Getting ultimately more women to tech conferences starts with the firms that send them

A report of keynote and featured speaker lineups at 18 major tech conferences during the last 3 years found a 1:4 male/female ratio.

A public restroom isn’t always where for conversation, but at AWS: Reinvent 2017, it had been the perfect setting to start out a significant one.

I never intended my experience to attract so much attention, however the scene before me was much too telling never to share: At a conference with an increase of than 40,000 attendees, the women’s restroom was almost completely empty . Not merely did the photo I snapped resonate on Twitter — where women replied by sharing their own barren tech-conference restroom photos — but news outlets like Tech.co quickly joined in.

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Indeed, Tech.co identified my observation as indicative of a more substantial problem: Where exactly are women at tech conferences?

Since it works out, this question is profoundly more challenging to answer than it could seem. Tech conferences, and the tech industry generally, don’t have a stellar reputation for gender equality. Robot strippers, sexist presentation decks and booth babes have occurred at conferences and also have grabbed headlines; we’re all acquainted with statistics that show women hold only 20 percent of technical jobs.

However, it could have a more objective consider the makeup of tech conferences — and a wider poll of the ladies attending them — to reveal how inequitable these events truly are. That’s why my company, Ensono, conducted just such a poll.

So, where, exactly, are women at tech conferences?

For just one, they may be entirely on stage, but considerably less often than men. Our poll viewed keynote and featured speaker lineups at 18 major tech conferences during the last 3 years. And we found a 1:4 ratio of men-to-women presenters. This wasn’t a horrible statistic since this ratio reflected women’s representation in technical roles in the workforce overall.

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However, women can’t be what they can’t see, plus they made that clear in a survey we distributed to U.S. and U.K. conference attendees. Seventy-six percent of respondents told us these were more likely to wait a tech conference if it included female speakers or programming aimed toward women; and 64 percent indicated it had been vital that you see women represented in speaker lineups.

What’s more, while women made up one-quarter of speakers, typically, across all conferences we audited, there have been several unfortunate outliers. From 2016 to 2018, we found fully 11 keynote-speaker lineups completely without female speakers. Additionally, of the ladies we surveyed who had spoken on a panel, 70 percent said that they had been the “lone” woman among those chosen to speak.

Having less female representation wasn’t our only worrisome finding. Twenty-five percent of women surveyed indicated that they had experienced sexual harassment at a tech conference, and a lot more than 40 percent said that they had had had an event that made them less inclined to attend another conference.

Additionally, women reported an over-all insufficient accommodations that could have improved their experience; this included needs like "mother’s rooms" for nursing moms or programming aimed toward ladies in tech.

Our research didn’t paint the rosiest picture of the tech-conference landscape for women. However, as the reflexive response is always to criticize conference organizers, that which was clear was that it’s also incumbent upon a person with decision-making abilities at work to look inward.

With an increase of thoughtfulness and open dialogue amongst their leadership personnel, companies could be the main solution to gender inequity at these conferences. Here’s how:

Marketing departments often choose who attends industry events and are likely involved in selecting speakers to represent the business. But it can be important that marketing departments promote these events internally at their organization, and support associates who would like to participate.

Marketing teams should be looking for fresh voices to speak at conferences, instead of counting on the same thought leaders every time.

Many associates might want an opportunity to speak, however, not yet be equipped for the stage. Companies should think about paying for presenting and public speaking or presentation courses, and encourage mentorship pairings with an increase of experienced co-workers who’ve represented the company during the past.

Many conferences now add a “code of conduct” within their programs — guidelines for behavior at the conference. However, over fifty percent of the ladies surveyed reported being unsure if such a code existed at a conference they’d attended.

Companies can are likely involved by creating a code of conduct of their own, outlining how associates are anticipated to behave at conferences.

Companies should think about why certain associates are scarce amongst their speaker pools and work to diversify the pool. If too little childcare may be the issue, companies should think about supplying a stipend or paying these costs altogether.

If associates are simply just too busy with their day-to-day work obligations to get ready for a panel or speaking engagement, time off ought to be offered. Simple support goes quite a distance toward making these opportunities more inclusive.

Clearly, tech conference organizers have their work cut out for them before women have as much opportunities and as positive an event as men. But it’s also important that leadership at companies make the commitment and take actions to encourage and enable more women to represent them.