Conference Diversity

Lots of talk lately about diversity, gender and how that is reflected and affects attendance and speaker selection in conferences.

Jason Kottke

He posted some interesting numbers but as the next posts I’m linking mention, it’s a bit dishonest to list numbers for conferences without also having numbers for the industry. I don’t think you’d expect equal representation at a nursing conference for example. Proportional representation makes sense but you need to know the proportions so you can be fare. (Carson who often takes the blunt of the “attacks” answers in Mule’s comments)

Eric Meyer

Stresses in his answer.

Well, I’m hereby bucking that trend. In my personal view, diversity is not of itself important, and I don’t feel that I have anything to address next time around. What’s important is technical expertise, speaking skills, professional stature, brand appropriateness, and marketability. That’s it. That’s always been the alpha and omega of my thinking, and it will continue to be so the next time, and time after that, and the time after that… For me, when it comes to planning an A-list conference, I look for A-list speakers, by which I mean speakers who will be regarded as A-list by our audience—the same audience that came up with a list of 56 people, 10.7% of which were female and 89.3% of which were male.—Diverse It Gets

Anil Dash

Anil is instead advocating pursuing new markets instead of staying on the beaten path and catering to the same markets.

Eric: Are you saying that it’s your explicit desire to only make a conference that’s marketable to the audience you already have? Because that seems so boring and unambitious that it feels like you’re saying “we’re only in it for the money”.—The Old Boys Club is for Losers

He’s also got a list of The Essentials of Web 2.0 Your Event Doesn’t Cover

Tantek Çelik

Something I’ve wondered about myself in comments when this discussion happened on Montréal blogs.

Now the question to everyone who whines about themselves or their colleagues not being invited to speak is: Why aren’t you or your colleagues speaking at a Barcamp? Or again, to put it more positively, if you want to speak, don’t wait for an invite, Go to a Barcamp, sign up for speaking slot, speak, and get known. Barcamp has dramatically lowered the barrier to entry to speaking, growing your speaking experience, building up your speaking resume, and heck maybe even meeting some of the folks that organize conferences, or at least meeting folks those folks look to for recommendations.—Two (and a few more) questions about speaking, conferences, and diversity

Nicole Simon

But in general I think we someday have to draw the line. I refuse to run after women all the time just to get them to such meetings if they dont also at least voice their opinions on why they did not come or where not feeling like coming. You cant complain about the cake but eat it too.—BarCamp London

Matt Haughey

But to be clear, it’s not just a gender issue — gender is just one part of it. It’s about expanding your vision, hearing from voices you haven’t before, and learning something new. That’s not just happy hippie rainbow talk either, it makes perfect business sense to go after the market you don’t have, not merely the one you already got because the people you don’t know how to reach are often orders of magnitude larger than your current audience.—Diverse means a lot of things

Brian Overkirch

A couple from Brian but read the whole thing (duh!), lots of things in there;

Mainly, I think we have to get diversity right because it will be a condition of success in the Web to come. The next few years will see the triumph of nuance over brute force; smart swarming and mashing up over lock-in; a million small victories. You won’t pay attention to diversity issues to assuage your liberal guilt; you’ll do it because it’s good for business. Because the winners will have emotional empathy; be able to identify with users; quickly read the tea leaves and respond accordingly; will cede control to members and co-create unexpected products.

Instead, let’s take a page from the black nationalists and focus on the real elements that comprise self-determination: access to ideas, to training, to colleagues and talent, to funding sources, to markets. Conferences are but a simulation of the ecosystem; they are not the thing in itself. I submit that when we get our gender ratios all kumbayah for every tech conference, we still will not have done much. We’ll feel better, but not much will have changed.—Identity Is a Mashup

[Update] Arrgggh. Shouldn’t have refreshed the feed reader! Other posts on the subject but that I haven’t gotten to yet:


hugh February 28, 2007

funny i have been thinking about this too – it came up, as you mentioned, a couple of times in relation to Montreal events. I got in trouble for writing a list of people I know doing cool web projects, and having only 2 of 11 women. and right after that post, there was an open invite to a Montreal Web Entrepreneur’s breakfast. Come one come all. The invites spread around the net, whoever wanted to come came. And the stats? 30 men and 1 woman. To an open invite, come meet other web entrepreneurs breakfast.

