This is an excerpt from a post I wrote for the Technically Women blog yesterday afternoon. With Twitter back up today, it’s been much-discussed, and was subsequently re-posted on ZDnet by Dennis Howlett, so I thought I would share it with you here.
I think part of the problem is many of us suck at two things: valuing our skills and engaging in healthy self-promotion. There may be a good reason for the latter, which is what I want to focus on: when it comes to social media in particular, self-promotion so frequently trumps actual accomplishments that we have a saucy little word for it – douchebaggery. No one wants to be seen as a douchebag (except for the douchebags, and that’s because they don’t know any better).
I would love to hear your feedback – why do you think there aren’t there more women on the speakers’ circuit? What do we need to do differently?
Try asking women who aren’t in the tiny pool of “known speakers,” women who don’t swim in the same circles as everyone else. Women who don’t slavishly go to every conference but who are in the industry, have been for many years, and who are working at what they do.
There are lots of us out there, the main problem I see is that it’s all very cliquey. If you don’t live in SF and the Bay area, or NYC or LA or another tech heavy area, women in tech don’t exist. We definitely do, but we aren’t on the same circuits.
I live in Phoenix, after many years in DC. I host arguably the longest running radio tech show, Sound*Bytes on CBS News Radio. There are many talented,. savvy, sassy women in tech here – we have some big tech companies here, but no one putting conferences together even thinks of looking here for speakers.
We exist – what you’re doing wrong is fishing from the same women in tech pool. You have to cast your lines and nets into other waters. You’ll be surprised at what you find.
When we suggest speakers, it is often people we have already heard speak that come to mind first. And if it is mostly men we have heard speak, then that is who we tend to recommend (the old chicken-and-egg situation). I believe it’s probably not intentional that we mostly see men as speakers as a result, but rather a bias that has developed over time in our system.
When we get the opportunity to recommend speakers or set a program, it’s a good idea to take a step back and see if the panel of speakers we are considering is balanced by gender and in other ways. We will likely have to think of those who don’t come to mind right away, at least at first.
It’s also a good idea for us to encourage new speakers–female or male. Speaking is one of many people’s greatest fears, and can take years to develop as a skill. When setting a roster of speakers, then, why not throw in one or two promising new people as well as the seasoned favourites?
And I would encourage women, when invited to speak, not to discount the notion out of hand. Pushing yourself outside your personal limits into areas of fear is how we grow and develop. And perhaps even consider putting yourself forward as a speaker before being invited.
I think you hit the nail on the head with your two points – valuing our skills and self promotion. Even many of the women I know who are on the speaking circuit wait until people approach them to speak which provides external validation that what we/they have to say is of value rather than knowing it inherently and searching out opportunities to share their knowledge, skills and expertise themselves.
But then again, we all have businesses to run, so part of it is prioritizing speaking as part of business and career development.
Is it just known speakers that get chosen or is it people with known names? I notice not many women blog at the technical site I go on. Not many of them WIKI. In comparison with the gentlemen, not many of the women answer questions in the forums.
Last year I submitted what I thought were excellent ideas or topics for a technical conference. Last year, I worked really hard on my submissions. I submitted to two different organizations 4 different presentations. (And it took a long time to write them up.) I did get a phone call. The person I talked to wanted to know exactly what I would be speaking about. Since I hadn’t put my presentation together, and just had some ideas in my head, I was turned down. Last year I hadn’t blogged that much – if at all. Since last year, I’ve been active on the technical website.
This year, I am speaking at the event.
I was discouraged from last year. This year when submission time came around I was working on a large project. I was at the end of the project, and my hours were going steadily higher at work. I spent maybe, MAYBE, 10 minutes on the submission. It was not as detailed as what I sent out the last time. Nor as well put together. I submitted it only once.
The point is: Is it just known speakers that get chosen or is it people with known names? I notice not many women blog at the technical site I go on. Not many of them WIKI. In comparison with the gentlemen, not many of the women answer questions in the forums.
Since last year, I’ve been an active blogger at the technical site. I’ve answered questions when I’ve had the time. I’ve spoken at an event that was not as large.
So – could it be that we just don’t take the time to do all the work to get our names out there? Is part of it name recognition?
Just another thought.
Side note: At the same time, my presentation is on Friday when the attendance is down. It may be that the topic was one that was not of interest to the people attending. It may be that I haven’t paid my dues yet, and spoken before a large crowd. I like to think that it is not because I am a woman, but it is the topic or my experience.
I am, by the way, working hard on the presentation. I’ve presented it twice to my colleges at work.