Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tech Conferences: Where Are The Women?

Tech Conferences: Where Are The Women?
direct .mov file

This has been bugging me for a while now. Whenever I attend a conference (excluding BlogHer) there is an incredible lack of women presenters. I found this to be true at Air Jaldi in Dharmasala India, so much so that I felt the need to make a point out of them. It makes me feel like these organizers think women's voices are not as important to search for as men's. I've heard the excuse several times of "Well, there aren't that many women doing this kind of work." Bullshit. There are tons of techie chics doing all kinds of work, many of them end up in the audience, but rarely on stage. I commend the organizers of BlogHer for documenting and showing the tech world that, hey, there are lots of women doing this kind of work and they have a lot to say. Goddamnit.

Another typical example is The Future of Web Apps summit scheduled to happen again next year. I received an email from Mel (just found out Mel is female!), the organizer, saying "get your tickets early!". I remembered the San Francisco summit looked like this:

I suggested a list of women that should be invited to speak and she responded telling me that most of their spots are filled, but they have secured 2 women to speak, Tara Hunt of Citizen Agency and Gina Bianchini of Ning. Well that's something. I guess 2 is the magic number for women speaking at conferences.

My humble solution as of this moment is to not just complain that there are not enough women speaking (though this is a start to help people realize it's a problem) but to start making a list of women media makers, programmers, bloggers, project managers etc. so that when I get the excuse "We couldn't find anyone." I can pull out the list of women that they couldn't find and make some suggestions. So, ladies, help me out. Lets get a list of women who should be speaking at these things and make their names more known. What say you?


B said...

Ryanne, as always, you know we're on the same page. I'm really glad you're talking about this. Maybe I can make a video about it soon. A few east coast ladies and I are presenting at the WAM! conference in the spring, but like BlogHer, it's hardly revolutionary to show up at a women's conference and talk about...being women.

I'm going to email you more later on about this...gotta stew on it first. Hugs.

Anonymous said...

Good shout! It's definitely more helpful to us as conference organisers if we know *who* people want to hear speak, whatever their gender/colour/nationality.
Just a note on London's conference - there were a further 2 women we tried to secure but sadly both were unavailable.
Ps. Mel is a she - I can see how it's easy to make the assumption :)

Anonymous said...

I think also we should encourage women to put themselves forward as being interested in speaking at conferences.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease (or at least has a betters shot at getting it). For example, for vloggercon, I think I put myself forward as wanting to speak about education, and that's what happened. I don't know if it would have if I hadn't done so.

So, I think the list is a good idea, and I think that if you, or other women want to speak at conferences (and I know you have been speaking at a bunch), contact the conference organizers in as much as advance as possible and pitch them on you being a presenter.

ryanne said...

it's hilarious that i, of all people, assumed mel was a guy. that's exactly why i changed my name from ryan to ryanne...

it's cool that SHE is organizing the event for sure

thanks for the comment lisa!

ryanne said...

the issue i have with women having to always assert themselves to speak in events is that men (or anyone INVITED to speak) generally don't have to do that.
organizers usually have an agenda to fill and do the searching rather than looking for solicitation.
vloggercon was an exception because it was created by a large community.
most conferences are not scheduled this way.
another issue with this is, a lot of conferences are booked before they're announced, so how are you supposed to speak up when you don't even know an event exists?

i think we need to create a resource for folks to look for women with specific skills and expertise to invite rather than putting the responsibility on women to 'speak up' or be more assertive.

Zadi said...

I say YES! But it's ridiculous there even HAS to be a damned list.

GeekChicks activate! ;)

Anonymous said...

The tech world is new to me. But I spent a lot of years experimenting with groups addressing race, class and minority issues. The majority voice usually becomes most dominant in any group. Often the minority doesn't feel comfortable being "a squeeky wheel" so they would shut down.

To contradict this we would set up a dynamic that whoever was the minority voice was acknowledged and welcomed into the dialouge at the beginning of the meetings. This would allow for a more diverse discussion.

ElisaC said...

By now this has been blogged about by so many people offering so many lists, that I find it hard to believe that any organizer who actually looked would have trouble finding a woman speaker if they prioritized it.

When I helped the Office 2.0 organizer add about half a dozen women to his schedule it took me a couple of hours of research to find women with the specific expertise being looked for, but that's not much time in the scheme of things.

That's why, for example, after BLogHer 2005 Mary Hodder created the Speaker's Wiki, and we spent time encouraging BlogHer attendees to add themselves. Therer's a resource right there!

Moreover, BlogHer sessions aren't specifically about being women...they just feature women talking about Ryanne talkng about Video both years. Not being a woman in video per se. Same goes for the panels BlogHer has produced and is producing at SXSW and Web 2.0. The point being, as Ryanne says, to demonstrate that there are competent women in all areas.

