Diversity and Inclusion are Paramount to the Success of SAAS NORTH
Message from Michelle Sklar, Director of Conferences
I joined the Cube Business Media team early 2018 following in the footsteps of a good friend and colleague whom I respect and admire for her sharp wit, candour and relentless pursuit toward empowering people wherever she goes. When she passed the torch for the role of Director of Conferences for SAAS NORTH over to me, I knew I had big shoes to fill. More importantly, I had a responsibility to continue the amazing work that had begun from inception: building the best program to help SaaS companies in Canada scale.
Diversity and inclusion is a central tenet to our approach. In 2018, our roster of female speakers grew to 46% from the previous year’s 30%. A significant jump which was a result of a highly committed Steering Committee who connected me to some amazing people, who in turn opened even more doors. It took a village to help us search for the best, most qualified industry leaders from some of the most formidable SaaS companies globally. They were diverse in their backgrounds, inclusive in their approaches and fierce in their thought leadership. It is worth noting that all of our past speakers, not just women, represent a broad range of cultures, nationalities, gender and age. It’s who we are.
To ensure we have a level playing field for who might possibly take the stage at SAAS NORTH we have an open call for speaker submissions on our website. We receive 100’s of applications from SaaS founders, marketers, sales executives, VC’s and product leaders from around the world. We spend a considerable amount of time researching and vetting all contenders on merit identifying senior-level experts or executives who can confidently deliver a presentation to a room of up to 1500 people. It can be a daunting experience to be on stage when the stakes are that high, but we owe it to our dedicated attendees to make sure we deliver a quality experience.
Of course we recognize the value of a conference such as ours is more than just who is speaking, it’s also the content, the networking opportunities and potential deal flow. However, let’s face it, it’s the speakers who grab your attention. We understand that if you can relate to who is the program and what subject matter is being covered, that will influence whether or not you attend. We also know that how the content is delivered is equally as important, which is why we have a rule: all panels are diverse! It’s a no-brainer.
From time to time we are asked if we pay our speakers, the simple answer is we do not. The reality is that those we invite to our stages represent SaaS companies that for the most part fund their travel if required. Our job is to create such a remarkable opportunity that these companies see this value and want to invest in their people to be apart of it. We do not discriminate, nobody as an individual should pay to come, it’s a business conference and as such the business pays for it. It is also worth mentioning that our speakers are not professional speakers and therefore they are not giving up their livelihood and speaking for free. What makes SAAS NORTH unique is the tactical content we deliver - you will hear from people who have been down the path before you and have great lessons to share.
As a for-profit business we pride ourselves in delivering an excellent product and like any good business, we invest in our growth year-over-year. While SAAS NORTH isn’t an inexpensive conference to attend, it also isn’t cheap to produce. It is for fast scaling SaaS companies, but we understand there are those who may not be able to afford to attend. Last year we launched the SAAS NORTH Fund with support from our lead sponsor, Shopify. A Diversity & Inclusion scholarship which covers the costs to attend for qualified applicants from under-represented groups. Equally as important as accessibility, is to ensure that all of our attendees feel safe in the conference environment so we instituted a Code of Conduct (which thankfully we haven’t had to enforce).
Now moving into our 4th year, we have seen well over 4000 people make SAAS NORTH their tech conference of choice. We will once again be gathering in Ottawa, November 26 & 27 and we are beyond excited to bring you a powerful roster of diverse speakers and compelling content. We are also thrilled to share that applications for the SAAS NORTH Fund reopen July 3rd. As SAAS NORTH continues to galvanize the tech community in Canada, it is our responsibility to make sure that we are tackling the issues that founders and their teams face daily.
Won’t you join us!