Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Are women invisible?

And if so, what can we, the mobile industry, do about it?

I've recently written about the lack of female speakers at Informa's upcoming Mobile Web conference. I've also been alerted that the Mobile Marketing Association's forthcoming conference in Budapest (also run by Informa) lacks female visibility. And then I discovered that the Mobile Web Megatrends conference is also suffering the same problem.

Why so few women speakers, panellists or moderators?

And don't tell me this is representative of the industry because I know it isn't - we have good female representation at Mobile Mondays, more women come to Swedish Beers now (and growing) and the women in the Women in Mobile Data Association are plentiful! I even hear along the grapevine that the MMA has a strong female contingent.

And yes, this is a particular bugbear of mine. But with good reason. So bear with me.

I'm fed up to the back teeth of conference organisers and their sponsors ignoring women in the mobile industry (Informa being a recent obvious culprit, but they are certainly not alone) and coming up with lame excuses as to why women aren't involved. And many of these events are actually organised by women which makes it even worse. Do women still defer to men? Do women need a license to speak up?

I'm not a bra-burning feminist by any stretch of the imagination. But come on, this is the 21st Century and we've had the vote a while now. Women make 80% of buying decisions, women are more prolific on the internet than men, women are driving social networking - why aren't they (we) visible at potentially game-changing events where real decisions are made about all our digital futures, when potentially, it will probably impact most on women's day to day lives than men's.

I don't expect to get to 50/50 but to get to 25% visibility would be a start and not unreasonable I'd have thought. Or am I deluded here?

And don't give me the comment 'well if it's a choice between a man and a woman speaker and the man's the better qualified speaker then we choose the man' because in *most* cases in my 8 year experience of attending mobile conferences and events, there are few 'brilliant' speakers on the circuit at all - male or female - so there isn't usually an issue of having to choose between them. And with different formats, different styles of speakers get a chance to shine and therefore it encourages diversity.

It still feels like women are pretty much invisible and that the mobile industry is still very much a boy's club. [And yes, I know it's not just the mobile industry - I can only tackle one sector at a time!]


1. Do we need to rethink event formats to make them more accessible to women? And if so, what are those formats?

2. How do we boost the confidence of female participants so that they say yes more times than they say no when asked to contribute as a speaker, panellist, moderator, whatever?

3. How do we encourage women to take networking and conferencing at this level seriously and make it a core part of their jobs rather than something they do once in a blue moon?

4. How do we encourage companies to put women forward as speakers as often as, or sometimes instead of the men in their companies?

5. How do women network differently (particularly married women) and how do we incorporate male and female styles of networking at events without resorting to separatism or golf days for the boys and spa days for the girls? (Much as I enjoy a spa, I don't really fancy networking with other women whilst in a dressing gown. Where would I put my business cards, phone and notebook anyway? And it does just confirm existing stereotypes and ridicules them. Why don't we just have a shoe-shopping expedition?!)

As a woman, you might think I qualify to answer these questions. Unfortunately, I don't suffer from a fear or reticence of speaking at events. I don't work for a big company so I don't have a glass ceiling to break through (I've experienced it in the past though), so I don't necessarily understand some of what's going on here and why these problems persist or what to do about them. In many cases, women themselves, are ensuring these problems persist so I'm not laying the blame solely on men here.  It's deeply culturally embedded so I know it's not a simple issue. Therefore, I'm particularly interested to hear others views and perceptions - and that's from men *and* women please!

I do believe this is a problem. And I do think we can change it for the better if we want to and hope that if I keep piping up about it, something positive will happen.

Some further links here too (and it's worth looking at the comments and links to other posts to get the full picture):

I also spotted this upcoming group 'Needs Women Speakers' who are naming and shaming conferences who need more female speakers, and there's an accompanying blog post.

And I've started the discussion on the Oxford Forum too in the hope we may make some progress and find a way forward from this.

And Jason Kottke has been talking about diversity at web industry conferences and some of them are suffering the same problem - although many have healthy female coverage, showing that it is possible.

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