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Intentional action needed: How to get more women to speak at conferences

Intentional action needed:

How to get more women to speak at conferences

microphoneRecently a blog post went up by a friend of mine (and the spouse of a Click member), John Wilker, about his thoughts on this subject of getting more women to submit to speak at conferences. Ironically, when John posted this I was at a developer conference speaking on the subject, and hosting a “birds of a feather” lunch around the subject of women in tech. If you chose to read his blog post, you’ll probably understand why an enormous flurry of comments resulted. While the wording could have been slightly different, I think John’s passionate message was successful in pointing out a few things:

1) His, Nicole’s, and 360 Conference’s passion about the subject. I mean really, you don’t write a post with that much emotion, followed by at least a day of discussion and tweeting if you don’t really want to fix a problem.

2) Women aren’t submitting for speaking slots, which makes it REALLY hard to improve the number of women you have speak at a conference (duh!). I agree that many parties have a responsibility here – certainly not just women and not just the conferences.

a) If a conference wants to improve the overall quality of their event, they MUST intentionally work to make it more diverse. Diversity in groups has been repeatedly shown to improve profit margins in the workplace – why would a conference be any different? To to this though, DEFINITELY means extending a lot of specific invitations and making some noise about the fact that they are seeking to enhance the diversity of their event, and would welcome submissions from women. Offer to help them to craft their presentation submission (or suggest a mentor to help). Encouragement or ideas for topics could improve the results as well

b) If an individual (regardless of gender or race) wants to improve themselves or their situation (by getting a better job, higher pay, more attention…), they MUST act intentionally to find ways to “toot their own horn”. If you just don’t know where to start, ask someone you know that has public speaking experience, or just someone you respect, to help you with your idea for a session. A little note on Twitter to someone you know speaks at a lot of conferences, asking for help, could easily result in a mentoring relationship.

c) We all need to do more to encourage women to shine. Don’t be a crab in a bucket, pulling down anyone that tries to climb out. The more women who are successful in making it to the top, the more we all succeed. Know that this is a problem and be intentional in your efforts to fix it.

3) Is there is a conflict between the budgetary restraints of conferences and the would-be-speakers. Is this issue specific to, or more poignant with, women?

4) Very few women are even attending developer conferences, much less speaking at them. If you’re attending a conference, ask your female coworkers if they are too – you could even go so far as to actually invite them to go with you. The buddy system has powerful effects!

We all know the saying, “it’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know.” How do you get to “know” anyone if you don’t go to events where you can meet them. INTENTIONALLY NETWORK, don’t just do it as an afterthought. This can be as simple as finding people on Twitter that have interests in the same field as you and participating in the conversation.

Conferences, while probably the best way to improve your network, can be scary if you don’t know anyone – so start asking what events the people you know are going to – that way you’ll know someone. If you go to a conference where you don’t know anyone, don’t worry, you have something in common with everyone there – you are all at an event that focuses on something you’re interested in – talk about that! Be prepared to “talk tech”, not just social conversation – it will get you a lot further.

I use the word, “intentional” a lot in this post, and that’s clearly intentional (sorry, I couldn’t help it). Think about the definition of the word and then how it applies to the things you do. This post is an intentional effort to spark thought, responses, and change – it’s not a half-assed act to get a blog post out this week (which I sometimes do, I’ll admit). What can you INTENTIONALLY do, and what could result from it?

I’m really interested to hear what your thoughts are on this subject – how to get more women to attend and speak at conferences. Please, contact me at On3 with thoughts and suggestions!

John Wilker’s blog post titled: An open letter to women in tech.