Guest post from Emily Omier (@EmilyOmier), a strategic content marketing consultant and contributor at The New Stack
“There’s my friend Iris,” shouted my then-almost-four-year-old daughter as we walked up to the Marriott Marquis on the first day of KubeCon San Diego – her second day at the KubeCon childcare, having started on Day Zero. I was excited to be there, too, but not in the same jumping-up-and-down way she was.
I had assumed that conferences – or any kind of travel for work – were out of the question, at least for another ten years. My husband died after a brief and intense battle with lymphoma when our daughter was an infant. My own mother died a year later, my dad has dementia and my in-laws are neither willing or able to watch my daughter for a week or even a couple hours. This makes me, as a friend puts it, a ‘hardcore’ single parent. I prefer to say that my daughter and I are a team, but the truth is she’s not much of a team player when it comes to professional events.
When I was poking around the KubeCon site last spring, however, I noticed something: a link on the drop-down menu about childcare.
Childcare for all
On-site childcare is different from the other initiatives around diversity at KubeCon. First of all, access to high-quality, on-site childcare is something money can’t buy easily. Sure, in theory you could have a nanny travel with you, but unless you already have a full-time nanny (and one who has no other responsibilities to her own family), this isn’t realistic.
Second, there’s no application, no waiting to see if you’ve been accepted. Third, it’s open to anyone attending KubeCon. Sure, women are more likely to be single parents and more likely to be responsible childcare, but out of over 10,000 attendees there were surely some single dads, too. Not only that, what if two parents both want to attend KubeCon? What if two parents have to travel for work the same week?
Not everyone who benefits from on-site childcare fits the usual definition of ‘underrepresented,’ which I think of as a good thing. It removes a very real barrier to attending, one that’s more likely to keep people like me at home but ultimately presents a challenge for almost any parent.
Spreading the word
I mentioned my daughter’s presence at KubeCon to most of the people I spoke with at KubeCon. There were two common responses:
“What? Where is she? There’s childcare here?”
“I wish I had brought my kids.”
I suspect that most people didn’t even think to look for a childcare option, assuming, like I did, that conferences just don’t provide childcare. There were 12,000 attendees at KubeCon – and probably under 20 kids in the childcare room.
Undoubtedly, hundreds of people did not attended KubeCon because they did not have the childcare riddle solved. This probably includes all types of attendees – people who didn’t apply to speak, who work for a sponsor company but couldn’t come to work at the booth, who simply wanted to attend the conference to learn and network.
The next generation
On the last day of the conference, I was wandering the exhibit hall when I ran into a dad and his five-year-old daughter collecting bouncy balls and plushies from the sponsors. We chatted about bringing kids to conferences, and he mentioned that it was his daughter’s second KubeCon.
When I was growing up, my mother taught mountaineering for Outward Bound. Mountain climbing is not exactly a traditional career choice for a woman, but it never occurred to me, as a young girl, that I didn’t belong. Talking to this dad and his daughter, I realized that bringing kids to events like KubeCon ultimately sends a powerful message of belonging: If our daughters are welcome to collect plushies when they’re five, they’ll never doubt the fact that they should be the CEO behind one of those booths when they’re 30.
Regardless, my daughter is excited to go to KubeCon + CloudNativeCon in Amsterdam. And this time, I’ll make time to take her around the exhibit hall. Look for us there: I’ll be the one challenging exhibitors to explain what their company does to a four-and-a-half year old.
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