After reading these articles A Simple Suggestion to Help Phase Out All-Male Panels at Tech Conferences and The Panel Pledge: A Follow-Up, I thought I would jot down some of my observations on the topic. The articles (and the robust comment threads) address the role of conference organizers and participants, I think there are some other contributors to this sad sad state of affairs.
Why aren't more women presenting and participating in panels at tech and design conferences?
1. Women are less focused on self-promotion
I know this will stir up plenty of conflicting opinions but this is what I've observed, and it stands out for me because I would say there are way more women UX practitioners than men but you wouldn't know it by looking at who's in the spotlight. I see men who spend a lot of time and energy keeping their names top of mind and doing things with the goal of promoting themselves.When I look closely at these men I don't see that they have any special talents or are particularly better at the work than many of women in my field. It seems that the women just spend all their professional energy on the work rather than promoting themselves within the community therefore they don't get acknowledged as pioneers, authorities or leaders.
We women need to realize that self-promotion is a healthy (and necessary) part of a professional life. I'm not sure our natural instincts will ever let us fully embrace this idea but we gotta, how else do we expect to be included in larger discussions and invited to the table. People need to know about the great work we are doing everyday and we need to be the ones to tell them.
2. Women can't travel as often because they are the mommies
This one hits close to home now that I have my sweet little one. Simple fact, women are less likely to travel when they have young children. Most of the moms I know slow down or stop traveling completely when they have young children. Most of the dad's do not.
I haven't gotten on a plane since I was 7 months pregnant, it's been almost a year and it will still be some months before I care to business travel and once I start it will be on a "must be there" basis. Conference attendance is still aways off for me. I'm not complaining at all, having a baby is the best reason to take a break from other parts of life, but I do think it's a big factor.
3. This relates to 1 & 2 - Women have more responsibilities at home and in the community
So we have less time for writing, side projects, general self-promotion and travel.
3. Attending conferences is a prerequisite for speaking at them and women get less opportunities to attend conferences
Given continued work place marginalization and discrimination we are often overlooked when it comes to travel and education dollars. I know this isn't true everywhere but it is true in a lot of work places. I've seen it more times than I care to remember. The boys clubs are still going strong, even in our industry, and these relationships between the men in our organizations influence who gets to go where and do what.
I don't have any general conclusions or solutions, but I thought mentioning these factors added something to the conversation As the articles says, organizers and participants have a responsibility to change the ratio of presenters at conferences but so do employers, husbands/partners and ourselves.
I hope to see you on a panel soon!
Other articles on the topic:
Photo: One of my favorite women speakers, Brenda Laurel . Here is her keynote from Interaction 11.