Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Follow @NoWomenSpeakers to track conferences with few or no women on program

I just gave a speech about women and public speaking in which I pointed to the tweets I see on Twitter, every day of the week, in which people are complaining about the lack, or dearth, of women speakers on conference programs. And I was confronted by a male audience member who dismissed the premise, telling me it must be "rare"--it's just not a problem he sees.

While it's normal to think first of one's own experience, we none of us attend all the world's conferences (thank heaven). About this time last year, I blogged about the growing Twitter buzz about conferences with few or no women, and at that time I said:
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.
Since then, I've continued to collect tweets mentioning few or no women speakers. The file's bigger, and it's my sense that these types of tweets are gaining in frequency, both from prospective attendees and those sitting in the audience.

I think that's an important distinction if you think of these tweeters as the dissatisfied audience--make that the dissatisfied paying audience--for any conference or meeting. It stands in contrast to the rise of women's conferences in the U.S., which are highly profitable and well attended. Imagine, as I said in my London speech: Profitable conferences featuring lots of women speakers and seemingly finding no difficulty in locating them. Isn't that something?

Some conferences have heard the drumbeat and started setting very public quotas for women speakers: The World Economic Forum has a 20 percent quota for participation by women, which it has yet to meet, and Social Media Week, with events in 18 countries, has set the bar at 50 percent women speakers and participants for its events by the end of 2014.. Other conferences have started tweeting defensively, pointing out their good ratios of women speakers, or defending the lousy ratios awkwardly, as in this exchange. TechCrunchDisrupt New York announced a roster with no women speakers:
When a female executive from the conference replied defensively that "there are women speakers we haven't announced," he added this wry headline:
No surprise, the next day, those secret women speakers were added to that program. Let me be clear: Tweets are anecdotal evidence, but when the issue is one of invisibility, that actually makes these tweets valuable.

Since last year, I have been archiving and sharing tweets that mention no or few women speakers in this publicly accessible Evernote notebook, and it's a great resource to have on hand--but not as nimble and transparent as I'd like it to be. After my recent speech and that reaction, it occurred to me I could use Twitter in a different way, to help me do the tracking and to more finely and publicly curate the kind of information I'm storing in that notebook. The bonus: You can all watch this phenomenon with me, as it occurs, and Twitter will help us keep track.

So beginning on May 24 this year, I've launched another Twitter account, @NoWomenSpeakers. It is already focused on retweeting mentions of few or no women speakers on programs of all kinds--except for women's conferences, where we may expect plenty of women speakers. This account also will share mentions of conferences where the balance is better, or at least being mentioned, as well as coverage of this trend. Mainly, I'd like you to be able to see the stream that I see, to build awareness of the issue. I will focus on sharing just the original tweet, although many of these types of tweets are re-shared frequently. Handily, Twitter keeps track of that for us, so you can click on "expand" and see the number of retweets.

Please follow and share this new account, and send your examples to @NoWomenSpeakers directly, to help build the database of tweets. I'm looking forward to this new way of sharing the issue and the data directly with you.

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