It’s been a year since we officially launched the SHIFT Speaker Database at the Bristol Technology Festival 2021. In that time, the project has really taken off – we now have a fully functioning database, populated with over 60 diverse experts ready to speak on their chosen subjects. Event organisers around the South West are using this resource to expand their networks, enrich their events with more expertise and ensure everyone is invited to the stage.

This momentum is inspiring; we’re so pleased with the calibre of talent already on the database, reinforcing what we already knew. It’s also been rewarding to watch people share their wisdom at events they may have otherwise never been a part of. The database has also acted as a great way to encourage new speakers to get out of their comfort zone, giving them a platform before they have an established stand alone reputation.

“Crucially, they don’t have to speak on why they’re different – unless they want to. They speak on what they’re experts in.”

The SHIFT Speaker Database is evergrowing – which is a very exciting prospect. We’re only at the beginning and we know there are so many more experts that we are yet to reach. Alongside everyone who we just haven’t met yet, more talent is coming to the South West’s tech and digital sector every day. Our ambition is to make the database as exhaustive as possible to have maximum value. To achieve this, we need you. Sign up for the SHIFT Speaker Database here.

Growing the database

To clarify, when we say diverse, we mean those from the LGBT+ community, women, trans and non-binary individuals, those of Black and Asian heritage, neurodivergent and disabled individuals. Crucially, they don’t have to speak on why they’re different – unless they want to. They speak on what they’re experts in. 

Bristol hosts a plethora of events; there is so much happening in the tech sector here. To complement this, there are so many experts prepared to discuss everything from data science to UX design, from raising investment to cybersecurity. Unfortunately, too many of these events don’t have diverse representation.

Joyann Boyce, Culture & Inclusion Consultant, techSPARK explains how you can help us build out this platform and solve this problem: “When Speaking with event organisers, they repeatability say, ‘we couldn’t find anyone’ or ‘There are no x people in this sector outside of London.’

A white woman with blonde hair is standing in front of a crowd holding a mic

“But I know speakers from a range of diverse backgrounds with technical experience are already out there and are keen to get involved, so it’s not a lack of people that is the problem.

“Once we had identified the issue is sometimes a case of people having limited networks, we decided to design the SHIFT Speaker Database to make an accessible resource event organisers can browse when searching for speakers. Rather than tapping into the same circles, anyone can access the database to ensure their event has a diverse lineup of experts. And since individuals have volunteered to be on the database, organisers know they’re already interested in speaking.

“When we started the database, originally we were looking to prove the theory. The next goal is to see if we can get it to 150 in the South West. The first cohort was very much based on my network and very much based on Bristol, but we want to hear from diverse speakers from across the South West from Exeter, up to Gloucester. Now we’re out of the pandemic, there is scope to bring these people together for events, meetups and conferences that will come around across the region. This next phase is really to build, to grow and to promote the database as much as possible for all the in person events coming up.”

Event planners can get involved by searching on the database when you’re looking for your next speaker. We have connected people’s LinkedIn and Twitter accounts so that speakers can be contacted directly, however if event planners would like a warm introduction, they can submit a request to Joyann.

“Tech is the future and if marginalised and underrepresented people aren’t included, we’re going to be completely excluded from the future. In every single thing we do, we need to be seen as and unknown as experts.”

If you have booked speakers and see they’re not on the database, please do encourgae them to join it. The more people can share the database with their networks the better – we’re always on the lookout for more speakers to add and to tell more event organisers about its existence.

And if you fit the criteria to be on the database – please do submit your interest here!

Enriching events

An Asian women who is wearing a hijab is standing at a podium with a microphone and laptop in front of her

There’s always more work to be done to create inclusive workplaces. Joyann tells us more about how important this is: “Tech is the future and if marginalised and underrepresented people aren’t included, we’re going to be completely excluded from the future. In every single thing we do, we need to be seen as and unknown as experts.”

“It’s not a pipeline issue, the talent is there”

Joyann says the way we can start to target this problem is, “first by awareness, and then saturation.” Too often people fall into old habits of hiring their friends and acquaintances, without putting in the work to branch out and connect with a more diverse group. This breeds the rhetoric that the issue is a lack of talent – which simply isn’t the case. Creating the speaker database is just one example of how we can rewrite this false narrative and engender change.

“We need diversity and inclusion initiatives because we need to continue emphasising that the talent is there. It’s not a pipeline issue, the talent is there. We need to build up role models for future talent, and expand everyone’s network, not siloed,” explains Joyann.

More than anything, we need experts to join the database. If you’re in tech and you’ve been working on something, you’re an expert in that subject matter. Being apart of the database is a way to increase your profile on your expertise.

Joyann adds, “A lot of the times individuals who have marginalised and underrepresented backgrounds in tech only get requested to speak to talk about diversity. We’re trying to break that norm. So being part of this database is letting people know what you speak about, and taking ownership of your skills and knowledge in the wider community.”

So if you have expertise in tech and happen to belong to an underrepresented group, please sign up for the SHIFT Speaker Database today. Whether you’re an experienced speaker or new to the game, help us shine a light on the wealth of exceptional diverse talent we have here in the South West. If you are a first time speaker, check out our advice on preparing for your first talk here.