The familiar issue of diversity – particularly in terms of those speaking at industry conferences has been raised again. As a female web developer I almost feel duty bound to weigh in! It occured to me that I know why I don’t get to many events, but I’d be interested to know if my experience is typical, or if there are other reasons why women aren’t speaking at or attending events.
Having been on a panel at @media 2006 I have found more confidence in speaking at events and would do so again, however as a woman with a family it isn’t always possible. My daughter is young enough to still need taking care of but old enough to have her own life – we both have to make compromises. So that is the main reason I didn’t attend SXSW as a panelist this year. I could have brought her along, however as the conference is in the middle of a school term and her education is at least equally as important as the things I might like to do, I decided that it wouldn’t be appropriate.
So are women not attending or turning down offers to speak at conferences because they feel they are in a minority, or is it often due to logistical reasons? Can any of those reasons be addressed? For example, if you have a family to work around having a good deal of notice is helpful. If a speaker is travelling down on the day to a local conference – perhaps they could be offered a slot after lunch so they can do a school drop off and still speak – finding after-school care is generally easier. Perhaps multiple day conferences can offer one day tickets so that people who have childcare issues, or don’t want to spend time away from families can just attend for one day more easily and economically? Maybe we need more smaller, grassroots type conferences that are more accessible, inexpensive, perhaps less threatening to people who haven’t spoken in public before – I think that seems to be something which is already happening, there do seem to be far more small events taking place.
I have had conversations with women who have felt it might seem unprofessional if they admitted they had childcare issues to consider, and that people would see them as unreliable or not committed to work. Most people I know who run businesses or work and have children tend to be just the opposite. We have to plan carefully what happens and when, so if I say I’ll be somewhere at a certain time it’s pretty likely I will be, because there will have been a plan rolled out to ensure I can be there! This isn’t an issue for our industry alone, as this article on ScienceCareers.org discusses, the science community has similar issues.
Something else which occured to me on the wider issue of diversity is that many of our events are quite focussed on socialising – in particular in licensed premises! Anyone who knows me will know that I like a pint as much as the next person, but I also know of people who for religious and other reasons are not happy to go to a pub, or would just rather not be at an event which involved a lot of alcohol. Again, I don’t know if that is a real problem for anyone, but might be worth considering.
These are just my thoughts but I do think it is important to find out the real reasons why women are not showing up at tech conferences. I’m sure I can’t be the only person who doesn’t attend for purely logistical reasons and I’d like to stress that I know it is not only women who have childcare to deal with, and there are many men who have exactly the same issues in getting places. Exploring these issues has to be good for everyone, and I’d love to know your thoughts …