NoWomenJustMen: The Roster at Most Tech Conferences

I heard from one of the organizers of the Spring Experience, an enterprise Java conference organized by NoFluffJustStuff that I criticized for assembling a 38-speaker roster than doesn't include a single female.

He never responded to my request to run his e-mail in full, but this quote sums it up:

We sought out a qualified speaker who was female. She is on your list. Unfortunately, she is in very high demand (as one would probably expect!) and in the end could not commit due to a scheduling conflict. Even with the conflict, we went the extra mile to accomodate her because she brought something different and refreshing to our target audience. Unfortunately, she just couldn't commit.

We're actively pushing bright girls out of professions like programming by reinforcing the idea that technological fields only appeal to one gender. The brain drain this causes has to be incredibly detrimental to this country's competitiveness, discouraging 51 percent of the population from pursuing these fields even as we rely more heavily on them in our economy.


This is a piss-poor response by the organizers. If your top pick isn't available to speak, have a second choice, and a third, and so on, until you get at least one woman as a speaker. Sheesh.

And why aren't they issuing a public statement?

If there's enough money in it, Dave Winer will get a sex change.

Would it be churlish of me to point out that the six members who have joined the RSS Advisory Board since the vote to expand it are all men?

Just sayin'.

That's fair criticism, but I feel like I'm in unusual circumstances there.

I decided in April that as chair I shouldn't be the one recruiting and nominating new members because I already had so much influence on the board's composition. I nominated seven of the 13 members currently serving with me on the board.

For the board to be successful, it can't be my personal fiefdom.

Time to find some token females. Gotta keep up appearances.

"Time to find some token females. Gotta keep up appearances."

It what sense would these women be tokens? Cadenhead put together a list of highly qualified women who could talk at the Spring Experience. They deserve to be at the conference. The question is why the women are being excluded. This is straight forward, blatant sexism. The women are being excluded only because they are women. They certainly possess the intellectual brilliance to star at the conference.

Lawrence, I'm not sure that we know for certain that women were being excluded from this conference. They may not have been *recruited*, that's true... but if one had said she wanted to speak, I believe they'd have been VERY happy to say yes.

In fact, the one woman they did ask was me, and while they REALLY should have done a better job of asking other women as well, I have to say that they worked harder than any other organization has to get me to speak there. If I'd said, "OK, but the dogs come with me--first class", I believe they'd have said, "Would they like windows or aisles?" As much as I wanted to be there, I couldn't make my schedule work, but I do know that they made a very serious effort to get me out there. Why they didn't do it for others, I don't know.

But honestly, most of the conferences I've spoken at happened because I proposed a talk or specifically wrote to the organizers directly, and NOT because I was invited (most speakers are not). To my mind, "excluding" women would be not accepting their proposals and having less-qualified men speak while turning down requests from women speakers.

[Note: this does not apply for first-time events that have been kept under the radar, with no open call for proposals and the speakers were invitation only. But these are not the norm for most tech conferences]

There's an elephant in the room here -- the discussion keeps talking about women being excluded, but how many women actually say "yes"? Lawrence, you mention that these women *deserve* to be there, and while I completely agree... how many of the women would have agreed to do it? Especially given that with most of these events the speakers still pay most of your own expenses, and that presenting at a conference is a stressful, difficult, time-consuming, expensive thing to do. I know at least one other woman -- Dori Smith -- who is good about saying "yes", but has anyone really asked most of the women we keep putting forward as candidates if they'd actually do it under *the same conditions and terms as the men* (in other words, no additional pay)?

If we want to see more women speakers, than more women have to agree to do it, and it's not a pleasant thing to do... the only reason I started doing it is because I'm a conference junkie and it's a way to reduce the cost for attending something I might have gone to (on my own dime) anyway.

The conference organizers I've spoken with from O'Reilly have had a very difficult time getting women to submit proposals, but when women DO -- they have a higher chance of having their proposal selected than the men do.

I think it's a lot more subtle and complex than "women are being excluded." But I realize that my opinion on this isn't exactly a poppular one.

I don't think we'll have a full picture of why so few women speak at these conferences unless the issue gets more attention. Seven of the 10 potential Spring Experience speakers I found have spoken at past tech conferences, including at least one at a NoFluffJustStuff event.

If they had to pay their own expenses it would narrow the field considerably, but if people are dropping $1,300 to attend, how much would a company pay when they're getting the good PR associated of a speaking gig?

I would have bet my eyes that such nerds would do just about anything to get women to hang around a multi-day conference. Sorry, eyes.

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