Fostering Inclusive Developer Communities
If you are working as a developer advocate or considering starting your own developer community, it is important to understand what makes a safe space to share, learn, and socialize in online spaces such as Discord, Slack, forums, and other spaces.
You may be thinking that because folks are joining to share about code and technical topics that this is not necessary but it couldn't be farther from the truth.
Here I will outline based on my experience as a developer advocate, community builder, and community member some basic things to consider and strategies to promote inclusivity in your online communities.
As you read through here if you feel I have gotten anything wrong, reach out to me or leave a comment. I am always learning as well and would love to hear more perspectives on this important topic.
What is an inclusive developer community?
A community that prioritizes being a safe, equitable, and supportive space for all members regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sex, gender, size, skillset, experience, education, primary language, income or any other trait.
What are some reasons a person in my community would feel excluded?
If you have been fortunate to never feel unsafe in an online space, you will need to imagine if that were different. Take these scenarios for example:
👎 Asking a code question and being dismissed or insulted versus educated. ("you should have Googled that, it's simple")
👎 Not being able to afford a new computer but someone joking that they don't know how you can code on the machine you are using after you shared your setup pic
👎 You completed a code review and missed something - another reviewer insulted your ability to review
👎 Having your gender assumed in conversations (she/he said...)
👎 Offering a solution that is incorrect and instead of helping you learn, you are insulted and asked why you would suggest that
Unfortunately this list could go on, but the takeaway here is to leverage empathy and listen/talk to folks from other backgrounds than yours.
I don't want anyone to feel unwelcome, what can I do?
- Set up community rules that must be accepted prior to joining. Some ideas include:
- including what is not allowed such as profanity, harassment, NSFW content, impersonation, SPAM etc.
- focus on what IS acceptable behavior such as using gender neutral terminology, giving and accepting feedback without arguing, asking clear questions, leading with kindness
- offer a clear way to report anything that makes your members feel unsafe such as a mods role in discord or an email if it's a forum without DM capabilites.
- Leverage bot-assisted moderation tools where available. Some discord examples:
- Be vigilant in responding to folks who break the rules and addressing any concerns in your community. Over time, other community moderators will help you with this and everyone will also learn by folks who lead by example.
- Foster an open line of communication and ask for feedback from your community on how the community can be improved.
- Call out the good! See two community members collaborating well on a solution? Give them a shout out.
Still looking for more inspiration? I asked some fellow community builders their thoughts on fostering inclusivity in communites. Check them out and join their communites to see how others are approaching this topic.
At the outset of founding EddieHub I found that the language being used by some of the community members in the Discord server was too "bro", which deterred other community members from finding their voice and interacting and participating in our discussions.
So, I created EddieBot. This is a bot which promotes inclusive language, by automatically highlighting words which are gender favouring, polarising, race related, religion inconsiderate and unequal phrasing - and suggesting alternatives.
I felt that this strategy would promote greater inclusivity, rather than creating separate channels on the Discord server for say "women only" or "juniors in tech", which might instead make some community members feel restricted to what channels they would feel safe in. The aim was for everyone to find a voice within the community as a whole.
At first EddieBot proved to be an unpopular decision. We lost quite a lot of members who simply did not want to consider more carefully the language they used and how they interacted with others. Whilst this drop in numbers did worry some of our moderators, for me it did not. If someone is not willing to be considerate and inclusive of others, they have no place in EddieHub. We decided to hold strong and in fact, in a short space of time we found members did return and also that word spread that we did take inclusivity seriously.
Graham, currently in the process of building a devrel community, offers these strategies when you are onboarding new members.
There are two additional things you can do to make a community inclusive.
The first is to make sure that there are clear instructions and processes for new members to get up to speed quickly with what is going on in the community, not just the rules.
Ideally a buddy system to show people around, or if your community cannot manage that yet, some docs combined with quick videos (so people can consume content in their preferred medium) can really help. This can really help minimise the “overwhelm” of joining a new community with many channels and groups chatting and not knowing where to jump in first!
Secondly, learn the basics of accessibility.
With so many people having disabilities (mainly hidden), adding captions to audio and video and providing information in accessible formats (for example, avoid pictures of text, add tags to PDFs if you use them etc.) can go a very long way to making your community as accessible as possible. Nobody expects you to be an accessibility expert overnight, but there are a lot of simple steps you can take to make your content enjoyable by all!
And finally Zona, developer and founder of the Zona Tribe community, offers their perspective on why fostering inclusivity is so important and a few strategies to consider.
Fostering inclusivity in a community is very crucial for creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all members. The heart of the Zona Tribe is built around friendliness, inclusivity, and a chill environment. I wanted to create a safe space where all are welcome, no matter what your background or beliefs are. Encouraging active listening, holding people accountable, and encouraging collaboration and teamwork are also important strategies to foster inclusivity in a community. I also wanted to provide quality education and training in my community. Hosting events such as mini-conferences, mental health checks, and even fun events such as anime/movie watch parties are all great ways to provide resources to members of my community.
I believe fostering inclusivity is important in developer communities because it promotes diversity of thought and experience, which leads to more innovative and effective solutions to problems. Inclusive communities also make it more likely that underrepresented groups will feel welcome and supported, leading to a more diverse workforce and a better overall industry.
Thank you for reading and please share your thoughts below on what makes a great and inclusive dev community. Together we can all make tech a great place for everyone!
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