Over the years, we’ve heard discussion surrounding the diversity of tech conference speakers. The conversation was reignited this month with a series of articles and subsequent comment threads. Some pundits went so far as to suggest men speakers should boycott tech panels if there are no women on the panel. Obviously, that’s a limited and gimmicky solution.
Still, gender diversity of those staking out and/or being awarded thought leadership podiums is an interesting and perhaps vexing question. I’ve surround myself with brilliant women because they’re plentiful and I’m a smart guy. We wanted to see where the online marketing industry stands, so we analyzed 19 conferences. Data comparing men to women speakers, on a conference-by-conference basis, is published as part of this post.
Not Apples To Apples
There are a number of considerations at play studying gender diversity among speakers. Most major conferences have a public pitch process. They can’t always control who pitches. One also needs to consider the organic makeup of any tech sector. Who has the jobs? Who are the leaders? Why those people and not others? It may be true that women are underrepresented in some (or even most) tech professions, but is that the conferences’ problem? Well, maybe in a sense it is, or not, you decide (chicken, egg; egg, chicken, and so on).
Straight up percentage is not the only way to measure. Compare a conference with 3000 attendees, 75 female speakers and 150 male speakers vs. a conference with 500 attendees with 9 female and 8 male speakers. Which tech conference is promoting women more, the one with the high percentage or count?
Before setting forth we also posed the questions, “What about other distinctions like race, religion, political party, sexuality or national origin? Why don’t we study those and others?” We decided that gender is the most basic of demographic delineations and fundamental to human roles. We encourage others to to examine additional diversity dynamics.
As a species we’ve been conflicted about the roles of men and women since Adam & Eve, a foundational story to three of the world’s major religions.
The Study & Method
In light of the recent rhetoric, we decided to gather data to understand the ratio of men to women speakers for each conference and for a sampling in aggregate. We opted to measure the conferences that are important to aimClear, in our immediate community, and/or that we participate in: SMX (West, Advanced, East, London & Sydney), SES (New York, San Francisco, Chicago & London), PubCon Vegas, Affiliate Summit East, MediaPost Social Insider Summit Captiva, PPC Hero, MIMA Minneapolis, Charlotte SearchExchange, mozCon, Conversion Conference, San Francisco and Zenith Duluth SocialCon. We’re aware of others we could have included but chose these 19 as a representative sampling. These conferences represented over two thousand speaking slots in 2012.
We included on-stage moderators but excluded audience Q&A mods’. We excluded sponsored speaking slots because organizers don’t choose speakers for such sessions. Sponsors do. When any person spoke on multiple panels at the same conference, they were counted multiple times. That’s a big deal because you might have one person speak on several panels and that speaker’s gender should get credit for multiple appearances, a higher percentage of the conference. In other words we measured available speaking slots within the conference, not just the raw count of men and women who participated as speakers.
Once the data was gathered, we reached into our circle and asked a powerful group of female online marketing thought leaders to weigh in. These ladies offered amazing insight. We also polled conference organizers, both men and women, each deep in professional ways well past their conference organizer roles. Their perspectives too are golden because, among other reasons, they directly choose or delegate choosing speakers for the conferences studied here and/or others. Here’s our roster, panel to right, Asterisks (*) denote conference organizers:
- Cindy Krum, Chief Executive Officer at MobileMoxie
- Erica McGillivray, Community Attaché, SEOmoz, Inc. *
- Lisa Barone, Vice President of Strategy at Overit Media
- Melissa Mackey, Search Supervisor at gyro
- Laurie Sullivan, MediaPost Reporter & Search Insider Summit Chairperson *
- Carri Bugbee, Social Media Marketing Strategist & Speaker
- Joanna Lord, VP of Growth Marketing at SEOmoz
- Danny Sullivan, Founding Editor Engine Land *
- Mari Smith, Facebook Marketing Expert Author & Trainer
- Laura Roth, Senior Conference Manager at Incisive Media New York *
- Brett Tabke, CEO, Pubcon Inc *
- Chris Sherman, VP Conference Production, Third Door Media (SMX) *
- Disa Johnson, Software Entrepreneur, SEO Tech, InfoSec
Read on for the data, discussion question and full responses from our panelists.