Making EA groups more welcoming

This is a re­source for or­ga­niz­ers of EA groups who want to wel­come great peo­ple to their groups and events, in­clud­ing peo­ple from groups that we’re cur­rently largely miss­ing out on.

Why work on this?

There are lots of ways to make a group gen­er­ally friendly, pro­duc­tive, and en­joy­able. (See this doc­u­ment of tips from lo­cal or­ga­niz­ers.) But this doc­u­ment fo­cuses speci­fi­cally on ways to be wel­com­ing to peo­ple from groups that may not cur­rently feel very in­cluded at EA gath­er­ings.

Some failure modes:

  • Groups miss out on great peo­ple who per­ceive the group un­fa­vor­ably and never join.

  • Groups at­tract great peo­ple but then lose them as they en­counter things that put them off.

  • Ho­moge­nous groups miss out on tal­ent, ex­pe­rience, and in­for­ma­tion held by those who aren’t in the limited so­cial group they re­cruit from. We end up with lop­sided skill sets and the same con­ver­sa­tions again and again.

“Founder effect” in biol­ogy is when a few in­di­vi­d­u­als start a pop­u­la­tion which then has limited ge­netic di­ver­sity; the same thing can hap­pen in a so­cial sense. If a group is founded by a few peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar so­cial group who then re­cruit their friends, the move­ment can (with­out any­one in­tend­ing it) end up much nar­rower than it might be. A group founded by English-speak­ing up­per-mid­dle-class male util­i­tar­i­ans in their 20s might ac­ci­den­tally stay within that de­mo­graphic if it doesn’t make a con­scious effort to in­clude oth­ers.

Schel­ling’s dy­namic model of seg­re­ga­tion demon­strates how even a slight prefer­ence for one’s own kind can re­sult in mas­sive (un­in­ten­tional) seg­re­ga­tion. A move­ment stuck in a bub­ble can miss out on a wealth of view­points and skills.

Lastly, mean­ing will be read even where no par­tic­u­lar mean­ing was in­tended. If a cer­tain group is dras­ti­cally un­der­rep­re­sented (in lead­er­ship, in images on a web­site, or wher­ever), mem­bers of that group may come away with the im­pres­sion that they are not val­ued and that this is not the place for them. It takes con­scious effort to check that these kinds of dis­tor­tions aren’t hap­pen­ing.

Re­source:

EA Diver­sity: Un­pack­ing Pan­dora’s Box

Some ar­eas of di­ver­sity to think about

  • aca­demic/​pro­fes­sional background

  • age

  • class/​income

  • fam­ily struc­ture (sin­gle, part­ner/​part­ners, chil­dren, no chil­dren)

  • gen­der and gen­der expression

  • lan­guage spoken

  • men­tal health

  • nationality

  • neurodiversity

  • phys­i­cal abil­ity/​disability

  • poli­ti­cal/​eco­nomic ideology

  • race

  • re­li­gios­ity (whether some­one par­ti­ci­pates in re­li­gion) and re­li­gion (which re­li­gion)

  • sex­ual orientation

Recruitment

Try differ­ent meth­ods of list­ing events rather than just word-of-mouth (since peo­ple’s friends tend to re­sem­ble them de­mo­graph­i­cally). One group with a pop­u­la­tion very heavy on tech work­ers found that list­ing their events on Meetup.com helped bring in a more varied crowd.

Some­times group at­ten­ders can get the im­pres­sion that they are the only ones in a par­tic­u­lar cat­e­gory just through missed con­nec­tions. (One group had sev­eral par­ents who at­tended pe­ri­od­i­cally, but each thought they were the only par­ent be­cause they didn’t hap­pen to come on the same days.) An or­ga­nizer might men­tion, “I hope Ken­neth will come one of the days that you’re here; he’s also a med­i­cal stu­dent.” This works best for some kind of com­mon in­ter­est or oc­cu­pa­tion; when ap­plied to some­thing like race it takes on a zoo an­i­mal effect, (“Have you met Clara? She’s His­panic too!”)

Locations

Try to vary the event lo­ca­tion. The Bos­ton EA group found that older peo­ple mostly lived in the sub­urbs and owned cars, and younger peo­ple mostly lived in more ur­ban ar­eas and used pub­lic trans­porta­tion. So an ur­ban lo­ca­tion with no park­ing was difficult for most older peo­ple, and a sub­ur­ban lo­ca­tion with no pub­lic tran­sit was difficult for most younger peo­ple. Us­ing a va­ri­ety of lo­ca­tions means that both groups can make it to at least some events.

