easier to connect when there is a topic of theme in common and you are in your affinity group. These activities help to connect within those groups in a much more relaxed environment; for example:

  •  Dedicated 24/7 networking spaces
    •  HOST organizes a women’s workshop for hardware security. Speakers are all women that share their stories. Students present posters at the workshop.
    •  S&P hosts a workshop for underrepresented groups in security research
    •  SERVICES hosted a Women in Services Computing (WISC) symposium

Many research collaborations and long-term friendships start at conferences. Provide spaces for people to connect. For example, many conferences have student lounges or rooms with tables to host small meetings.

  •  Networking programs

It is difficult to become part of a community, especially when you are a minority. Programs such as the mentor-protégé program at SC targeted at creating networking opportunities for underrepresented groups.

  •  Ad Hoc Meetups

Provide opportunities for underrepresented groups to meet each other. For example, at ASE 2019, volunteers from various affinity groups gathered after the opening conference reception and invites other interested members of the ASE community to come out to dinner as groups.

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Plenary Conference Events

These are plenary events that the full conference participates in. They are targeted at showing their commitment to D&I and discussing D&I issues as a community.

  •  Panel on a topic related to D&I

Panels are great ways to create discussions around topics related to D&I. Organize a panel around current events, experiences, activities for increasing participation, community challenges, etc.

  •  Keynotes and Special Invited Talks by Underrepresented Community Members

Keynote speakers are the superstars of your conference. Commit to diversity in keynote speakers to introduce role models for everyone in your community.

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Support for Underrepresented Groups to Attend the Conference

Sometimes it is difficult for underrepresented groups to attend conferences due to family commitments, financial issues, disabilities, or simply lack of time. These activities can make it easier for these people to attend.

  •  Child care

Child care at conferences would enable people with small children to attend. Conferences such as ICSE, SC and VIS offer child care at the conference venue for free or at a reduced cost.

  •  Financial support for companions of attendees with disabilities

Traveling is very difficult for people with disabilities and becomes very expensive if they need to travel with a companion.

  •  Reduced registration rates for one-day passes for Industry

People in industry want to learn about the latest research but may not have five days to attend a conference.

  •  Reduced registration rates for local attendees when conferences go to underrepresented countries

Conference registrations are becoming very expensive, which when added to travel costs, make it very difficult for people in many countries to attend. When conferences visit these countries, make an effort to provide them with the experience. As an example, when ICSE 2014 went to India, there were minimal rates for local attendees which were offset via a local corporate donation.

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LGBTQ+ Inclusivity

The LGBTQ+ community is representative of a spectrum of intersectional identities, expressions, and communities. The following suggestions will guide your conference efforts to create a more affirming environment for computer science professionals and students. In order to create solutions that are applicable to all, we must give space for others to show up authentically and contribute their own experiences.

  1. Include pronoun identification as part of the event registration process.
    •  Show pronouns on name badges, or offer stickers at the registration desk.
    •  Ensure communications from the conference and conference representatives are mindful of pronouns (using they/them).
    •  Ask for pronoun identification during the registration process
  2. Be mindful of gender identity and try to avoid referring to gender as sex-based. If you document gender through your registration site, be sure to include inclusive options. Suggested “Gender Identity” options:
    •  Male (some may prefer to identify as Man)
    •  Female (Some may prefer to identify as Woman)
    •  Prefer to self describe as _________ (non-binary, gender-fluid, agender, please specify)
    •  Prefer not to answer
  3. Choose a conference location in an LGBTQ+ friendly location.
    •  Be aware of city and state policies, including laws that could be discriminatory, and select locations accordingly.
  4. Get perspective from the LGBTQ+ community.
    •  Find out how any of the work your organization does might be affecting the community and ask what you can do better.
  5. Establish a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Chair for your conference:
    •  Provide a budget for them to run programs that exemplify, highlight, or foster DEI events and LGBTQ+ participants within the conference.
      •  LGBTQ+ Lunch and Learn for the community
        •  Bringing in members of the LGBTQ+ community to learn about specifics of the conference.
      •  Lunch and Learn
        •  Bringing in members of the LGBTQ+ community to talk about their community and their experiences to attendees who wish to learn.
      •  Link to local resources for the LGBTQ+ community in the area.
  6. On-stage representation
    •  Ensure a diverse and inclusive slate of speakers
    •  Bring in guest speakers that represent the LGBTQ+ community
  7. Use LGBTQ+ or LGBTQ+ friendly vendors.
    •  Research vendors and consider asking CVBs if they know of any or have recommendations.
  8. D&I starts at the top:
    •  Have a diverse and inclusive steering committee.
    •  Ensure that the Conference Organizing Committee, Program Committee etc. are diverse.
  9. Community outreach
    •  Conference representatives speak to LGBTQ+ groups, highlighting computer science and engineering opportunities, career paths, etc.
    •  Allow members within the local LGBTQ+ community to set up an informational booth, highlighting local support services.
  10. Engage College LGBTQ+ Communities
    •  Reach out to local college and high school campus LGBTQ+ resource centers to identify and recruit student volunteers.
  11. Build a comfortable and respectful space for all conference volunteers and attendees, honoring their wishes when it comes to gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.
    •  Ask individuals how you can be respectful.
    •  Remind organizers that tone and body language are important.
  12. Highlight contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals to the conference’s field of interest.

