Female-free speaker list causes PHP show to collapse when diversity-oriented devs jump ship

Presenters withdraw from the PHP Central Europe conference, show organizers call it quits

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Under the heading, "Diversity Matters!" the website for the PHP Central Europe developer conference (PHP.CE) says, "PHP Central Europe Conference is committed to creating a conference that is as inclusive as possible."

Over the weekend, organizers of the conference, which had been scheduled for October 4-6 in Dresden, Germany, ended the event evermore after two scheduled speakers issued public statements that they would not be attending this year, citing concerns about the lack of diversity.

PHP.CE on Saturday posted a note on its website, stating "The conference has been cancelled and won't be continued*. Sorry for the inconvenience."

The asterisk points to three online posts as the reason for the decision. The first, a July 17 Tweet from Karl Hughes, CTO of educational consultancy The Graide Network, chastises the conference for a speaker list made up entirely of white men.

Larry Garfield, director of developer experience at Platform.sh and someone who has personal experience with code of conduct controversies, raised the issue in a July 19 blog post. He said he had decided to skip PHP.CE this year because the speaker list didn't include a single woman.

Garfield expressed sympathy for the conference organizers, saying he knows it can be challenging to arrange a diverse, inclusive lineup at tech events. He said he had emailed two other conference speakers who, like him, had multiple speaking slots to gauge interest of giving their second slots away to female presenters.

His plan was to work with conference organizers to subsidize travel costs, knowing that the expense of international travel might be deterring women and other underrepresented groups from submitting presentation proposals.

"Unfortunately, the organizers indicated they were not open to such an arrangement," wrote Garfield. "According to them, they had only a single woman submit a session proposal this year despite having women present in previous years, and hers was a repeat from a local conference last year. They were also firm that the Call For Papers was done and over and they're not open to reaching out to new people now."

Dariusz Grzesista, event manager at Conferia and one of the conference organizers, disputed Garfield's characterization of events on Twitter, insisting that those involved in the conference wanted to discuss the proposal but then Garfield went public with his complaint.

Grzesista has argued that diversity and inclusion are worthy goals but should not come at the expense of presentation quality.

On July 24, software developer Mark Baker said he too had decided to withdraw from speaking at the conference, citing similar reasons to Garfield.

"It wasn’t an easy decision to make, because I do enjoy sharing my coding passion; but having advocated for diversity at PHP developer conferences for the last several years, I have to follow my beliefs that diversity should be a cornerstone of the PHP developer community," said Baker in his blog post. "Diversity matters more to me than speaking."

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Word of the conference's cancellation prompted predictable back and forth on social media, with some people appreciative of the speakers who withdrew and others – possibly including outrage-chumming bots – criticizing them for being "snowflakes" and supporting "social justice warriors."

Political clashes have become commonplace in code communities; having eaten the world, software has imported politics as a dependency. Node.js, Python, Django, and Redis, CouchDB and LLVM have all dealt with issues related to diversity, inclusiveness, offensive language or offensive behavior. So too have Google (James Damore), Mozilla (Brendan Eich) and YouTube, so say nothing of numerous complaints against tech industry sexual harassment and discrimination in recent years.

The Register asked one of those involved whether a few social media posts had really derailed the conference. The individual, who asked not to be named presumably because these issues generate more heat than light, suggested the cancellation may reflect poor ticket sales more than anything else.

Yet public posts about the absence of women at a conference can affect ticket sales. As PHP Central Europe's Twitter account put it, "After Crell's action [blog post] our sales stopped completely…."

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