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Why Aren't You On The Roster?

There has been a flurry of discussion around the conference rosters that are Search Engines Strategy Day 1 by you.filled with white male speakers and why there aren't more women (and more diversity in general) on these rosters.

Some theorize that women aren’t being invited. Others suggest that women aren’t promoting themselves and stepping up when invited.  

But come on, people!  Instead of us speculating why this is happening, why don’t we just ask you? 

Yes, you!

There are a lot of smart, insightful and erudite woman reading this who are doing innovative and interesting stuff.  So rather than adding my own ideas about why you aren't speaking at the conferences I'm attending, I'm asking YOU! (And, if you're not a woman, I'm asking you to ask them!)

So, why aren't you presenting at Mesh, CaseCamp, SXSW, CMA's Marketing Week and the myriad of other speaking opportunities happening these days?

Tell us why you aren’t on the speaker’s circuit.

And if you’ve ever thought of someone who should be speaking at an event and isn’t, please ask her to come and tell us why she isn’t.

Photo Credit: LexnGer

Editors Note: I've had at least one report that our comment form is behaving badly. If you have problems commenting, please email me at kate [at] – we want anyone who wants to be a part of this conversation  to participate. You don't have to be a OneDegree contributor to comment!! kt


  1. mose
    mose September 2, 2009

    In our association and our industry we do not have these issues.
    The Direct Marketing Association of Toronto has always had a balanced and probably female skewed demographic in both attendance and panel and presenter participation.
    If you come to any of our events it is never all male and not by any grand design.
    I believe our industry is something special and this is just one more reason.

  2. Lex
    Lex September 2, 2009

    Mose, I’m not trying to slam any group or organisation I’m just wondering why so many great guys I know are getting speaking gigs and the equivalently quality gals aren’t.

  3. Sandy Kemsley
    Sandy Kemsley September 2, 2009

    Here’s why I haven’t spoken at mesh in the past: — with some luck, they’ll give in to peer pressure and make it less of a sausage fest. I do, however, speak at other conferences: I spoke at Ignite Toronto last week, and this fall will be speaking at Appian’s (a BPM vendor) user conference in DC as well as the Business Rules Forum in Las Vegas.
    At these quite technical conferences, I am in the minority both on the speaking roster and amongst attendees in general, but there is some gradual improvement. Surprisingly (or maybe not), some of the enterprise technology type of conferences that I frequent are more likely to have women speakers than the hot new social media tech conferences: maybe the enterprise types have actually realized that women form an important part of their audience and have important stories to tell, whereas the social media hotshots tend to have more adolescent views of the world.

  4. Eva
    Eva September 2, 2009

    I *am* speaking at conferences in *my* field (science communication), and try to accept all invitations. Although the next event I’m at is specifically focused on women (blogging in academia), so obviously they asked women… I had to cancel another speaking engagement to go there, but the person I recommended in my place for the cancelled gig is also female, so that evens out. Later that week I’m at a career day panel in St Catherines.
    In April I was at a publishing conference on a panel with one other woman and one man, talking about science online. That entire conference was about 50-50.
    Before that I worked in molecular biology research, where there are probably about 70-30 M-F working in the higher positions and about 50-50 in the grad student population, and that is also distributed that way at conferences (keynote speakers usually male, poster presenters about 50-50). So maybe when there aren’t many women presenting at the tech events you mentioned, there just aren’t many women in that particular field, and it’s just a matter of slim picking?

  5. Ann Douglas
    Ann Douglas September 2, 2009

    Just a few quick thoughts, based on my experience.
    – I tend to sit on the fringe of a new group/industry for a while, absorbing its culture and norms before I jump in. I want to make sure I have something unique and valuable to contribute.
    – The work-family juggle can be a major factor (particularly if multi-day out-of-province travel is required). That’s becoming less of an issue now that my kids are getting older, but, when they were younger, I had to limit my time away from home. I had four kids and a shift-working husband. What can I say? 🙂
    – If I’m working on a major project (say a book), it’s more difficult to fit in out-of-town travel. (It’s tough to write a book on the road unless you can tote along the necessary research materials.)
    – I’ve recently noticed would-be speakers for at least one conference asking their online contacts to vote for the topic that they’d like to present at a particular conference. I found this kind of off-putting. I’d prefer to submit my proposal and have the conference program committee decide if it would fit in with what they have in mind. (Pulling the most votes via an online network doesn’t mean the session will be relevant to the attendees. I could vote for certain workshops without ever planning to attend.)
    – Finding out which conferences you’d like to attend (let alone speak at) can be a bit of a challenge. What I’d love to find is a Twitter feed (or similar) that lists calls for proposals/submissions. That way, I could look for opportunities to contribute to the conversations that are happening about mothers, women, health, social change, and non-profits (some of my key areas of interest).
    PS – Thanks for raising this issue. It’s important.

  6. Lex
    Lex September 2, 2009

    interesting perspective and thanks for including that Link. I wonder if Mark’s answers would be a little different now that Mesh has been around a little longer.
    The Enterprise world is certainly more mature and as an ex-techie I know women have been a part of that world for a long time so it’s nice to see that reality showing up at the speakers podiums too.
    nice to hear that you are both accepting all invitations where possible and seeing an equivalent balance in the events & industries you are talking about.
    While I could be wrong, I don’t think that there are slim pickings in the digital marketing, social media and/or tech worlds. Otherwise I won’t have posed the question. But again, I could be wrong.

