Here's why wearing 'swag' at tech conferences isn't always a good thing

Aubrey Blanche (R). Photo: Sarah Kimmorley.

If you’ve ever been to a tech conference or event, you’ll be familiar with the “swag” (company-branded gear) attendees wear.

From hoodies to T-shirts, caps and pins, there’s an unspoken dress code many people adhere to that can border on cult-like.

And this isn’t always a good thing, according to Atlassian’s head of diversity, Aubrey Blanche.

Blanche plays a significant role in the Australian software company’s culture. She is an advocate for equality and a flag bearer for inclusion.

Speaking to Business Insider, Blanche explained that sometimes these events create the perception that people must wear this attire, forcing them to abandon their own style and preferences.

This, in turn, creates exclusion — a big no-no in terms of the company’s principle values:

  • Open company, no bullshit
  • Build with heart and balance
  • Don’t #@!% the customer
  • Play, as a team
  • Be the change you seek

At the summit, Blanche made a point of wearing heels, a fashionable top with jeans and lipstick.

While she admitted that day-to-day she dresses pretty casually, she says by acting as an “ally” she is giving permission for other women to do the same.

“When I’m onstage I actually try to dress up a little bit more so I have heels that I put on, I wear lipstick,” she says.

“The reason I do that is because the tech industry tends to be pretty casual, and I’m actually pretty casual myself, but it’s so easy for me to imagine women who really love fashion, who love make-up and it’s an important part of their identity… [may] feel out of place in that environment.

“So me showing up in that moment… wearing lipstick and wearing high heels, it gives them something to look at and say ‘Oh, I can show up exactly how I am and that’s okay’.

“That’s really what ally-ship is, right? It’s not this crazy, difficult struggle. It’s just taking a few moments to reflect and say can I alter what I’m doing slightly so that it helps someone else.”

*The author travelled to Barcelona as a guest of Atlassian.

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