Monday, March 28, 2011

Conference co-chair asks "Would I attend my own conference?"

The Web 2.0 Expo opens today in San Francisco, and one of its co-chairs, Sarah Milstein, has shared a thoughtful and provocative post she calls Would I attend my own conference? Why conferences need more diversity . She starts by thinking about how would-be attendees decide whether to go to a conference, based on her experience:

If you’re like me—some of you are and some of you aren’t—you’ll also look for diversity among the speakers. If every speaker is a man, or if everyone is white, or both, I know this isn’t an event for me. I don’t need to hear more of the same prominent voices, and I don’t get much value out of an environment that takes a narrow, old-school view on who’s worth listening to.

Because some of you aren’t like me in your choices, there are profitable conferences with speaker rosters that look like roll call for the signers of the Constitution. But conferences that want to be taken seriously by people who take other kinds of people seriously need more diversity among the speakers to thrive. And conference organizers, whose goals often include highlighting new ideas, cannot simply recycle the same short list of well-known speakers from show to show.
Here's the difference: Milstein isn't just any attendee, she organizes major conferences and has spent a lot of time focused on the problems around getting more women on the program at professional conferences, something we've discussed frequently on The Eloquent Woman. You'll learn a lot from this post, which not only does a great job summarizing the many debates on this topic in the tech world, but Milstein's process of looking for great women speakers, from keeping lists to watching videos.

What do you think of this post and its suggestions? What are your suggestions for addressing the issue--which is a problem even in professions dominated by women? Share your ideas in the comments.

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