Monday, January 07, 2013

Three simple actions to redress the balance

That old chestnut

I’m going to keep this one brief. I’m bored of writing about this old chestnut. I expect you’re bored of reading about it, but the whole issue of the lack of representation of women at tech conferences has reared its ugly head again. I guess I’m partly responsible so that’s one of the reasons for writing about it, yet again.

I happened to mention on my Facebook page that I liked the look of the upcoming Edge conference but was disappointed to see no female speakers listed at all at the time of posting. Not an unreasonable comment – especially given my history in talking about the subject for many years and being a seasoned event organiser. That generated some debate, some interesting links and some feedback and comments from friends and friends of friends. You can read it here 

Following being name-checked in a few tweets, I read a stern criticism of the Edge Conference speaker line-up here where the (male) writer considers it inexcusable that there are no female speakers listed and the unwillingness of the producer to comment on the process. I think the term ‘inexcusable’ is strong. I doubt it was deliberate, but getting more women involved just wasn’t a priority for the organiser. It usually isn’t. In fact, they’ve often not thought about it at all. That’s part of the problem.

Meanwhile, I’m reminded that CES is happening in Las Vegas and I watch this telling video from the BBC on the topic of scantily clad booth babes from the 2012 event and ponder if anything much will have changed. I feel it’s unlikely and shared my thoughts here. And it seems from this year’s Voco campaign to drive traffic to its stand, nothing much has changed at all. You can read about the campaign to boycott Voco here. Their campaign just makes me feel queasy.

I also read about The Atlantic’s idea about boycotting all male panels ‘Men: You can fix this. Refuse to participate unless there are women on stage with you.’ And a friend points me to this useful infographic explaining how women contribute to the entrepreneurial scene.

And finally, I stumble across this blog post and words fail me.

So why am I bothered about all of this?

Technology is a huge part of all of our futures and I want to make sure that female voices are heard so that we play a part in building that future, so that we have a stake in it. So that we can make the future a better place.

Mixed gender teams do better. That’s what the research tells us, over and over. You’re better off with an average ability mixed gender team than a high ability single sex team if you want to be more profitable, more productive, happier. My conclusion is that mixed panels and mixed line-ups will mean a better conference, a more productive networking event and more knowledge sharing. And more women in tech will mean we’ll have created a better future for ourselves.

And my hunch is that if we can get more women to participate, then we’ll get more of everybody to participate. This will make it better for everyone.

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe I’m idealistic. But I don’t think this is too much to ask. It also isn’t down to one group of people to fix this. We all have a part to play.

three film stripThere are three simple things that, I believe, will help make the situation better. (I’ve talked about them on Facebook as well)

1. Conference and event organisers need to be more mindful about getting more female speakers involved and make a concerted effort on this. Different people need to be approached in different ways. Try new ways to get more women involved.

2. Women need to step up and get involved. Be counted. The more you do this, the easier it gets. Get on with it. [Need some tips on how to be a good speaker? There’s some great advice here.]

3. Men need to defer to their female colleagues once in a while. When you're asked to speak, why not suggest a female colleague instead so they can get the experience and exposure? Your company still gets the kudos. The knowledge is still shared.

In doing these three things, there will be a knock-on effect that more people will get involved from all aspects of our society and from all backgrounds. This is a good thing and I don't think it's too much to ask.

And finally. I know that getting more women into tech needs to be tackled in our schools as well. I fully support that. The two are not mutually exclusive. Every little action counts.

I sincerely hope, that this is the first and last time I feel compelled to blog about this in 2013. But it’s not up to me. It’s up to all of you out there to do your bit too. Are you in?

Chestnut photo used under Creative Commons License. Photo by PracticalOwl.

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