Women speakers at conferences, expanding the conversation, some personal experience

Livia Labate, Principal of Information Architecture for Comcast Interactive Media, my team at Comcast, is asking some hard questions around why there are not more women speakers at conferences. She raises the issue here and follows up here.

Livia, meet Jeneane Sessum, writer, consultant, marketing pro, all round social media expert. In her latest post she runs the Industry Standard over the rails for doing what so many other media publications seem apt to do – publish a list of (top or must read) bloggers and not include women.

Livia, meet Shelley Powers, author, Javascript/AJAX extraordinaire who has written a number of posts on the subject, here are two: Progress, Invisible.

Shelley and Jeneane, meet Livia.

Before I mention anything from my point of view and experiences, two more links – one a shocker, and one a think piece:

NYTimes: Sorry, Boys, This Is Our Domain: Research shows that among the youngest Internet users, the primary creators of Web content (blogs, graphics, photographs, Web sites) are not misfits resembling the Lone Gunmen of “The X Files.” On the contrary, the cyberpioneers of the moment are digitally effusive teenage girls. The section this article appeared in? Fashion. Not Business. Not Technology.

Salon: The question isn’t why a blogger like Emily Gould has the spotlight — it’s why other women don’t.


I’ve written in the past about why I feel diversity is crucial to a successful gathering where information discussion is the goal.

I’ve never shared the difficulty I had in helping manage the Norg Unconference to meet that ideal.

The Norg Unconference was to build bridges between media technologists, independent bloggers, and traditional newspaper media, to help newspapers, indeed all of us, find a path to build the new news organization, or norg, as Will Bunch called it.

Many in attendance thought it was groundbreaking how it brought together such radically different world views in media such as members of IndyMedia and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

But part of me walked away feeling it wasn’t such a big success – the participants in attendance weren’t a true representation of the real diversity in Philly – and in assisting Wendy Warren of the Philadelphia Daily News and Susie Madrak, in organizing the meeting, which was taking place in the lead up to Emma being born, and me burning the candle at both ends, I burnt some bridges myself, as I fought, prior to the conference, to get folks to work together across views of each other. I partially failed, and lost some friends I believe. For an ideal. I won’t go into details, as I hope bridges can one day be restored, I have no bad feelings.

I leave it at this – it is very, very hard to get people to open up to what others can bring to the table – and do so pro-actively – while looking outside the usual suspects to make it happen. For all my love of the Web’s capability to widen the scope of conversation, it also empowers us to be discriminating in who we give attention to. It’s human nature at play – the Web is an attention economy. You think it’s bad at conferences? Check out who is considered the ‘thought leaders’ in any niche blogging conversation, who is considered the A-list in any blogging topic space.

More background:

kottke.org: Gender diversity at web conferences

O’Reilly: Women in Technology

Dori Smith (Javascript Guru/Author): BackupBrain: Gender diversity at web conferences.

Kimberly Blessing: Where are all the women? (Revisited)

Anil Dash: The Old Boys Club is for Losers

One last question still bubbles…

This is from my earlier post (which has a lot more reference links):

Aren’t we collectively building an architecture of participation? Our face to face gatherings should mirror that. And if they don’t – then they reveal who we truly care about – don’t they?

2 thoughts on “Women speakers at conferences, expanding the conversation, some personal experience

  1. Hi Dori, thanks for commenting and stopping by. I fixed the reference to mention your Javascript authordom 🙂

    I think, for far too many, there have been folks feeling alone in this conversation. And generally a dismissiveness on the parts of those who I think know better.

    Hopefully this built a bridge.

Comments are closed.