What Are Resources to Use? Diversifying Speakers at Tech and Social Media Conferences

by Jill Foster on August 6, 2009

High school Spanish teacher said “You’re smart…for a girl.”
And when he said that to me a zillion years ago in my high school days, as a student I dismissed it as his well-meaning ‘slip of the tongue.’ Then he said it again in front of the class. And that was the year my mom ripped him a special one at open house. “You sexist %^*!” echoed through the hallways. It was an awkward lesson to learn.

Why the heck bring that up?

Sure, the remarks of that Spanish teacher were sexist. Yet since then the dynamics of that scenario look different. These variables come to mind: He had taught at the school for years; my class wasn’t the first one where he voiced those beliefs. Was he ever made aware they were inappropriate? Did other students and parents voice concern? Did the administration know?

It seems more complex now, beyond just believing “He was wrong.”

Getting to gender diversity on tech conference panels
A like complexity persists with a related discussion on gender diversity. Diversifying speaker slates at technology conferences has been an active conversation for a while, but with what seems more robust discussions this past few weeks including:

What stood out this past week: frustration + ownership
Per above, people have been sharing their frustration (with tech conference planners), more frustration (with the lack of women submitting to present as industry speakers), acknowledgement of discrimination to women by both genders. It’s a complex scenario.

After some frustration of my own on this issue, I’m agreeing with many colleagues – female and male – that recently have acknowledged how conference planners and women in technology (wanting to be featured more as conference speakers) could both be more proactive and both take more ownership for improving the situation overall.

(3) Resources/Ideas:
To (ideally) be more productive with my own frustration on this topic, I’d like to offer resources / ideas to help achieve some clarity in this complexity:

1.) For tech conference planners and respective speaker committees:
Consider reaching out to different online membership forums for speaker ideas:

2.) For women in technology seeking recognition as conference presenters:
Consider creating your own ‘visibility plan’ and attending – and offering to present – at local meetups at least ‘x’ times weekly. And at the beginning of the year, research your preferred (3) tech conferences at which you’d like to speak and log their panel submission deadlines.

3.) For both conference organizers and women wanting to speak more in the field:
Consider reviewing this speakers’ wiki that provides speaker bios for future reference and help in brainstorming your game plans on this issue.

What are your resources to help achieve greater diversity on this front?

(Image Working It Out by Jek in the Box, Creative Commons)

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