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Making Our Events More Inclusive For Those Under 21 (and Also Everyone Else)

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On Saturday, Benjamin Hollway, a 16 year old front-end developer, wrote a post about his recent experiences attending industry events. He’s been coding since he was eight, and earlier this year he was shortlisted for Netmag’s Emerging Talent category. Yet none of the people in this category are able to participate fully in the sort of activities most of us take for granted.

Last week, Benjamin attended an event I spoke at in London. He’d saved up to buy a ticket and travel up to the conference, and after the event he followed everyone to the after party to chat about the conference and meet some of the speakers. Everyone was allowed in, but he was turned away at the door and had to head back home early.

This isn’t the first time he’s experienced this, and I remember far too well the same happening to me as well. Four years ago, I wrote about some of the difficulties I’d experienced as a young developer when it came to attending events. A lot of the meetups I wanted to go to were held in bars, and if there was someone checking IDs at the door, I couldn’t go.

After parties are a really important part of a conference. They’re where we get to network, ask speakers questions about the talk they’ve just given, and generally have a good time meeting like-minded people. But so many of these after parties, and even events, are held in pubs and bars, meaning they’re completely off-limits to young people.

I feel lucky that I live in a country where I could access most events when I turned 18 (although I have been prevented from going into others that are held in 21-or-over bars). In other countries, I wouldn’t be able to attend some events until I was 21.

I know a lot of amazingly smart designers and developers who are under 18, and many of them are physically prevented from attending an industry event or after party after traveling all the way up and forking out often hundreds of pounds out of their own pocket to attend. The more young people we encourage to join the fold, the more we are excluding from these events.

Holding events in age-restricted venues doesn’t just exclude those under 21. It also turns away people who don’t drink for medical and personal reasons, or because of their faith, such as Muslims. They can’t simply wait until they get older before they can attend, some of people will never be able to attend.

If you’re an event or meetup organizer, please don’t exclude young designers and developers by holding your event in age-restricted venues. When London Web Standards realized that young developers who wanted to go couldn’t attend, they switched to holding their events in offices, making them accessible to both young people and people who would be excluded because of their faith, or for other reasons. They were delighted when young developers started to turn up to their events.

There are a lot more creative things to do around an event that don’t involve hanging around at a noisy bar, which is something Rachel Andrew wrote about last year:

Photo or history walks around cities can be attractive to a lot of people in our industry and need no more organizing than someone who knows the area and can take attendees around local landmarks and interesting spots for photographs. New Adventures earlier this year had a photo walk, and a typography walk round Brighton was organized around Ampersand conference.

Finally, how about taking Benjamin’s suggestion and asking young people to speak at your event? They have a huge amount to offer, and will help suggest ways to make your event more open, not just to those under 18, but also to groups of people you may not have even considered.

Oh, and if your event is open to young people, please add it to the Lanyrd list I’ve created for events open to those under 21 so that others can find it.

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