Monday, June 4, 2012

The growing Twitter buzz about conferences with few (or no) women speakers

Here's a fun fact to know: About 150 days into 2012, you can say that, on average, more than a tweet a day can be found complaining about the lack of women on conference programs. On some days, that means dozens of tweets; on others, just a few. But the drumbeat is persistent, and growing.

I've long been a proponent of using Twitter to find out what audiences are thinking about public speakers, because that backchannel always reflects the best and worst of what people see on the podium when they attend conferences. But lately, I've been tracking the conference gender imbalance and seeing a growing discussion emerge.

I started the collection earlier this year when a PR firm claimed that speaking opportunities abounded for women executives, in a post called Does she or doesn't she have trouble getting asked to speak at conferences? At that time, I pulled some examples of the tweets I was seeing into this SlideShare presentation:
That SlideShare has just a dozen examples in it, but lately, the discussion's heating up even more. I keep standing searches for "women speakers" and "women's speeches" going on Twitter. When I see a tweet that mentions gender imbalance on the program (and sometimes, among the attendees) of a conference, I store it in an Evernote notebook. Recently, I noticed that the notebook is getting close to 200 tweets on the topic, all of them since January 2012 and gaining in frequency each month. And that doesn't count all the retweets, just original tweets on the topic that I've seen. In May, for example, How I got 50% women speakers at my tech conference from the Geek Feminism blog got lots of retweets, expanding and continuing the conversation.And as the author later noted, many of the comments assumed she did that by reserving spaces just for women, which is not the case.

You can see the collection of tweets I've captured about conferences with few or no women speakers in this free Evernote notebook, which will be continually updated as a resource for us all. You'll find some, but not all, of those tweets with the hashtag #changetheratio, which refers to gender imbalance of all kinds, not just public speaking. Most of them are reports from audience members about how they feel about or that they've noticed a dearth of women on the program. Others echo the common responses that show up whenever this discussion arises:
  1. Arguments that the organizers tried to find women, but couldn't, or that there aren't "enough women speakers to go around"
  2. Suggestions that women aren't willing to speak
  3. Lists of tips for finding women speakers
  4. Messages urging women to be bold and nominate themselves, a suggestion that it's women's reluctance that is the "problem"
  5. Suggested lists of women speakers
And this, also a common response when the issue of getting women on the program comes up--a real insult:

The tweets run the gamut, bemoaning the situation, blaming women for the problem or suggesting fixes they can make to themselves, and even expressing sympathy for conference organizers who seek women speakers. Some organizers have hollered back down the channel to say "we asked women to speak and they all turned us down," in an attempt to end the negative feedback. A couple of forward-thinking conferences also are represented with tweets that broadcast the fact that they have 50 percent or more women speakers. For purposes of tracking this discussion, I've omitted tweets about or by women's conferences. Beyond that, these conferences are taking place across the professions; while there are plenty of professions for which this is a longstanding issue, there is no one sector that seems to be immune, so far.

I'm interested in this ongoing discussion, which seems to be gaining steam--it has long been a focus of coverage on this blog, and you can see all my posts on the difficulties of getting women speakers on the program here. What have you noticed in this discussion on Twitter? Share your thoughts in the comments.