03.22.2017

Speakers can make or break a conference. They are the magic that drives an event forward. Everyone has passionate opinions around their favorite speakers, how to craft a great talk, and who deserves to be on stage.

For CMX Summit, this is a lively conversation for every event. We aim to curate the absolute best, most inspiring lineup possible, and we’re extremely proud of the caliber of speakers we’ve brought to the stage. We’re also proud of our commitment to gender diversity since we started CMX.

However, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, we have a lot of room for improvement. Last year, we got the honest critical feedback that while we had great gender balance on stage, we failed to give people of color a voice on our stage. They were right.

We never want to send signals — intentional or not — that someone is unwelcome. Representation matters. We want everyone in our community to feel welcome, to give them a voice, and to lift them up. And it’s our responsibility to clean up our house.

We’re doing a lot of things to improve CMX Summit for 2017, including:

  • Combining CMX Summit West and East into one event with 600-700 attendees
  • Moving the event to Los Angeles and expanding it into a two day event, for a more powerful community experience
  • Hosting the conference in September based on community feedback

Perhaps the biggest improvement we’re making is re-upping our commitment to diversity and inclusion on stage.

Learn more About CMX Summit 2017

Speakers on stage for a Q&A session at CMX Summit West 2016

Speakers on stage for a Q&A session at CMX Summit West 2016

Before we take a look at the practical changes for CMX Summit 2017…

A Look Into the History of CMX Summit

Our first conference took place in February 2014 in San Francisco. Since then, we’ve put on seven conferences. CMX Summit 2017 will be our eighth show! We’ve worked with 93 different speakers to bring their content and passion to our audience.

Of those 93 speakers, 55% have been women.

Evan Hamilton, who crafted the previous two CMX Summits, took our commitment to gender parity extremely seriously and brought in the best and brightest. While most tech-adjacent fields suffer from gender imbalance, community skews highly toward women. Women make up 60%+ of our attendees and perhaps an even more significant portion of community professionals at large.

Too often, too many conferences declare, “We got women, done!” Gender diversity is only step one for a conference looking to make a serious investment in diversity and inclusion.

When you look at our stage from any other statistic, it’s pretty abysmal. Only 14% of our past speakers were people of color. If you break apart each show, numbers can go into the single digit percentages. We have work to do.

David Spinks CEO CMX Summit June 2014

Our CEO David Spinks (in a full suit!?) at our second CMX Summit – in NYC 2014

What Will Diversity and Inclusion on Stage Look Like at CMX Summit 2017?

Without goals, you aren’t going anywhere. Our demographic goals are based on US population percentage stats. For CMX Summit 2017, our internal speaker representation goals are created around:

  • Gender (50% women)
  • Race (min 36% people of color)
  • LGBTQ (min 8%)
  • Returning (max 33%) vs new speakers
  • Four in-depth tracks (support, employee engagement, developer relations, and retention/engagement, max 6 each)
  • Keynote presentation variation from inspirational to ROI-focused in topic and from CEOs to community members presenting (max 11)

This is certainly just a beginning of diversity and inclusion goals for the CMX Summit stage.

Finding a perfect approach to diversity is tough. I write this realizing that you don’t always know the specifics of someone’s demographics. We also know there are many more groups of people we haven’t made explicit commitments to this year. Despite this, we want to make our event welcoming to them, and will make sure our stage accommodates them, and we may add stage lineup goals around these areas for future Summits.

This includes, but isn’t limited to: disabled (both visible and invisible); neurodiverse people; specific space for trans, agender, and non-binary folks outside the queer banner; age minorities; and working class people and people experiencing poverty.

