When you look around the room at a tech or social mediaconference what do you see? Are the panels filled with a diverse group of techand social media experts? Chances are they are probably filled with white men.So why is that a bad thing, when after all, the tech sector is comprised ofabout 75% men and 25% women? It’s a problem because when we design technologyand social media platforms we design it for all. Women make up approximately50% of computer and social media users. By not filling panels with diversespeakers, we tend to give conference attendees only male perspectives on techand social media, when in reality our consumers and users are men, women,people of color, etc.
The lack of women represented at tech conferences hasbeen discussed and debated for years, though it has not been a hot button issuepublically as it has been privately until now (Women Snubbed in Top TenSpeakers List, Diversifying Speakers at Tech and SocialMedia Conferences, At the Ideas Project, Women Don’t Have Any).Are women to blame for not being aggressive enough, promoting themselves andsubmitting conference panels? Are conference organizers to blame for not reachingout to the women in tech and social media community, cultivating them andhelping to foster these relationships? Even with the emergence of groups andevents like the She’s Geeky Unconference, the Women Who Tech TeleSummit, Women2.0, Girls In Tech, and Linux Chix, conference panels and keynotes still look like a boysclub. So I decided to fire things up publicly after receiving an invitation tothe critically acclaimed O’Reilly produced Web 2.0 Summit filled with 25impressive men, and a handful of equally impressive women.
I petitioned Tim O’Reilly on Twitter to include morewomen at the Web 2.0 Summit using a tool called act.ly. In a nutshell, act.lyallows you to target your petition to another Twitter user, so each timesomeone signs it; the tweet shows up in their mentions thus having a viraleffect. Within in minutes, several people in my twitter community who werealso tired of seeing women excluded from conference panels, signed the petitionand retweeted (RT) it to their followers who then retweeted it to their followers.The RT chain is one of the most powerful aspects of Twitter.
The flood of tweets quickly grabbed O’Reilly’s attentionas well as several other conference organizers and sent a clear message – thelack of women panelists at tech and social media conferences is a seriousproblem and will no longer be tolerated. Was this an aggressive tactic? Youbet. Did I get results? You bet. O’Reilly, bloggers, and other conferenceorganizers responded immediately. O’Reilly used the petition to post hisexperiences about his own conference’s selections process based on eachconference’s objectives. We also setup a conference call to discuss the lack ofwomen and diverse speakers at O’Reilly conferences and the rest of theindustry. But it didn’t end there.Other conference organizers got in touch with me admitting they have beenstruggling with similar issues and needed suggestions from the women in techand social media community.
While women need to be more aggressive in promotingthemselves and submitting panel ideas, conference organizers need to do theirpart too and share the responsibility. So what can conferences can do diversifytheir panels? The key is to ramp up outreach and publicity and to target womenin tech and social media and encourage submissions. There are plenty of womenin tech and social media that are highly qualified to speak at conferences.Below are strategies conferences can utilize to recruit more women panelists and diversify their rolodexes.
- Reach out to groups such as the Anita Borg Institute,She’s Geeky, Women Who Tech, National Women of Color Technology Conference, Women In Technology International, Women 2.0, Social Media Women of Color, The National Center for Women and IT and Girls In Tech and ask for suggestions of women speakers based on conferenceobjectives and target audiences. Build a relationship with these organizationsso that the communications pipeline is always open.
- Look at your programming committee. Is it diverseenough? Two women out of 10 are not diverse. Also, consider having 1-2 committee members solely focus on recruiting diverse speakers.
- Take on a 50/50 keynote challenge.
- Edit panel acceptance notices to include a section onthe importance of having panels filled with diverse panelists.
- Follow more women in tech and social media on Twitter.For example, Women Who Tech recently compiled a list of 75+ women in tech’s twitter feeds. Be sure and also look at the Speakers Wiki and GeekSpeakPR.
- Check out Kirrily Roberts 10 tips to getting women speakers.
What do you think conference organizers can do to connectmore with women in tech and social media? What other tactics can they use to diversify their panels?