Woman speakers at conferences

I had the pleasure of attending the one day barcamp nicknamed bracamp… It was a interesting take on a barcamp and although I signed up originally because Laura was a sponsor, decided to go ahead when  Hwayoung said she’ll invite me (you know the rules of girl geekdinners, woman can only invite a guy)

Anyhow I ran a session talking about a number of things including what is a geek… Somewhere in the running order I attended something which got me speaking up about woman speakers.

I know this has been all over the news about what happened in a conferences in the states but I wanted to echo Samantha’s thoughts

Diversity in tech is good. And not just for the sake of it, but because we need. more. techies.

I won’t disagree, but its not just techies we need… We need people who think differently…

There are two reasons why a diverse audience and speakers should be at least somewhere halfway down the agenda of any conference or panel discussion: First, diverse speakers represent a diverse audience, making minorities feel more welcome, thus potentially helping with increasing participation. Second, speakers from a different background might (might!) bring a different point of view to the conference, which helps making talks and panels a lot more interesting.

Yes it was a great idea having the girl geeks in residence at BarCampMediaCity and really worked for that event. I won’t lie, its good to see more people like yourself around and at Tech events its usually very bad.

In my opinion, at least “being aware of the issue” and making some effort is okay. If it turns out that no woman submitted a proposal and all the female speakers you’ve asked decline the offer, well, that’s bad luck.
digging for diversity can also be frustrating. It’s incredibly hard to convince non-white-males-aged between 25 and 35 to attend any ‘mixed’ event.

Yes I have felt this first hand.

I ran a series of event and for one of the last ones before it ended. One of them was a ignite style event. As you can see all the speakers are male but I tried to balance the speakers with women. I sent emails out and spoke to many woman about taking one of the spots. I must have contacted about 20+ woman for a couple places in the line up. I have the emails if anyone wants to do a freedom of information request on me (go ahead).

I even lost my cool a tiny bit with one (sorry to say and I did apologise moments later) who I know very well and knew could easily do it with a bit of a push, so I gave her a bit of psychological big up and even that didn’t work. I was willing to spend time with the lady in question to make sure she felt comfortable and happy about everything (because it would be the right thing to do), I think I need to find another way to encourage woman to get involved in future.

Any thoughts? I’m all ears… as always!

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.