I saw this post yesterday, A Simple Suggestion to Help Phase Out All-Male Panels at Tech Conferences. And, I wondered what I would do, if I was male.
Let me provide a little more context. I had a conference call with some of the Prag editors just a couple of weeks ago. The Prags publish three of my books. They are looking for women authors, and the reason behind the conference call? A tech conference was cancelled because someone realized zero women were speaking. As in zero, nada, null. My reaction was, “Why the heck didn’t they call me?”
I’ve been the only woman on otherwise all-male panels at tech conferences. I speak the way I write: with authority. You’re not surprised, are you? I don’t have trouble getting a word in edgewise. The only problem with panels is that sometimes there are too many people on a panel, and then it’s difficult for anyone to get their thoughts in. I almost always get mine in.
But, taking a pledge doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, since that’s only one solution, it’s a trap. It exacerbates the problem. I would hope, that if I was a man, I would still have the same problem-solving skills I have now.
Any pledge you would take, depends on where you are in your career. If I was starting out, and no one knew me, who cares what pledge I took? A panel moderator would say, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and ask the next person on the list. My self-sacrifice would be meaningless. Yes, that a cynical answer, and all too true.
If you were recognized in your career, maybe you have more pull. But I know something about conferences. The speakers and their topics are what is key. So it’s not so much that it’s women. It’s the topic and the recognition of the speaker that pulls people into the conference.
Even if five people gave the same answer, “Is there a woman on the panel?” the moderator might not realize the subtext. But, if you then said, “Gee, did you ask any of these people” and rattled off a list of names, you might have more influence with the panel organizer.
If you really want to change the world, you would go to the conference organizer with a panel proposal, before the conference program is set, and say, “Here’s a list of people for a panel. There are 2 men and 2 women aside from me. Waddaya think?” Now, you’ve got conference organizer’s ear, and the speakers have a shot of sending in talks.
Instead of the what I wouldn’t do, let’s think of things we can do. In the spirit of the Rule of Three, here is what you might do:
- Take this pledge to not speak at all-male panels at tech conferences
- Offer the names of women you would like to see as panelists
- Keep a list of names of technical woman speakers so you can offer them at any time, off the cuff
- Propose panels of women technical speakers to conferences when you have a chance
- Go to other conferences, where they have more women speakers (boycott those conferences with all-male panels)
There, that ought to get your creative juices flowing. I bet you have many more ideas. Maybe you’ll post them in the comments.
Here’s another proposal. Ladies, would you like a “speaker’s bureau” for women tech speakers? It’s in quotes because I don’t know what it looks like. I’m thinking initially of a web page, where we post our information, and people can see us. If you are interested in this, email me. The more low-tech this is, the cheaper. The more high-tech, the more expensive. Clearly, these people need a way to discover “binders” full of women. Let’s give it to them.