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Safety Considerations for Conference Locations

Keeping the intersectionality and diversity of your attendees in mind is an important consideration when selecting the site of your conference. While it is not always feasible to select a conference location that is guaranteed to align with all diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, it is important to support those who are historically excluded from the technology ecosystem. These recommendations will assist you with the site selection process.

Choose a conference location that is inclusive and welcoming to your attendees and community.

  • Be aware of city and state policies, including laws that could be discriminatory, and select locations accordingly.
  • The conference location should align with the principles outlined in the IEEE Code of Ethics.

Many resources exist that provide insight into the safety of various countries and territories for various groups. A sampling of resources is listed below:

Consider partnering with an organization that provides an opportunity to balance your purchases in a location that doesn’t align with your personal values by making a donation to a non-profit that “offsets” the money you are spending.

  • Social Offset helps individuals offset spending that does not align with their core values, by making it easy to donate to local charities and organizations that do.

Adding a virtual component to your conference expands accessibility for those who are not able to participate in person. Learn more about IEEE Computer Society hybrid event options.

Travel Grants

Travel grants can help to offset some of the costs for underrepresented groups to attend the conference. Consider offering targeted travel grants, such as

  •  Travel Grants for Students from Underrepresented Countries
  •  Travel Grants for Students from Underrepresented Groups
  •  Travel Grants for Early Career Faculty

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Many conferences and communities have awards for best paper, best reviewer, best project, and others. Consider awards targeted at underrepresented communities or use your awards to promote D&I.

  •  Awards specifically for underrepresented communities

As an example, TCSE has the Women in Science in Engineering Award

  •  Name awards after influential members of the community that come from underrepresented groups

As an example, IEEE Computer Society renamed several of their awards after outstanding female members of the community

  •  Award for Service in improving D&I

Reward those members of your community that have contributed to D&I in your community

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First-Time Attendees

Attending a conference for the first time can be nerve-wracking, especially for students. Create events or special activities so that they can meet other people, where experienced or first-time attendees as well.

  •  First-time attendee reception

Many conferences, such as ICSE and ASE, have first-time or newcomer receptions, with activities to get new people involved. The goal is for new people to have people to sit with at the conference, network, or simply go out to dinner. One idea from the IEEE CS meeting planners was to have high tables and no chairs and for each table to have a sign that gathers people on what they want to do next such as “Want to have Chinese after we are done?” or “Want to go to workshop X tomorrow?”

  •  First-time mentors

Offer to pair first-time attendees with someone that is known in the community. IETF does this for people attending a meeting for the first time. Mentors are assigned in advance based on areas of interest expressed by newcomers during registration.

  •  Special first-time attendee tables at conference dinners

This would encourage people that do not know anybody to attend the conference dinner and meet new people.

  •  Special badges for first-time attendees

This would encourage other first-time attendees to interact. In addition, mentors in the community and organizing committee members should go out of their way to talk to them and introduce them to others.

  •  Special badges for trained mentors/hosts

First-time attendees may not want to self-identify by wearing badges or may not want to make an initial move for networking because of lack of confidence or experience. Trained hosts/mentors with visible badges that reflect the amount of mentorship, affinity groups, and research area, for example, have the job of looking out for first-time attendees and open to answering questions and making connections.

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Other Ideas

This is a list of simple activities and ideas to promote D&I at your conference.

  •  Diversity recognition

Make badges, ribbons, or pins that show that you belong to an affinity group or minority. For example, Tapia Conference has a table full of ribbons that you can add to your badge: LGBTQ+, Hispanic, pronouns, etc. IETF meetings have pins to recognize diversity in languages: “Yo Hablo Español”, “Parlo Italiano”, etc.

  •  Code of Conduct and D&I Statement on a poster at the registration desk

Make both of these fully visible as people register for the conference so that there is a clear understanding of how people are expected to behave at the conference.

  • Reporting diversity numbers for conferences

Conferences should report this information on their web sites: gender, nationality, pronouns, industry/academia/government, etc.

  •  Local college student invitations

Invite college students who may be interested in the field of your conference field to attend a morning or afternoon of talks. Organize a special talk for the students and faculty on a hot topic in the field, industry experience, or the graduate student experience. Have senior members of the community come and meet them during the break. The ASE conference does this as one of their D&I activities.

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