Now there may be reasons for that. I do not know what they are, exactly. are there fewer women web entrepreneurs? (probably). do women, by and large, not feel comfortable in uncertain circumstances like that – where you don’t know who will be there? (I don’t know).

clearly there is something happening, some reason why others didn’t come. maybe someone can explain.

Though, to our credit, Yulblog has many women, barcamp #1 had a decent number, podcamp toronto had many, and there are lots of good female web developers & project insitgators in Montreal … but still there is some kind of thing going on. which remains, to me, a mystery.

jkottke February 28, 2007

Re: dishonesty, I would love to have numbers for the industry but they don’t exist anywhere online that I can find…not good numbers, anyway. If I had them, I would have posted them alongside the conference speaker numbers.

Patrick February 28, 2007

Hugh: Personally I think the “mystery” is mostly answered by the conclusion that we’re just different, there are a number of things that could be done better to draw women to conferences but in the end, sadly, they are largely less interested. It’s not everyone and it doesn’t excuse blunders and bypassing the ones that are interested and all the points made in the linked posts are valid but it does affect the totals and explains that even when every effort is made, there are still differences.

Jason: A bit mis-phrased on my part, I wasn’t expecting the numbers for the industry, more of an acknowledgment that the industry population skews the numbers and we can’t expect 50/50 at conferences from a pool that’s not 50/50. That’s where I felt it was dishonest because it makes for a more impressive/spectacular difference outside of industry context.

hugh March 1, 2007

patrick: “the “mystery” is mostly answered by the conclusion that we’re just different.”

ok, i’ll take that. here is a proposal: if we are just different in our interaction with conferences and events, then maybe we are also just different in our interactions with web sites. or, A-list web standards men are likely to build web-standards and web sites that are finely tuned to males. so if we are interested in the other 50% of the human race, as potential lookers-at web sites, it’s worthwhile trying to figure out what those differences might be, especially wrt web sites (and secondarily, conferences).

If kotte says: there should be more women, conference organizers are negligent. and the conference organizers say: i don’t care. and 100s of people write comments about it, and you report on it in such detail, then surely it’s worth pondering the mysteries that are at the heart of things. men and women are different, sure, when it comes to the web, and web conferences. but why? what are the differences?

part of the reason that might be interesting would be to help build better web sites for 50% of the population.

Patrick March 1, 2007

Agreed with everything you said, except the “interactions with websites are different” which I’d be sceptical about. Clicking and browsing and reading wouldn’t change all that much, not as much as I think in does to the approach to meetings of strangers and conferences.

But anyway, I agree 100% with the advantages, I just think that that possible difference, plus the presence in the field means we need to readjust our expectations. I think SXSW at 31% female speakers for example is probably the high watermark for a while until there are (possible) more women working in web stuffs.

Chris Car March 4, 2007

FYI, the first modern computer programmers were women:

– Ada Lovelace (

– Klara, the wife of Von Neumann was programming in ENIAC even before it was officially launched (he taught her to program) (

What happend ever since? Let’s start with some stereotypes: why isn’t programming considered “being a female thing” like – let’s say – knitting?
I think it had much to do with the further development of the technology at military organizations where women were not part of. Women brought birth to children and cared for them. There is not much time left to work on the software engineer career. And sadly enough, this is still true in 2007. Of course, much changed in the meantime, but the stereotypes are still strong in the society. There are only a few women who do their thing, but I think this is not easy. Just imagine you start to work in an area where you are the only man. You are surrounded by women only. A man might think of this scenario as: “this is just great, I am sure there are some good looking women too!” In my opinion, the problems just start at this point, since women are not treated equally. And women feel it, if a man looks at her butt. I think good looking women which are entrepreneurs and highly qualified experience the biggest problems nowadays.

My conclusion: we need more women who shout out loud and be proud of what they are doing. Only these women can be examples for the next generation of young women.

(I just imagined if there were no men yet who did software development… and I would be one of the first who enter this field… I think it won’t be easy for me).

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