Women in some cities have re­ported heavy lev­els of street ha­rass­ment on their way to and from EA events in cer­tain ar­eas. Try ask­ing a few at­ten­dees if they had any prob­lems get­ting around the neigh­bor­hood, and try to host events in ar­eas with lower lev­els of street ha­rass­ment.

Dur­ing events

Provide nametags. For those who aren’t great with names or faces, and es­pe­cially for peo­ple with face blind­ness, they can help make con­ver­sa­tions eas­ier and warmer. The spe­cific di­ver­sity-re­lated rea­son for nametags is that no­body likes to be mis­taken for some­one who looks a bit like them (“I’m not Liang, I’m Emily. Do all Asian women re­ally look that much al­ike?”)

Try to avoid jar­gon and acronyms, which can make things con­fus­ing for new­com­ers. Either the group or­ga­nizer or some other des­ig­nated per­son can play “jar­gon catcher” rather than mak­ing new peo­ple guess or ask. When peo­ple use jar­gon, ask, “Could you men­tion what you mean by earn­ing to give?” or ex­plain, “AMF is the Against Malaria Foun­da­tion.”

Seek out peo­ple who seem sidelined, who came there with a friend and seem un­sure about the whole thing, or who may not know much about the topic of con­ver­sa­tion. Ask if they have ques­tions or if there are par­tic­u­lar things they’d be in­ter­ested in talk­ing about. Of course, they may ac­tu­ally not feel like talk­ing, so don’t force it.

Is the same per­son always tak­ing min­utes? Always tidy­ing up the space af­ter meet­ings? Always in charge of pro­vid­ing snacks? Try a policy of ro­tat­ing these tasks, so they don’t de­fault to be­ing as­signed by gen­der.

Re­source:

Re­cruit­ment and Re­ten­tion on Hard Mode, Kate Donovan

Phys­i­cally ac­cessible spaces

Thanks to Zoe Sav­it­sky for ma­te­rial.

You know who comes to your events, but you don’t know who con­sid­ers com­ing and de­cides that the has­sle of get­ting there, or of be­ing un­able to par­ti­ci­pate fully once they ar­rive, is not worth the trou­ble. Pro­vid­ing ac­com­mo­da­tions and in­for­ma­tion can help peo­ple ac­cess your events.

Provide a clear way to con­tact an or­ga­nizer (like an email ad­dress) to ask spe­cific ques­tions about the space. Provide more than one way to RSVP to an event (like tex­ting or emailing an or­ga­nizer) and not just some­thing like Face­book, which is hard to use for peo­ple with vi­sion im­pair­ment.

Provide in­for­ma­tion about a meet­ing space in an­nounce­ments. Even if a space’s ac­cessibil­ity is less than ideal, at least this al­lows peo­ple to make a de­ci­sion about whether go­ing is fea­si­ble for them. “Class­room B is to the left of the main en­trance and up a flight of stairs.“ “We’ll meet on the lower floor of Pan­era, which is ac­cessible via an ele­va­tor and has a wheelchair-ac­cessible bath­room.”

Some in­for­ma­tion to provide if pos­si­ble:

  • Is there park­ing nearby, par­tic­u­larly dis­abil­ity park­ing?

  • Is the venue easy to ac­cess by pub­lic trans­porta­tion?

  • Are the build­ing and the spe­cific meet­ing space wheelchair ac­cessible?

  • Is there a dis­abil­ity-ac­cessible bath­room with grab bars and a 32” door?

  • Are en­trance doors at least 32″ wide? Be­cause of the ADA, vir­tu­ally all pub­lic spaces in the US meet this stan­dard, but some older places do not.

If host­ing a lec­ture that will have a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion, con­sider that not ev­ery­one will be able to come to a micro­phone 5 feet off the ground to ask their ques­tion. Con­sider hav­ing wire­less mics that can be brought to peo­ple with mo­bil­ity im­pair­ments.

If us­ing printed ma­te­ri­als, have them available to email to peo­ple in digi­tal text for­mat so that some­one with vi­sion im­pair­ment can get a hand­out in doc­u­ment form and use a screen reader.

Try to find less noisy, less crowded venues. Peo­ple with hear­ing im­pair­ment, sen­si­tivity to noise, sen­si­tivity to touch, and other situ­a­tions can find it difficult to hear or pay at­ten­tion in these en­vi­ron­ments. (Not to say you can’t have so­cials at a pub, but don’t have all your events there.)

