On increasing diversity and equity in our *CL conferences: notes from D&I Joint Affinity Groups Meeting

The D&I committee and local organizers at EMNLP, held a joint affinity groups meeting at EMNLP. During this meeting, we brainstormed together about how we can make our conferences more inclusive and diverse. Here we summarize the major points discussed. We hope that this feedback helps the ACL D&I committee, as well as the ongoing and future conference D&I teams to keep making progress towards the very important goal of increasing access to these conferences.

  • Money is one of the biggest challenges. The common thread in recent conferences, including ACL 2022, NAACL 2022, and EMNLP 2022, is that there is not enough money to support members of the community that need financial support. Some points regarding this:
    • There is a concern regarding how much the special D&I sponsorship package is being advertised. Do sponsors know that there is this special package? It is listed on the brochure, but it’s at the very end. Perhaps instead of having a separate package for D&I we should have a % of the sponsorship earmarked for D&I with the option to allow sponsors to allocate more to that fund.
    • Can we have a yearound mechanism to accept funds for D&I initiatives? Often the fiscal cycles of the sponsors do not align with our conference timeline. We can enable a mechanism to donate to a general D&I pot year round.
    • The D&I budget becomes thinner when we have to pay back to ACL for registration of participants receiving conference waivers. It is not clear why this is the current policy, but if this would change, this money could be reallocated differently.
    • Another way to stretch the money is to have D&I recipients be volunteers, currently this is optional, but perhaps this could be made a default. The idea being that by becoming volunteers, newcomers will have an easier experience networking and learning how to take full advantage of the conference.
    • Maybe the ACL can consider having a paid staff to actively engage with sponsorship opportunities.
  • Can we facilitate booking tickets for subsidy recipients? For many, footing the airplane ticket, even if temporary, is complicated, so having someone at ACL that can handle their booking for them will make the whole experience less stressful.
  • There is almost no support for attendees with hearing challenges. Can we have at least one interpreter assigned to main sessions and perhaps some of the posters/talks? Scaling is a concern here.
  • Online fees are still very high. Can we have a more transparent mechanism to set the prices? Can we have a scaling registration price? Other conferences do a better job at this.
  • Can we bring back the big brother/sister program where newcomers are paired with a more experienced attendee?
  • Bring back student lunches, and include postdocs.
  • The virtual component still needs improvement. We should not abandon the virtual aspect of the conference. In order to help ensure the smooth hand-over from one D&I committee to the next, it would be useful to have the current committee (or one of its members) become an advisor member to the next one, so that their experience and knowledge is passed on. This would help the new D&I committees improve on the practices already tested, learn from their mistakes, etc.