  7. Lex
    Lex September 2, 2009

    you make some excellent points that I’m sure resonate with many people who are reading this – independent of their gender. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  8. Paige
    Paige September 2, 2009

    Such an important topic Alexa. I’ve posted my full response here
    The gist of which is this: Gender should not be part of the criteria (nor do I think it is) when choosing speakers on a panel, mentors, or industry leaders. Vision, courage, insight, wisdom, integrity, innovation, compassion. These all seem like far better criteria to me. Don’t they?

  9. Lex
    Lex September 2, 2009

    Paige, I completely agree that the quality of speakers and topics are the best criteria for speaker selection. However, as I said above, I think there are lots of women in these spaces doing innovative and exciting work. I’d like to hear them speak as I’d like to hear anyone who is changing the game.
    Thanks for such a thoughtful response.

  10. Tara Hunt
    Tara Hunt September 2, 2009

    My #6 Pet Peeve (I have a few) is this statement:
    “Gender should not be part of the criteria when choosing speakers”
    Sorry Paige, but that statement is unfortunate because:
    1. it’s often used by people to dismiss the fact that there is a lack of diversity and used as a lovely excuse to create lazy conference organizers. How can you REALLY tell who you are picking? I’ve helped organize conferences…you can’t. Therefore, picking by gender makes as much sense as picking by anything else these days.
    2. picking or pursuing (cause part of the issue is the lack of female applicants) by gender, race, social class, etc. actually DOES make for a better conference. Why? Diversity of perspective. I didn’t think so until I started going to a gabillion conferences a year. Then the difference stood out starkly to me. Conferences with a diverse lineup of people from different cultures, genders and other non white anglosaxon males are actually MUCH more interesting. Why? Well, like it or not, women are often doing the ‘human’ work. So in a tech conference, inviting more women will give you a better perspective on how people use your technology, whereas men tend to talk about building it and selling it. Different cultures is even MORE powerful. You’ll get all sorts of examples from another perspective and sometimes even different countries. I’ve learnt about websites and products I would have never heard of without hearing from Japanese, European, African and Indian speakers along the way.
    But back to Lex’s question…why aren’t more women speaking? It’s all of the above. Women tend to be more risk averse and when we get to a place where we finally have the balls to get up in front of an audience, we’re slammed busy and most likely being the main caretakers for our families on top of running a business. So, that leaves conference organizers to make the extra effort to find and pitch to more women, but where do they start? The real gems haven’t put themselves on speaker’s wikis. You need to suss them out at conferences and through their blogs. It ain’t easy.
    It’s a clusterf*ck really. And mountains have to move before we’re on equal footing, but I do want to put some responsibility on conference organizers to go out and find women doing cool stuff that the world should know about. I met several of them at FOO Camp just this weekend. I’m totally having Kacie Kinzer, the woman behind Tweenbots come speak whenever I do a conference.
    And all y’all should be keeping your eyes open constantly for women like Kacie and others who may have not been on the circuit but are doing awesome stuff that audiences would be interested in. And, for god’s sakes, stop hiring people who have spoken every-fricken-where! Make someone else popular!

  11. Leona Hobbs
    Leona Hobbs September 2, 2009

    Maggie Fox (my boss) is a social media dynamo. She wrote last month about this very topic. I urge you to check our her post, because as she so appropriately said, “How is it that lists are produced, identifying top social media speakers and… I’m not on them? Clearly, I need to get better at healthy self-promotion, because I refuse to believe anyone would be so stupid as to not consider me because I’m a girl.”
    Personally, I do a handful of speaking engagements each year about digital communications and social media. I do enjoy it, but as a true-blue flack I much prefer my clients (or the Boss in this case) be on centre stage.

  12. Monica
    Monica September 2, 2009

    I asked my friend who works for a company arranging conferences. Here is his response to me:
    They aren’t being avoided, or passed over for being a woman, that is for sure. For the record, no one really cares.
    I have a hard time getting people to speak – they must be from a specific company and hold a specific title, so it may be that woman are not in a position that conferences look for (at least ours – others may be different). I can’t invite consultants or people with a service or product to sell.
    What I find more often than not, is that they are asked too often, and pass on many more (to my frustration). For instance, right now I’m inviting Chief Investment Officers from large foundations. Some are women, but they aren’t saying yes. They always say their aren’t available, but 9 times out of 10, I’m sure they are lying, and are just not interested. I know they’ve spoken at other events, because that’s how I find them. Why one and not another, I can’t say, but they are speaking at conferences, and they are well respected.
    It also depends largely on the industry. Pharma, lots of women. Finance, lots of women (at least on the regulatory and compliance side – I don’t know about advisor/sales side). In fact at these conferences, women greatly outnumber men on the stage and in the seats. And they do hold high positions.
    In Emergency Management, not many women, but better than Infrastructure, transportation, and construction conferences. Architecture, not many, but more than some. I don’t know about marketing and digital media. The digital part might skew toward men. Not sure. I’ll ask *redacted* at work; she does conferences for digital media, but she also struggles to find speakers to speak at events. It isn’t that easy to find the right speaker who is free for a very specific date (and isn’t a consultant or a business development person, which we absolutely cannot invite because they treat it as a selling of services opportunity, which delegates find useless). I think there is a lot at play, but it is not a conspiracy.
    There was a suggestion they aren’t good at self-promotion. Actually, a lot of the women I speak with are very good at self-promotion. Especially on the consulting side. I can get one of them to speak in a second, but they are there to sell their services, so I must pass on them.

  13. Monica
    Monica September 2, 2009

    Reading my friend’s comment, I wonder if there are more women in particular industries that work in a consulting role to maintain a work/life balance to raise children. According to my friend, he is not allowed to have these people speak.
    Any thoughts on this? