Conference organizers, try harder. Conference participants: shop!

I just received a flyer in my snail mail for yet another conference where four out of the five keynote speakers are white men and only one is a woman. Are you kidding me? And this is a testing conference. Testing is a field that does indeed have lots of women, I would guess a significantly higher percentage than, say, programming.

I know the organizers of this conference and they are good people who aren’t purposely discriminating against women (or minorities, for that matter). But they aren’t trying hard enough, either. I’ve personally sent long lists of women I recommend to speak at their conferences. True, most of these women aren’t “known” keynote speakers – maybe because nobody ever asks them to keynote. These women are highly experienced testing practitioners who have valuable experience to share.

This same company has an upcoming testing conference with no female keynoters, so I guess this is an improvement. But I’m not letting them off the hook, and you shouldn’t either.

What do you value more: a highly entertaining, “big name” keynote speech? Or an experienced practitioner who competently helps you learn some new ideas to go and try with your own teams, but maybe isn’t as well known or flashy?

You probably don’t get to go to many conferences, so be choosy. Choose the ones with a diverse lineup of not only keynoters but presenters of all types of sessions. In fact, choose conferences that have lots of hands-on sessions where you get to learn by practicing with your peers. We have the choice of these conferences now. And I hope you will leave your favorites in comments here. I don’t want to make my friends unhappy by naming names here, but email me and I’ll give you my own recommendations. (Another disclaimer – I’m personally not looking for keynoting gigs, so these are not sour grapes. I don’t like doing keynotes, and I know my limitations as a presenter).

The organizations sponsoring and organizing conferences are pandering to what they think you, their paying audience, wants to see. If you’re going to conferences to see big names and polished speakers, and you don’t care if the lineup is diverse, go ahead. If you want a really great learning experience, maybe do some more research about where your time and money will reap the most value for you.

I’m not trying to start a boycott, but I am saying: we are the market. Let’s start demanding what we want, and I know these conference organizers will then have to step up and try harder.

8 comments on “Conference organizers, try harder. Conference participants: shop!

  1. Hi Lisa,

    I’m Flavia, former Ubuntu Women co-leader and now proud communication manager at Codemotion.
    We are a great tech conference, and we try more than harder to have women speakers at our conference.
    We do support women participation and (of course) we have a Coc.
    If you have some tech speaker to suggest, please write me, your feedback is more than welcome 🙂



  2. Thanks so much, Flavia! I’m happy to learn about it. I will send you some speaker suggestions!

  3. Hi again Flavia, I tried to go to your website but it is flagged as “high risk”. It sounds like you’re legit and not a spammer – do I have the wrong link?

  4. Hi Lisa!

    so sorry about that!

    I’m not a spammer at all, you can find me and Codemotion almost everywhere online!!!
    Thank you very much for your warning: I’ve already opened a ticket, and it’s supposed to be fixed as soon as possibile.

    The website link is the right one, but if you’re not able to accede, please consider visiting our last event website (http://milan.codemotionworld.com/)

    Thank you, let’s keep in touch.

    Cheers, Flavia

  5. Flavia, I still get the scary looking high risk website page, so I don’t know what to think. Readers, proceed at your own risk.

  6. Hi Lisa,

    we’re trying to fix our website, but, according to our ISP everything seems to be fine… Will you help us? Will you provide us a screenshot? Can you tell us which tool has detected this vulnerability? It’s really frustrating to offer a so great opportunity for women and have our website blocked in this way…. Please write me also in private, your help will be really priceless.

    Thank you and sorry for bother you



  7. Flavia, it works fine now, thanks! That was weird, I’d never seen it before.

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