Eva joined me at the Online News Association convention in Atlanta last week, where I spoke about civic data on Thursday, and took part in a responsive design panel on Friday. In her one year on this earth, she’s also attended NewsFoo in Phoenix, AAJA’s national convention in New York and South by Southwest in Austin. It’s always great to see colleagues and heroes of mine at these sorts of things, even though confabs require constant natural language processing (you talk to people ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT) and generally take place at sprawling Sheratons and Marriotts, which can feel impersonal. But I wouldn’t even go if I weren’t able to bring my Baby E along. Which is why I hope conferences think more caregiving when trying to attract interesting speakers and attendees.
Eva is able to go with me to these professional conferences partly because my husband is also an NPR employee, so we both have flexible jobs and bosses that allow for us both to be gone and take turns caring for the child while we’re also doing our jobs. But besides this week’s Mozilla Fest, which provides free, high-quality babysitting for all its attendees, most of the time these conferences don’t make considerations for caregivers.
At South by Southwest in March, a huge industry conference which many say has outgrown itself, I had to leave every three hours, give up my hard-won parking spots and drive through traffic snarls in order to nurse Eva, before turning around and rushing back to work. My colleague, Kate, who was there the year before, was forced to pump every few hours from the crowded bathrooms of the Austin Convention Center.
My primary reason for bringing Eva with me to these conventions is because I want to be near her even though I’m working. When I was nursing, I had to be near her since the alternative was tedious, mechanical pumping. But the bigger picture reason she comes with is that I think we should normalize the need. Moms, working or not, should be with their babies — and that general philosophy should be better embedded into our work cultures. Ideally, parents shouldn’t be forced into a choice between traveling for work and being with their children. A few relatively inexpensive fixes could help — conferences could make childcare available or offer a way for parents who are bringing their kids to connect and at the very least, make sure the sites chosen include places to change and feed babies.
As Anne Marie Slaughter writes, “The United States lags behind almost all other industrialized countries in providing the goods, services, and incentives that make it possible for women and men to be caregivers as well as breadwinners.”
By making caregivers and caregiving a consideration, diversity in conference rosters can include really interesting women who would might otherwise decide it’s not worth the trouble of attending sans baby. You’ve seen the photos of long lines for men’s rooms at tech conferences, signaling the dearth of women who take part in these events. Perhaps just thinking a little more about meeting the needs of caregivers could mean a more well-rounded group of conference participants, and richer experience for all.