Food-re­lated concerns

It’s not always pos­si­ble to provide food or find a restau­rant that will suit ev­ery­one. But try to provide in­for­ma­tion about what kind of food will be available so peo­ple can de­cide if they want to eat be­fore­hand, bring their own food, etc. If you’re go­ing to a restau­rant, you might link to the menu so peo­ple can find out if there is food they can eat. Some restau­rants even post lists of their food that is ve­gan, gluten-free, etc.

When serv­ing drinks, it’s a good idea to provide some op­tions with­out caf­feine or al­co­hol. Even a pitcher of wa­ter is nicer than hav­ing to go find the tap or a wa­ter foun­tain. This is es­pe­cially use­ful for par­tic­u­lar groups of peo­ple who are sys­tem­at­i­cally af­fected:

  • Those who are preg­nant or breastfeeding

  • Those whose re­li­gion op­poses the use of psy­choac­tive substances

  • Those with med­i­cal con­di­tions or med­i­ca­tions that mix badly with alcohol

  • Those with a fam­ily or per­sonal his­tory of al­co­hol problems

Re­source:

Plan­ning an event with non-al­co­holic options

Men­tal health and self-care

Effec­tive al­tru­ism at­tracts some very con­scien­tious peo­ple with goals like “cause the flour­ish­ing of all be­ings.” …huh, what could go wrong?

For some peo­ple, feel­ings of guilt can be a wel­come mo­ti­va­tion to be more gen­er­ous or pro­duc­tive, but in oth­ers guilt can spiral out of con­trol. For some peo­ple, try­ing to save the world or avoid caus­ing harm be­comes ter­rify­ingly im­me­di­ate. The re­sult­ing mis­ery can be so par­a­lyz­ing that it makes the per­son much less able to help oth­ers.

The move­ment has some very im­pres­sive peo­ple, and it can be easy to feel lack­ing in com­par­i­son. While draw­ing in­spira­tion from other EAs can be mo­ti­vat­ing, we should re­mem­ber that what comes eas­ily for one per­son may be much harder for an­other. We should try to rec­og­nize when com­par­ing our­selves to oth­ers be­comes coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

While these prob­lems can hap­pen with­out a di­ag­nos­able ill­ness, de­pres­sion and anx­iety (as well as other men­tal health prob­lems) are fairly com­mon. Around 20% of young adults ex­pe­rience an epi­sode of men­tal ill­ness each year.

80,000 Hours writes in their ca­reer guide:

“Look af­ter your­self, and take care of the ba­sics. The ba­sics are get­ting enough sleep, ex­er­cis­ing, eat­ing right and main­tain­ing your clos­est friend­ships. All of these make a big differ­ence to your en­ergy and pro­duc­tivity, and pre­vent you from burn­ing out.

If you’re suffer­ing from a men­tal health is­sue – whether anx­iety, bipo­lar di­s­or­der, de­pres­sion or some­thing else – then make deal­ing with it or learn­ing to cope your top pri­or­ity. It is one of the best in­vest­ments you can ever make both for your own sake and your abil­ity to help oth­ers. We know peo­ple who took the time to fo­cus in­tensely on deal­ing with se­ri­ous men­tal health prob­lems and who, hav­ing found treat­ments and tech­niques that worked, have gone on to perform at the high­est level. . . . All the same ap­plies if you have a prob­lem with your phys­i­cal health – look af­ter your health first.”

Some ways to help group mem­bers here:

Bring up self-care, ei­ther for­mally or in­for­mally, as a topic of dis­cus­sion. (Ex­am­ple event.) Let peo­ple know this is an ok thing to talk about.

  • What helps keep you feel­ing mo­ti­vated?

  • When does the scale of the work that needs do­ing in the world feel in­spiring and when does it feel over­whelming?

  • How do you deal with un­cer­tainty about whether you are do­ing the right thing?

  • How do you de­cide how much of your time, money, and en­ergy to use for your own en­joy­ment and how much for the greater good?

Re­sources:

Pu­rity, anx­iety, and effec­tive altruism

Burnout and self-care

But I’m not do­ing enough: Deal­ing with guilt as an effec­tive altruist

Q&A from The Unit of Caring

Prac­ti­cal steps for self-care from Bos­ton EA

Fun does not pre­clude burnout

Feel free to reach out to me (Ju­lia); af­ter work­ing in the men­tal health field and ex­pe­rienc­ing de­pres­sion my­self, I have lots of thoughts on this.

