07.24.2018

Great events don’t just happen; they are crafted and curated. Speakers can make or break a conference. At a professional conference like CMX Summit, they are the magic dust. Everyone has opinions around their favorite speakers, how to craft a great talk, and who’s ready to be on stage.

Every CMX Summit, we have this conversation again and aim to curate the absolute best lineup possible. 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, and since 2017, our continued commitment to greater inclusion. We’re grateful for the honest, critical feedback we’ve gotten in past years from those who’ve helped shaped change on our stage.

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. It’s our responsibility to clean up our house, and each year, re-up our commitment to diversity and inclusion onstage.

Learn more About CMX Summit 2018

Haley, Lola, and Brian are leaving the CMX Summit stage
Haley Woods, Lola Omolola, and Brian Copeland get a standing ovation as they leave the CMX Summit 2017 stage.

Before we take a look at the practical changes for CMX Summit 2018…

The history of CMX Summit

The first CMX Summit took place in February of 2014 in San Francisco. Since then, we’ve put on eight conferences! CMX Summit 2017 marked a huge change for Summit in that we combined our twice-yearly shows into one annual show, and we expanded into two full conference days.

Since 2014, 126 different speakers have brought their content and enthusiasm to our audience. Of those 126 speakers, 58% have been women.

A big thanks to Evan Hamilton, who crafted several CMX Summits and took our commitment to gender parity extremely seriously. While many tech-adjacent fields suffer from gender imbalance, community skews highly toward women, with women accounting for over 60% of our attendees, and perhaps an even more significant portion of community professionals at large.

Too often conferences declare, “We got women, job done!” Binary gender inclusion 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 abysmal. Only 20% 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.

Monica getting on stage at CMX Summit 2017
Monica Fernandez at CMX Summit 2017.

What will 2018’s stage inclusion look like?

For every project, you need goals. Our demographic goals are based on US population percentage statistics. For CMX Summit 2018, our internal speaker representation goals are:

  • Gender (50%+ women or nonbinary folx)
  • Race (min 36% people of color)
  • LGBTQ (min 10%)
  • Returning (max 33%) vs new speakers
  • 2 emcees
  • 3 keynotes
  • 4 extended presentations with audience interactive competent
  • 14 20-minute tactical sessions

Every year, we work to iterate and improve on our approach. Finding a perfect approach to stage programming is tough. For example, you don’t always know the specifics of someone’s demographics, and we also know our explicit commitments don’t cover every group. In general, we want to make our event and stage welcoming, and we adjust and change our goals for future Summits.

Missing groups our goals don’t currently cover include, but aren’t limited to: disabled people (both visible and invisible disabilities); 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 have other inclusion policies, and are always adding to our show:

  • 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)

Leila does a book signing at CMX Summit 2017
Leila Janah signs her book after her CMX Summit 2017 talk.

How we support and compensate our speakers at CMX Summit 2018

As we get closer to our October conference, we will continue to share and be transparent about our CMX Summit plans. 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 on stage means we must provide for our speakers. Monetary compensation and fair compensation for work is a real barrier. Or, as the saying goes, “my rent/mortgage can’t be paid in ‘exposure.’” We’ve all 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.

On the flipside, CMX itself is a tiny startup with only three full-time employees! CMX Summit runs on a lean budget, and CMX depends on conference revenue to keep our organization operational and afloat. It’s one of our larger sources of income and literally pays our paychecks. But this doesn’t mean we’re rolling in the money.

Angie and Casper on stage at CMX Summit 2017
Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile at CMX Summit 2017.

In fact, as we’ve made gambles to change and improve CMX Summit, we’ve ended up spending differently, and have had very serious conversations around how the conference impacts our bottom line. I’ve said the extremely real words, “I don’t want Summit to bankrupt CMX.”

Let’s look at the gambles and the numbers.

The Numbers

CMX 2017:

  • Income (tickets+sponsorship) $252,077
  • Expenses $218,332
  • Total Profit/Loss $33,744

CMX West 2016:

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

CMX East 2016:

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

Unlike past shows, our revenue for 2017 was not high enough to cover one person’s salary. (The expenses do not include my salary, or any of our other full-time employees.) Right now, we’re looking for Summit to give us a profit boost while working to make other programs sustainable and responsible for long-term financial stability of CMX. Conference income in both ticket sales and sponsorships can be far too variable and vulnerable year-to-year.

Our projected Summit 2018 expenses are between $228,887 – $266,374, depending on ticket sales velocity. We have a net profit goal of $50,000.

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 a premium experience for our attendees?

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

  • $100 honorarium or 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 $500 reimbursement on travel (flight, train, bus, mpg)
  • An invitation to our VIP dinner
  • 1 free year of CMX Pro, our exclusive paid community (value $249)
  • Advice, support, and feedback for deciding on topics, building content, presenting, etc.

You’ll notice speaker honorariums are not included on our list. We hope one day to change this! But for now we are unable to pay speakers.

This means we may to be turned down by many “big name” speakers, who command speaking fees in the tens of thousands of dollars. About a month ago, I said no to a speaker who asked for $20,000, plus full travel, which would be over 7% of total budget.

Our budget also means because we cannot cover full travel — depending where you live — or accommodations, we will likely have speakers from marginalized groups or those who don’t work for a corporation willing to cover their travel who simply cannot afford to speak.

My first goal for speaker compensation is to cover travel and accommodations. And my second is for real honorariums.

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

We want to provide an example of how we choose our lineup, and inform everyone of what we can provide for speakers, attendees, volunteers, scholarship recipients, and 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, and we want to share our future goals for the CMX Summit as well.

Marya at CMX Summit 2018
Marya Bangee is interviewed by Erica McGillivray (me) at CMX Summit 2017.

Questions or Feedback?

We love practical feedback and suggestions for changes and enhancements. If you have any feedback on how we can improve our commitment inclusion or what our show offers, please email us at [email protected].

We’re listening and will respond.

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

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 David at [email protected].

Want to attend? Snag your ticket.

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erica mcgillivray

erica mcgillivray | @emcgillivray

Erica is the Director of Product Strategy and Community Experience 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, a Seattle nonprofit. Erica has a comic book collection that’s an earthquake hazard. Follow her at @emcgillivray.