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This post entitled Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men was making the rounds when I got back from camping yesterday. It's a "just do it" rallying cry, which is not unreasonable (more women trying will likely result in more succeeding) but one that's made a bit blindly, unaware of some of the barriers that those who try are facing.

There's already an excellent response out there which says most of what I wanted to say: Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Playing the Blame Game. Basically, quit trying to blame it all on men or women or society or math test scores and try working together to create solutions. All of these things (and more) are to blame, but pointing it out isn't nearly as helpful as finding work-arounds.

But there's still one thing I'd like to pull out of the original article:

We beg women to come and speak. (...) And you know what? A lot of the time they say no. Because they are literally hounded to speak at every single tech event in the world because they are all trying so hard to find qualified women to speak at their conference.


Let me tell you a story. One year, it was announced that one student in my department was going to get a special job. Over the months afterwards, I heard a lot of grumbling. The problem was not that said student couldn't do the job: the person was an excellent candidate. The problem was that the student had been the only candidate. The university had quite a number of other talented students, and they had not been made aware of the upcoming position or given a chance to apply. The person who got the job was the same person regularly nominated for special scholarships, invited to special events, seemingly given first right of refusal in many other projects. The upper academia equivalent of a teacher's pet.

The problem was that the university saw themselves as having a single exceptional candidate, when in fact they had probably 10, 30, or more.

I think this is what's starting to happen when it comes to women in tech. Sure, there might not be enough of us. Sure, it's no where near the 50% of the population. But that doesn't mean you get to ask the 5 women you know or have seen speak before and then sigh and say "it's too bad no women want to participate." Like the university, you're probably missing at least 10 times as many who are qualified, but haven't been quite so heaped with honours so they're harder to find.

If all the women you're asking are all busy, it's not necessarily a sign that all possible excellent candidates are busy; it could just be a sign that you're looking in the same place as everyone else.

Because I interact with a lot of other techcnical women, I know there are many good people who just don't hear about speaking opportunities. And others have so many requests they can't handle them all.

So in the spirit of being useful, here's some wider places you should look if you're trying to find some great women speakers. Maybe not all of them have given keynotes and been interviewed a dozen times, but they're still interesting people who could enhance your event:

  • The Grace Hopper 2010 schedule includes a many women speakers on a number of topics. (I'm on the open source track!) I found the calibre of speakers at GHC 09 to be especially high, so it's a great place to start when looking for a great speaker. Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of candidates? Talk to @ghc and ask for help making the right connections.


  • Geekspeakr.com is intended to help events find technical women speakers and vice versa. You can search by keywords or just browse around. These folk have all signed up saying they're willing to speak!


  • My university Women in Science and Engineering group ran the Carleton Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering last spring, and I was especially impressed with the the technical speakers during the day (i.e. before 5pm) because they were presenting graduate level research and ideas in ways that were accessible and fascinating. These women are definitely a cut above when it comes to science communicators!

  • There are many women's groups around you can ask. I'm a member of Systers (originally for women in SYStems, now a more general women in technology group) and Linuxchix (a group for women and allies interested in Linux or other open source). But there's lots more such groups.



And that's only scratching the surface of places I'd look if I wanted to find good female speakers. Need some more help? Just ask!

Date: August 30th, 2010 09:29 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] spaghettisquash
My response is fueled by working in a less conference-oriented tech field that tends to prioritize stability over innovation.

One thing that really annoyed me is the idea that "women in tech" is visible only by "women running their own business" and "women speaking at conferences". While obviously techcrunch's view is skewed towards writing articles (where entrepreneurs and conference speakers are clearly key), it does not exactly touch on the rest of the equation. [general population] -> [work in tech] -> [interesting enough for an article] -> [actual techcrunch article]. I do not disbelieve that they are awesome at that last arrow, but I think that the tech industry should care about the first or second arrows more. My actual jobs suggest that there are few women in my field so if I see a lot of articles written about women in my field or a lot of female speakers discussing my field, I suspect some bias in the publicity.

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