Group mem­bers with children

Un­der­stand that a few hours’ babysit­ting may cost around $50. Many par­ents can’t af­ford to do this ev­ery time they want to come to an event, so ex­clud­ing chil­dren also ex­cludes their adults.

If it’s ok to bring kids, speci­fi­cally say that in event an­nounce­ments. Even if no­body says any­thing un­friendly, many par­ents are prob­a­bly won­der­ing, “Is it ok if I’m the only one bring­ing a child?” It makes a world of differ­ence to say, “I’m so glad you guys could come! It’s great hav­ing the next gen­er­a­tion here!” Or if they don’t bring their child, men­tion that it would be fine to do so if they want.

Try to vary the time of day and time of week when schedul­ing events. An evening meetup may be great for par­ents of a lit­tle baby who can sleep in the strol­ler, but ter­rible for par­ents of older kids who need to be in bed early. Add some lunchtime or af­ter­noon mee­tups to the mix.

Some op­tional steps, if you want to be par­tic­u­larly helpful:

  • If the par­ent is hav­ing a hard time jug­gling coat, shoes, baby, and bags, ask if you can hold any­thing.

  • If there’s a quiet space (like a bed­room or a sofa in an­other room) that you’re okay with them us­ing, offer to let the par­ent use it for feed­ing or hang­ing out with a fussy child. It’s prob­a­bly a good idea to men­tion this as a gen­eral offer be­fore the child gets fussy, so it doesn’t come across as a veiled com­plaint.

  • Offer to hold or su­per­vise the child while the par­ent goes to the bath­room or gets some­thing to eat.

  • Spend some time talk­ing with an older child—do they have ques­tions about the dis­cus­sion? What is their fa­vorite book? Do they like an­i­mals? Did they do any­thing fun this week?

At times, chil­dren’s noise and ac­tivity isn’t a good fit for events where adults want to con­cen­trate (es­pe­cially for peo­ple with at­ten­tion or sen­sory is­sues that make it hard to fo­cus with noise go­ing on). If a child is dis­rupt­ing an event, an or­ga­nizer can take the par­ent aside and figure out a plan (“I’m wor­ried that peo­ple can’t hear the dis­cus­sion well. Is there any­thing I can do to help? Would you be able to take your child to an­other room while she calms down?“)

Re­source:

On mak­ing spaces friendlier to parents

Ide­olog­i­cal and psy­cholog­i­cal diversity

“Be­cause of the math/​philos­o­phy/​util­i­tar­i­anism thing, we have a mas­sive prob­lem with in­tel­lec­tual mono­cul­ture. Of my friends, the ones I en­joy talk­ing about al­tru­ism the most with now are largely ac­tu­ally the ones who as­so­ci­ate least with the broader EA com­mu­nity, be­cause they have more in­ter­est­ing and novel per­spec­tives.”—Ben Kuhn

Peo­ple want to do good effec­tively for all kinds of rea­sons, and treat­ing util­i­tar­i­anism as a proxy for effec­tive al­tru­ism is con­fus­ing at best and alienat­ing at worst. Rather than try­ing to de­ter­mine how util­i­tar­ian some­one is, try fo­cus­ing on what­ever their mo­ti­va­tion is: a per­son may dis­agree with util­i­tar­i­anism but be very in­ter­ested in us­ing their time and re­sources more effec­tively.

Con­sider whether thought ex­per­i­ments are ac­tu­ally worth us­ing. The Trol­ley Prob­lem prob­a­bly isn’t the best thing to trot out to a new vis­i­tor (and isn’t par­tic­u­larly use­ful in most cases any­way, since there are quite a few ways to im­prove the world that don’t in­volve shov­ing any­one in front of trol­leys).

Re­mem­ber that peo­ple have differ­ent psy­cholog­i­cal mo­tives for en­gag­ing in al­tru­is­tic pro­jects. Some are mostly mo­ti­vated by a sense of it be­ing the right thing to do, with­out much emo­tion in­volved. Others have an in­tensely em­pa­thetic drive to ad­dress suffer­ing in the world. Peo­ple with a strong sense of em­pa­thy, as well as peo­ple pri­mar­ily driven by ab­stract rea­son­ing, can both steer their efforts with logic and ev­i­dence. Try to guide con­ver­sa­tions in di­rec­tions that are re­spect­ful of both log­i­cal and em­pa­thetic drives.