Outside the stage, we are making other changes to our conference, including (but not limited to):

  • An enforced code of conduct and anti-harassment policy
  • An accessible venue, including our stage
  • Gender-neutral restrooms
  • Meal accommodations for dietary restrictions
  • Nursing room, provided if needed
  • Introvert zone (envisioned originally by Evan Hamilton)
CMX Summit West 2016

Silly CMX Summit Goers at West 2016 (before we decided to combine our regional conferences into one annual event)

How We Support and Compensate Our Speakers at CMX Summit 2017

As we get closer to our conference dates in September, we will share a whole lot more about CMX Summit changes and will continue to be transparent. As we seek intentional inclusion, we must reconsider our old habits and processes to better understand our strengths, weaknesses, and where we need to change.

An investment in diversity and inclusion on stage means we need to provide for our speakers. Monetary compensation is a real barrier. Too often marginalized peoples are not given fair compensation for their work. Or, as the saying goes, “my rent/mortgage can’t be paid in ‘exposure.’” We’ve also heard horror stories from speakers from marginalized groups who are told the conference can’t fund them, while privileged counterparts are given accommodations, travel, and large speaking fees.

Many of you may not know that CMX itself is a small startup with only four employees! CMX Summit runs on a lean budget, and CMX depends on conference revenue in order to keep our organization operational. It’s currently our biggest annual source of income and literally pays our paychecks. But this doesn’t mean we’re rolling in the money.

Breakout discussions at the second CMX Summit

The Numbers

CMX West 2016:

  • Income (tickets+sponsorship) $255,409.54
  • Budget $118,037.86
  • Total Profit/Loss $137,371.68

CMX East 2016:

  • Income (tickets+sponsorship) $157,162.73
  • Budget $94,122.55
  • Total Profit/Loss $63,040.18

As we combine CMX Summit forces, our projected 2017 budget will be somewhere between $234,419 – $341,037, depending on ticket sales velocity. We have a profit goal of $220,000.

So how will our speaker program balance CMX’s own income needs, a lean budget, inclusion goals, and generally making our speakers feel appreciated (all the while ensuring our attendees know that they’re getting a premium experience)?

CMX Summit will provide the following for our speakers, regardless of who they are:

  • $100 donation to a 501(c)3 charity of the speaker’s choice
  • 1 comp’d ticket to give to someone of their choosing
  • Up to $400 reimbursement on travel (flight, train, bus, mpg)
  • An invitation to our VIP dinner
  • Advice, support, and feedback for deciding on topics, building content, presenting, etc.

You’ll notice that, with our lean budget, speaker honorariums are not included in that list. One day that might change! But for now we are unable to pay speakers. We must be consistent with that policy for all speakers.

This means we are probably going to be turned down by many “big name” speakers. We will also hear back from folks who command speaking fees in the tens of thousands of dollars, who we will have to turn down.

This also means because we cannot cover full travel (depending where you live) or accommodations, we will likely have speakers from marginalized groups who cannot afford to speak.

This post is public and everything here is open because we are accountable to our community for what CMX Summit shows about our values as an organization.

We want everyone to know how we choose our lineup and what we can provide for speakers, attendees, sponsors. We want to share where we stand in the ecosystem of conferences. We want you… all of you… to feel welcome at our show.

We do not take this responsibility lightly.

Questions or Feedback?

We love practical feedback and suggestions of changes and enhancements. If you have any feedback on how we can improve our commitment to diversity and inclusion, please email us at [email protected]

We’re listening and will respond.

Questions about the event? Get in touch with us: [email protected]

Want to speak? We are still accepting pitches through the end of March: Apply here

Want to sponsor? We have traditional sponsorships available, or we’d love to explore inclusion specific sponsorships with your company to make our event more accessible: Email [email protected]

Want to attend? Snag your ticket

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erica mcgillivray

erica mcgillivray | @emcgillivray

Erica is the Director of Events at CMX. She is a proven community manager, events manager, and author. Previously, Erica wrangled an online marketing and SEO-focused community of 600,000 at Moz. She’s also a founder of GeekGirlCon, an all-volunteer nonprofit. Erica has a comic book collection that’s an earthquake hazard. Follow her at @emcgillivray.