Allyson Kapin has a post over on Fast Company, entitled Where are the women in tech and social media? in which she talks about the dearth of women speakers at tech conferences. She offers a list of things conference organisers can do to get more women speakers:
- 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, and Girls In Tech and ask for suggestions of women speakers based on conference objectives and target audiences. Build a relationship with these organizations so that the communications pipeline is always open.
- Look at your programming committee. Is it diverse enough? Two women out of 10 are not diverse. Also, consider having 1-2 panelists solely focus on recruiting diverse speakers.
- Take on a 50/50 keynote challenge.
- Edit panel acceptance notices to include a section on the 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.
Here are ten more tips:
- Have a diversity statement and code of conduct for your event that shows that you’re serious about welcoming women and other minorities. Make sure it is included (at least by reference) in your Call For Papers and other speaker communications.
- Track the diversity of your speakers. You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Count the number of women speakers from year to year, and if you’re proud of your improvement, tell people! If other aspects of diversity are important to you — first time speakers, speakers from other countries, cross-disciplinary speakers, speakers of colour — then count that too.
- Add a “Suggest a speaker” form to your website at the time of your CFP, and link it to your diversity statement. Ask people to suggest speakers you might not have thought of before. Follow up these suggestions with a personal email saying that the speaker had been personally recommended. You’re combatting Imposter syndrome here: knowing that at least one person out there believes in their knowledge and speaking ability will help potential speakers get over the hump.
- Avoid form letters. At least write a line or two of personalised, human communication at the top of emails you send to potential speakers, making them feel wanted. I’ve seen too many impersonal CFPs blasted to women’s mailing lists and ignored.
- If you’re a conference organiser or on a papers committee, go out of your way to attend sessions by minority speakers. If you’re in a rush, you can even just pop in for a few minutes. I saw one of the OSCON folks doing this to great effect the other week: he asked me, “Is $woman a good speaker?” She’d spoken at many previous conferences, but he had no idea, so I suggested he go see her in action. He went off and was back in 5 minutes. “She’s great,” he said. Her confidence and speaking ability had impressed him in no time flat. And yet he’d never known about it before.
- Let people know about any travel funding or scholarships which may be available for speakers at your conference. Women are less likely to be sent to conferences by their employers, more likely to be freelancing or working part time, or to have additional costs (eg. childcare) related to travel. Anything you can do to offset this will help improve diversity.
- When I’ve spoken to conference organisers and proposal committee members, what I hear time and time again is that technical interest is good, but having a great story to tell is better. Make sure your speakers know this! Emma Jane Hogbin, organiser of the HICKTech conference, had 50% women speakers and attendees, largely by doing this. This is a great tip for getting first-time speakers.
- In some fields and at some conferences, you’ll notice that women tend to speak about community management, documentation, and social tech rather than programming, hardware, sysadmin, and other more technical subjects. If those women submitted two proposals, one “hard” and one “soft”, the soft one may have been chosen to provide balance and texture to the conference procedings. However, the effect is to type-cast women speakers, and a vicious cycle may begin to occur. See if you can break the cycle by accepting more hard talks from women, or soft talks from men.
- Make sure that your conference’s extra-curricular activities are welcoming and safe for women. Here’s a tip: conference dinners with 90% or more men and free alcohol are not welcoming or safe. You don’t want to end up on a list of conference horror stories because of sexual harrassment, assault, or just plain sleaziness. If you can, offer taxi vouchers to help people get home from late night events.
- Pretend for a moment that your conference already has 50% women speakers and attendees. What would be different? Now do those things. Example: at one point OSCON had no women’s toilets on the conference floor, because of the vast gender gap in attendees. What message do you think that would send to potential women speakers? If you catch yourself doing anything like that, stop and reverse it immediately.