Han­dling dis­rup­tions in the group

It’s not pos­si­ble to make ev­ery­one in a group feel com­fortable all the time, so don’t ex­pect the im­pos­si­ble. But at times a per­son’s be­hav­ior is ha­bit­u­ally dis­rup­tive and needs to be ad­dressed. It can be very un­com­fortable for or­ga­niz­ers to ad­dress it with them, but by not tak­ing ac­tion you al­low the ex­clu­sion of other peo­ple who now find the group un­pleas­ant enough that they don’t want to be part of it.

Rather than silently tol­er­at­ing offen­sive com­ments, some group or­ga­niz­ers plan in ad­vance how they’ll re­spond (“That’s not okay,” or “We’re here to talk about al­tru­ism. If you’re not in­ter­ested in that, please stop de­railing the con­ver­sa­tion.”) Prac­tice in ad­vance.

Some groups have found that mem­bers spam the group’s email list or face­book group. It’s fine to have a mod­er­a­tion policy or ask a per­son to stop post­ing ir­rele­vant or barely-rele­vant ma­te­rial.

If you sense that some­one in the group is ha­rass­ing or bul­ly­ing some­one else, check in with the per­son/​peo­ple you think are be­ing both­ered. They may tell you, “No, it’s not a prob­lem,“ or they may be re­lieved that some­one no­ticed the situ­a­tion.

If some­one tells you a con­cern about an­other’s be­hav­ior, be care­ful about how you dis­close that in­for­ma­tion. The vic­tim/​sur­vivor may not want the other per­son to find out they’ve told any­one. Check with the vic­tim about the next steps you plan to take: “Is it okay with you if I talk to the other group or­ga­niz­ers, Alex and Mira, about the situ­a­tion?”

Even if you be­lieve some­thing ille­gal has oc­curred, un­der­stand that the pro­cess of deal­ing with law en­force­ment can be very stress­ful. Whether to con­tact the po­lice should be the de­ci­sion of the vic­tim/​sur­vivor.

Keep in mind that peo­ple usu­ally have differ­ent mem­o­ries and in­ter­pre­ta­tions of some­thing that hap­pened. You may find that it only needs a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion for some­one to stop a be­hav­ior that was un­in­ten­tion­ally caus­ing prob­lems. Other times there may be a gen­uine dis­agree­ment about how to move for­ward. Please get in touch with us at CEA (Jon, Ali­son, Ju­lia, or Amy) if we can be helpful in nav­i­gat­ing a situ­a­tion.

Re­sources:

Seat­tle Effec­tive Altru­ists’ “Be Ex­cel­lent to Each Other Policy

Pit­falls of try­ing to be bet­ter at diversity

  • Always hav­ing the di­ver­sity con­ver­sa­tion with the one “di­verse” per­son. They may be sick of this topic be­cause ev­ery­one asks them about it.

  • Min­i­miz­ing the ex­is­tence or ac­com­plish­ments of un­der­rep­re­sented peo­ple in the move­ment. For ex­am­ple, “How come there are no women in EA?”

  • Treat­ing peo­ple as col­lec­tors’ items (“We fi­nally got some­one over age 40!”)

  • Tokenizing

    • Indi­cat­ing “We only want you around be­cause you make our group look more di­verse”

    • Ask­ing peo­ple to par­ti­ci­pate for trans­par­ently ir­rele­vant reasons

Rather than ask­ing peo­ple trans­par­ently be­cause of their iden­tity, ask about an in­ter­est or skill of theirs that they might share:

  • “It would be great to have some­one with your back­ground as a nurse prac­ti­tioner talk about how you han­dle triage de­ci­sions and how that might re­late to cause se­lec­tion.”

  • “We’d love to hear more about your ex­pe­rience on run­ning fundraisers at your church; would you be in­ter­ested in speak­ing about what you’ve learned from that?”

Re­sources:

Pit­falls in Diver­sity Outreach, Kel­sey Piper

Brain­storm­ing be­yond the usual suspects

  • When choos­ing peo­ple for a role (speaker to in­vite, group lead­er­ship), make a spe­cial effort to think of/​ask can­di­dates from un­der­rep­re­sented groups.

  • Brain­storm sep­a­rate lists: a list of pos­si­ble women, pos­si­ble peo­ple from a de­vel­op­ing coun­try, etc. Set a timer and spend 10 min­utes brain­storm­ing each list.

  • Ask peo­ple to help you brain­storm: be­cause I’m a young white Amer­i­can woman, my con­nec­tions are skewed in those di­rec­tions. If I ask a Pak­istani friend, his list will prob­a­bly skew differ­ently and we’ll end up with a more bal­anced to­tal pool of pos­si­bil­ities.