How to get more women presenters for conferences, and, why there are so few.

Yesterday I ran across Dan Billing’s post about MEWT5. An excellent and thought-provoking post, but at the end, a picture of the 14 participants showed only 1 woman. Given that testing is one of the areas of software that has a decent percentage of women, and given all the awesome women in testing I know that live in England, that was disheartening.

I know most of the people in that picture. I know they are kind, talented, open-minded, smart testing professionals who would not intentionally exclude women from events. They all spend a lot of time helping all of us in the testing community with their organizing, writing and speaking.

I also know how hard one has to work to get at least a representative number of women included in testing events. I know now that 40% of the invitees of that event were women (why only 40%, well, let’s put that off for now) and that several could not accept, or had to cancel last-minute. That’s too bad, but again, I believe it just takes more effort to avoid the last-minute problems.

Maaret Pyhäjärvi summed up the whole issue brilliantly in her subsequent post. So please just read that. I am seeing a trend among people I know, at least: when women organize events, they think of a disproportionate number of women to include. When men organize events, they think of a disproportionate number of men to include. We are humans, we seem to know more people of our own gender professionally, and our brains have built-in biases that are hard to fight.

I will leave you with some additional reading that helps explain why we don’t have more women in tech, why we don’t have more women in high level positions in tech, and probably, why women don’t necessarily feel comfortable proposing conference sessions.

Note: These are based on science. Yes, legitimate studies.

I have more of these, contact me if you want more, but those should get you started in understanding why it really is harder for women to get recognition, to feel confident, to realize their potential.

What am I doing to work on the problem of too few women? I volunteer for conference program and track committees, I am a Speakeasy mentor, I mentor other aspiring presenters outside of Speakeasy, I work with conference organizers to recommend and find women presenters, and I pair present with newbie presenters (women and men, though my bias is for women because they have fewer opportunities) to give them confidence and experience. I hope you will do all these things too.

Action item: If you’re organizing a test event, please contact me for recommendations of awesome women to invite. And, work with Speakeasy, who can help you find awesome women presenters.

Disclaimer: Yes, we need to fix all the other diversity problems too. We need more people of color, LGBQ, and other minorities sharing their ideas and experiences. Diversity is what helps us improve and progress. But I have chosen to work on what I know best, trying to get more women presenting at software conferences.

Thanks for reading.

6 comments on “How to get more women presenters for conferences, and, why there are so few.

  1. What would be an acceptable goal to have on this?

    It would be interesting to gather stats to see if there are improvements over time. So in the ‘testing industry’ we could look at the past five years worth of conferences and see how many women have spoken, and how many men.

    Can we then track this over time to see if there are real improvements?

    And at what stage do you think there will be balance? Is it 50/50 at every conference? 50/50 over all? A percentage over the course of a year for all the software testing conferences?

    How do we know we are improving?

  2. Rosie, that is a great idea to measure. I wonder how we can get these stats… we can ask various conf organizers if they will share.

  3. I can collate stuff my end. Maybe it would be nice to define a list of things that are important to collect.

    For me, it’s more about gender, so number of first time speakers, for example.

    For attendee data – it would be much easier to collate information up front.

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