My most recent posts on this are here and in this fun one in which I outline the various ways that conference organizers basically say f*ck you in code to people who call for diversity. Bottom line: I continue to believe that an organizer who doesn't have diversity isn't prioritizing it, and they should just own that. So we can call them stupid for not caring about having such a significant demographic represented at their event, rather than sexist ;)

And, I could be crazy, but perhaps women don't want to be a squeaky wheel for someone who asks "Where are the girls?" I mean, seriously!

Sorry for the long comment. It's breaking my more-than-three-paragraphs-should-become-a-blog-post rule, but obviously it's one of my hot button issues.

M. Matthews said...

I feel you, as the kids say these days. And please put me on your "list" as one of those female media makers, vloggers, documentarians, vloggers. I have vlog. I will travel.

Heliotropen said...

I have no suggestions. I just wanted to say I thought your video was brilliant and very funny. Much funnier than the actual conference. You need some affirmative action there.

I like your blog! Unfortunately I blog in Swedish so you won't be able to read mine (even if you wanted to).

angela said...

Thank you so much for bringing attention to this particular issue, and the video was indeed very funny, another job well done.

Anonymous said...

Babe! Make the list and post it please!

I may be organizing an event, and it was suggested that we have a women and tech session, and i said no way! Lets just get lots of women there, get them hacking and doing there thing, and well, let me elbow some space for em to get their hands in the dang tooooool box!

JuanFalla said...

If I were a "woman", I'd throw my name into the hat.

You should send this video to the next "organizer" who calls you, and ask them what they think about it.

Faux Press said...

Men - and even a lot of women - don't value the feminine perspective on problem solving or art or any darned thing.

That's the first and largest hurdle to jump if we want to play with the big boys: teach folks to value a different perspective.

Welcome home, Ryanne / Jay.


trine said...

this is an issue i find intriguing. i am not one for putting myself forward, yet i know i have lots to say.
of course i live on the wrong continent for these events... typical...
welcome home btw, i enjoyed india to the full when i was there 5 years ago (before kids and family) and would love to go back.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ryanne,
I just stumbled on your great post as I was searching for your email to let you know your podcast is live on our site.

So for those who want to hear *more* of Ryanne's powerful, beautiful voice ;-)... here's the link:

Thanks for doing it. And yes, I couldn't agree more we need to all work --as programmers, media makers, and event producers and attendees-- to make sure the women are not excluded. It's very frustrating to not have more women speakers, and saying there are none is simply not accurate. I attend NYWIFT events in NYC, so that balances it out --but whenever it's something tech related (NAB, IBC, Macworld-) it's a "sausage fest" as one of my producers is fond of calling it. I know many men who bemoan this as well --but going from whining to action is the key.

Thanks for kicking off the list-making, Ryanne. I'm writing up an email to you tonight. And thanks, Elisa, for the Speaker Wiki link.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to shed a little light on one conference that's bucking this dismal trend. A couple of weeks ago I attended the Blog Business Summit in Seattle. I think about a third of the speakers were women, and a number of panels were either all or mostly women. Of course, all the keynotes were still by men... but it was a major improvement on the kind of boys club you usually find.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous! Rock on ladies!

Chou Chou

Jen Simmons said...

me. me. I'm a techy geek woman.

and.... it's overwhelming to me that most of those panels are also all white. Especially looking at images of panels in INDIA -- for it to be 90-100% white men / white men from the U.S. is crazy. CRAZY. That said, I have to say my idea of "white man" was blow away by the diversity of white men at vloggercon. I loved it, having my steroetypes shattered by so many different kinds of white men -- different classes, cultures, social-types. It was the singing that really got me. So guys, know you, you white guys, try not to react, try to understand. It's just important for everyone to see lots of women and people of color represented.... and all of us, remember that none of it's a formula.

Anonymous said...

their busy working :)

Anonymous said...

is there a list yet?

ryanne said...

hello all
yes there are a few lists going
i need to blog them of course:

one courtesy of tara hunt-
WWWomen of Web 2.0: The Risk Takers

and another started with a list of BlogHer speakers (and then expanded):

The Speaker's Wiki

I'll also be compiling a wiki list of women media makers, videobloggers and programmers. though i don't know many programmers, i will keep this wiki public so anyone can add to it.


Anonymous said...

Very cool! Be sure to grab the babes from here! Elektra is a must on the coder etc. list.

Anonymous said...

I would love to get on the speaking circuit. How exactly do you do that? I conduct research for a mgmt. consulting company, focusing on business implications of IT and Human captial. Recent research included: The future of IT Competencies, The Office of the CIO, Strategies for Generation Y and some work on Enterprise Architecture (EA, SOA, etc.). I was an Adjunt Professor for a while and really enjoyed it. Any thoughts on how to start getting my name out? Small conferences that might be looking for people? Please contact me: