Finding women tech speakers is really difficult

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02 December 2016

I consider myself a strong ally for diversity in technology in general, and women in technology more specifically. I work to improve matters through my role as CTO at Magenic, as a conference chair for VS Live and Modern Apps Live, through my social media channels, and in any other way I can.

Today this tweet came through my feed from @CallbackWomen:

The idea of a conference giving out Playboy magazines in their welcome pack is surreal, and clearly violates the spirit (and I think the letter) of their own code of conduct.

I do want to pick a nit with the tweet regarding the lack of diversity in the speaker lineup though. I agree there’s a problem with a lack of diversity in their lineup - and the lineups of nearly every tech conference out there.

But as a conference chair I can say that finding women to speak at tech conferences is really hard. This is something I’ve been trying to overcome for years now, and have solicited help and input from female colleagues, other allies like myself (such as John Scalzi, friends, random people on twitter (like the @CallbackWomen community and others), and speakers at conferences specifically about diversity in tech (such as AlterConf where it is easy to find women speakers).

If I look at VS Live and Modern Apps Live in particular, we’ve done things like create and actively enforce an anti-harassment policy, and many attempts to reach out to various online communities focused on women speakers in tech. This is ongoing over the past several years, so not a recent thing or a one-time thing.

The result, over all this time, has been new submission from women to our CFP process. And we had her speak and she was excellent.

What I’d like from this post

What I’d like to see from this post is perhaps a broader conversation and input on ways to bring in more submissions from women speakers to tech conference call for presentations/speakers/papers. As conference chairs we can’t increase diversity in our speaker lineups if no women even submit to speak.

If you are a woman in technology, do you speak? If so, how do we attract your attention?

If are a woman in tech and you don’t speak (but would like to), how can we encourage you to speak? Or help you develop speaking skills? Are there gender-specific blockers that are preventing you from becoming part of the speaker community?

And there is a speaker community by the way. Well, I’m sure there are many different such communities. In the Microsoft app dev tech space there’s a large and vibrant speaker community. And this community has some diversity, including some extremely accomplished women. But the number is so small that I believe I know all of them, and count most as friends. I don’t know all the men in the community, because there are too many. That highlights the issue in a sense.

So again, what I’d love to see is a conversation about what it is that prevents accomplished women technologists who are public speakers from submitting to conferences like VS Live? And what prevents women technologists who want to become speakers from pursuing that avenue?