Diversity and Flagship21

When we set out to build Flagship 2021, there were a lot of things we didn’t know. Our team had never run an entirely virtual user conference at the scale we were shooting for. We weren’t sure if we could get speakers to commit to setting up AV in their homes, let alone commit to review and pre-record schedules. We weren’t sure how to make a virtual keynote feel personal, meaningful, and inspirational. Honestly, we weren’t even sure the venue we’d selected to film in would let us in the doors given California’s changing pandemic restrictions. 

We did know that we had a responsibility to use our platform to elevate a group of voices that could represent what we wish tech looked like. Tech companies are overwhelmingly white and male. At Split, we’re on a journey away from that baseline, and we know we have a ways to go. Flagship was going to be an important marker on that journey. It’s not enough to just support diversity. You have to do it out loud.

We believe that diversity is a requirement for true agility, for transformative growth, and we expected our conference to demonstrate that. To that end, we set a goal that 50% of our speakers would be women or people of color. We wanted to build a show that was an exciting collaboration of product managers, data scientists, and engineering leaders and an inclusive and diverse experience that modeled our beliefs and expectations.

So, how’d we do?

We hit our goal. It feels a little icky to break humans down to raw numbers, but we think it’s essential to call out as a benchmark. Next year we expect to do better. We hope our benchmark can spur other organizations to also strive for more and better representation because modeling our beliefs out loud is one of the best ways we can effect change.

At Flagship21, 54% of our talented presenters were women or people of color. From a runtime perspective, 62% of our show gave the stage to folks who weren’t white males. There’s still so much work to be done, and we’re already thinking about how to expand marginalized representation in next year’s show.

Tune in to view the talks on YouTube.

Stop Asian Hate 

Before we close a conversation about diversity in tech, we feel compelled to talk about the acts of domestic terrorism committed in Atlanta on March 16. Eight people lost their lives, including six Asian women, in this hate crime. Internally, our teammates shared personal fears for their own safety and that of their families and stories of growing up with racism in America. It made me sick to think that I didn’t have to worry as much about my friends and teammates because they’re “protected” by the inherent wealth and privilege that comes from working in tech in Silicon Valley vs. a nail salon in Atlanta. As hard as I found it to stay focused on our show, I know my experience paled in comparison to theirs.

Movement toward something better

Our efforts to end racism and promote diversity and inclusion cannot be merely performative. There’s a gap between living our values out loud and simply paying lip service to “DEI work,” and it’s smaller than we all think. 

Thus, our challenge is two-fold. We must do better next year, genuinely and with intent. We must model the world we want to live in, a world that’s safe and welcoming to every identity. And we must do the work within Split to ensure that our efforts aren’t merely performative.

We hope you’ll take up this challenge with us. Truly inclusive events are showstoppers. Genuinely inclusive organizations are how we begin to change the world.

And while you’re at it, join with us as we join with Stop AAPI Hate in seeking to end hatred toward Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. 

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