Jason Kottke has kicked the ant hill over again. After reading criticism over the gender imbalance in the list of speakers at two recent conferences, he did some research on the numbers for other recent and upcoming conferences. The numbers vary drastically, as do the events, but still, none achieve parity. (Though one, BlogHer, makes it all the way to 100% female presenters.)
Yes, I find this upsetting and frustrating. But I know that the organizers of the conferences I attend are making efforts to achieve a greater balance and I appreciate that. Would I stay away from a conference or event that wasn't trying to achieve gender balance? No way! In the spirit of Bryn Mawr, I would go and be my brilliant female self and intimidate the men. And if I found the conference to be valuable and enjoyable, I'd try to engage the organizers in a conversation about including more women, and I'd haul along more people (both women and men) to try to change the culture, bit by bit.
That's about all I was going to say on this matter... until some other comments on the topic came up. Interestingly, out of the blogs I follow, only one woman has commented on the topic so far. Meanwhile, two men whose blogs I follow have also commented, and it is to their posts that I feel the need to reply.
First, to Eric Meyer. He's made himself loud and clear that, in planning a conference, diversity isn't important, but things like marketability are. My question to him is: How does one become marketable if one isn't given an opportunity to participate in the first place? I know that we all like to think that this blogosphere thing is an equalizer and puts men and women on a level playing field, but let's be honest: it doesn't. It may give everyone a voice, but not everyone is listening. Not everyone is in the "inner circle", and it seems like the only way in is to do something groundbreaking. Unfortunately this leaves out all of the folks working very hard, day in and day out, who still have valuable experience and knowledge to contribute.
This somewhat brings me to his concern of "brand appropriateness". I'm not entirely sure what he means, but I'm betting it has something to do with getting people who work for "big name" companies and organizations. AOL, the company that both Eric and I used to work for, is a pretty big brand. Yet the standards-compliant redesign of AOL.COM in 2004, which was built by two women (Annette Graber and me), and the mega-huge standards-compliant redesign in 2005, which enabled the opening-up of nearly all AOL content to the Web, the front-end for which was architected, managed, and about nearly 100% built by two women (Kate Chipman and me), went largely unnoticed. Why, because it was AOL? Or because the only people who were talking about it were the women involved in it? I know the answer isn't a simple one, but the issue of gender when it comes to recognizing technical achievement is one I could analyze for a long time....
But to get back to Eric's post, my final comment to him is this: You're a recognized leader in a field that's out to create change on a massive scale. Knowing what it takes to create such change, I can't believe that you would say that it's not important to have diversity in a group of speakers at an event which promotes and provides training around the change you want to realize! Diversity on stage is the key to including and engaging the broadest possible audience. Yes, women may attend AEA, but how many more attend when you have women presenting? How many more would attend if the number of female speakers increased? How much change would that then create in the industry?
And sure, if you want to be crass about it, how much more money would that make you?
So, enough with Eric. I'm disappointed that he's pandering to an audience instead of enlightening them, but I'm not brandishing a pitchfork. Everyone's entitled to their opinion and I'm glad he's made his known. Though, to be equally honest, it will affect decisions I make about attending AEA in the future.
Now, onto Tantek's question to those who are waiting for invites to speak somewhere: "Why are you being so passive?"
Passive, me? In the past year, I've submitted proposals to all of the conferences I've planned to attend and I've contacted individuals who are planning various events that don't seek proposals to express my interested in participating. But that's about all I have time to do. After all of that proposal-writing and networking (and don't forget the day job and volunteering in between!), if you're not accepted or invited then it's not because you didn't try.
Tantek also asked why we accept having this conversation of diversity with specific criteria, like gender. I'd say the simple answer there is that you need some context in which to start the conversation. But I agree with your sentiment, that there has to be more to the discussion. I know that gender mix alone does not diversity make -- and keep in mind, I attended Bryn Mawr, a women's liberal arts college with an excellent track record in socio-economic diversity and a good-and-continually-improving one in racial diversity, where there's even a club for "lesbian left-handed eskimo midget albinos"! (Just kidding, that was a Dead Milkmen joke. But at Bryn Mawr, it could happen.)
To wrap up this post (my longest ever), let me say that along the path to achieving equality and diversity, I think some segregation is good. Let those who don't want to include women do their own thing. The women have started to organize and are kicking off their own initiatives, like BlogHer and Women2.0. If you don't know the names of many prominent women now, I'm very sure that, as time progresses, you will...
#kbcom #webstuff #women