Out come the long knives

Yesterday, in frustration at a post that I read by one of the mesh conference organizers explaining why they were yet another tech conference with no women keynote speakers, I wrote a post that parodied their unnamed reasons for this. I didn’t give a lot of background to this in the post, but it’s key to note the instructions on the mesh contact page:

mesh isn’t your typical pitch-us-a-speaker type of event (sorry, PR folks). We look for people we would like to hear from — and think you would like to hear from — and then we ask them to participate.

In other words, don’t call us, we’ll call you; and since we already have our clique lined up, don’t hold your breath. In spite of those instructions, I emailed one of the organizers about the potential for participating, with no response; it took my post yesterday to even get them to engage in a conversation.

I was a little surprised by Leesa’s reaction to my post, which was (to paraphrase):

  • Total eye-rolling exasperation that I would even raise this subject.
  • The topic that I suggested for mesh was lame.
  • My idea was ignored because I didn’t email to enough of the conference organizers.
  • It’s women’s fault that we’re not being invited to be speakers.
  • I’m just a big ol’ whiny complainer.

I raised the subject because it’s still an issue, and I’m not the only one noticing that there needs to be more diversity (I’m focussed on gender diversity, but obviously there’s other underrepresented groups as well) in conference speakers. I go to a lot of technology conferences each year — usually on my own nickel — and I speak at a few of them. I have a widely-read blog in my area of technology (business process management and Enterprise 2.0) that enables much of this by providing the opening for the conversation, as well as presenting my ideas in a public forum. I host online webinars and panels, including one this Tuesday on BPM and Enterprise 2.0. In other words, I’m not sitting around waiting for someone to call me, I’m out there calling (or emailing) them, and it’s having results for me.

In other words, I’m not pissed off because I’m personally not speaking at mesh (although I’d love to talk about Enterprise 2.0), I’m pissed off because even though the mesh organizers assured us that they were the experts at finding us people who we want to hear from, they couldn’t find a single woman keynote speaker. I’m not holding out a lot of hope for the rest of the roster, whenever it’s announced.

Elisa Camahort (of BlogHer) recently recapped the issues, pointing out the advantage of diversity amongst the speakers, and puts the onus on the conference organizers to make sure that that diversity exists: conference organizers become shapers of our industry based on their selection process, and have a responsibility to do it right.

4 Replies to “Out come the long knives”

  1. Argh. Until there are as many women in technology as men, we’ve not achieved equality. Women aren’t going into technology because they still hear about there not being enough women in technology… viscious circle.

    Doris Anderson (feminist, Status of Women, etc.) died today. RIP. The battle’s not over (even though Canada’s New Government(tm) has announced that it is by maiming the organization (http://awombofherown.blogspot.com/2006/10/federal-funding-cuts-to-status-of.html)

  2. Pat, I heard about Doris Anderson, great loss. And I totally agree with you about the vicious circle (can’t believe I caught a typo on you) of women being turned off technology because it’s unwelcoming, in a large part due to lack of other women. That’s why I think that technology conference organizers have an obligation to provide leadership in this regard.

  3. Rohan — brilliant post, thanks for the link! Definitely proves that you could host a kick-butt technology conference with all women speakers and maintain highest quality standards. Also some great suggestions in the comments, including a link to Jen Bekman’s list of over 200 women conference speakers, although they cover many areas other than technology. In other words, the choices are there, the conference organizers just have to make them.

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