I just finished reading a report from Ensono entitled
Speak Up 2020
Redesigning tech Conferences with Women in Mind
The report, released two days ago, is based on two primary collections of data: An audit of eighteen major tech conferences from around the world (See the list Here), including a review of speaker data for three years; and a survey of five hundred women from the U.S. and U.K. who attended a tech conference in the previous twelve months. In all, the conferences surveyed had a total of more than one million attendees.
Note: These data were compiled before the pandemic, and before most in-person conferences were shut down for 2020.
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A handful of key findings stand out. I would be very interested in hearing responses from women in the SMB IT community about their experiences. Put comments below - or on your own blog, and point me there.
The big points where conferences are getting things wrong, according to the report, are:
- Discrimination - both on the basis of sex and race. 62% of female keynote speakers said they have experienced discrimination at tech conferences.
- Facilities - for speakers. Speaking environments are often set up for men "by default." For for example, tall bar stools on the stage are not a good choice for women in skirts. Microphones that pin to a man's blazer may not work well on a dress.
- Facilities - for attendees. A lack of mothers' rooms and even restrooms can make it more challenging for some women to attend.
These things - and others - can make women feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. One thing that can go a long way to helping "next year" is to include questions in the conference evaluations regarding experiences about discrimination, harassment, and facilities.
It's obviously good that more women are on stage at presenters and panelists, but we also need to make sure the female attendees have a good experience and will come back to the conference in the future. And, we have to acknowledge that we're all in this together. If someone feels uncomfortable and unwelcome at one, or two, or three conferences, they may choose to just stop going to conferences. That's not good for our industry.
The report had some good suggestions for conference organizers, and for companies sending women to these events. One obvious tip is to complete the feedback loop. Companies can ask attendees about the conference, and pass that feedback on to the conference organizers.
As a checklist nerd, I wrote a big comment in the margin: A checklist would be good.
I have worked with many conferences and conference organizers. It is my impression that women are very well represented among the conference organizers. In addition to picking the facilities, they have great input on the furniture that's used, the AV equipment, and other facilities.
Some improvements need (eventually) to come from the facility managers. Clearly, the conference organizers could do much to publish rules of conduct and make it easy to report problems.
I sat on the CompTIA executive committee for Advancing Women in IT last year, and I sit on the EC for Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity this year. So, I've had a lot of conversations about this topic over the last few years.
Our industry has a great imbalance that needs to be addressed. As events get smaller, the percentage of female attendees decreases significantly. In many ways, this reflects the participation of women in our industry nationally and globally.
If we want to improve the balance, one big step is to make women feel welcome and comfortable at our events. And this includes making gender enough of a "non-issue" that the big take-away is about education and getting value from the event.
And on a personal note, I would add that this is not a "women's" problem. This is an industry issue. It won't be solved with women talking to each other about what's wrong. Everyone needs to be in the conversation, including the men who attend the conferences.
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Thanks to Ensono for doing this research and publishing the results. As always, I welcome your feedback.