1. Conferences and Events

Where Are the Women? A Program Chair's POV

After responding to a thoughtful post with equally thoughtful responses on CK’s blog, I was going to publish a column in MediaPost on gender and conference speakers.

Here’s what CK asked:

Two questions, really:

1. Why do you think there’s such a significant amount more
males booked on panels than females? It seems to average about 75-80%
male (so 20%- 25% female).

2. Can we..should we..be doing better?

And here’s what I offered in the comments; I welcome hearing your thoughts.

At the Search Insider Summit, speakers were mostly male
(perhaps a 70-30 split). We did have a female keynote (Esther Dyson) as well as
some panels that were predominantly women, but the gender discrepancy was
there. Interestly, attendees seemed to be about 50% women.

Here are a few possible explanations:

* Most of the male speakers were VPs or above at interactive
agencies or technology companies, so the technology gender bias played a role,
even for an event more for marketers and agencies. Marketers are much harder to
land as speakers for a number of reasons, and it’s the marketers there that
seemed to skew female, or at least have much higher female representation (note
that all attendees had some sort of management role, making the glass ceiling
less of a factor). 

* Do I have some sort of bias? It’s hard to tell, and it’s not intentional of course. There were many speakers with whom I had some sort
of professional connection or who I sought out specifically to take part, and
there’s no clear gender pattern there. At least half of the female speakers
fell into this category; perhaps I should have been more aggressive in roping women into speaking roles.

* There could be broader gender issues at play too. Quite a
few of the people helping behind the scenes were women, notably PR
professionals pitching their clients, and we have the "behind every
man" factor come up. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, nor is it
necessarily something to lash out against, but it is very common, and the
event’s success was much more dependent on women than the agenda showed.

* Some people commented on men being more aggressive, which
might have played a role (though for the subset of the event, the most
tenacious, determined speakers were women, almost across the board – and if any
read this, they’ll know who they are). Perhaps it’s that men are more likely to be in entrepreneurial roles, and thus they lend themselves more to the pitching and speaking.

* I was talking to some people at the opening night cocktail
reception and one attendee came up to a man there and said, "You look like
a speaker." There were no speaker badges at this event, but the attendee
was right. Interestingly, it was one of the speakers who really did look like
one – tall, polished, winning smile (fittingly, he’s also a CEO). I can’t
remember if a man or woman made the comment about the CEO looking like a
speaker, but it was a keen observation, and there are several people who were
on the agenda because they played the part of someone groomed to be a speaker
so well. When you think of a speaker, does Mitt Romney or Hillary Clinton come
to mind? For me, Hillary at her best sounds like a good speaker, though Mitt clearly looks like one.

* The analogy brings up another interesting point – so many of the
speakers we’re used to hearing, notably for two years out of every four, work
in politics – a male-dominated field. Perhaps that plays a role in perception
as well. (An aside: there are a couple speakers who, because of past
performance, are on my ‘do not contact’ list, and that very small sample is
comprised entirely of men, so I’m not sure if that means anything here.)

One aside: someone referenced the alleged referee bias in
the NBA. Dan Daly had a great response in The Washington Times, which I first
saw referenced in The Week: "Could it be — and I’m just playing devil’s
advocate here — that blacks are called for more fouls because they’re simply
more aggressive? I just checked the final stats for the 2006-07 regular season.
There are only two whites among the top 50 in steals, Manu Ginobili (23rd) and
Kirk Hinrich (35th). There are just nine whites, moreover, among the top 50
shot blockers. Might not this at least partially explain the Foul Imbalance?
Or, in these tabloid times, must we blame it on something insidious like
subconscious racism?"

One last thought: if you’re a woman or man working in the
search marketing world or a related field and want to be considered for a
future event, email me at dberkowitz ( at ) 360i ( dot ) com, or reach out
through the blog.

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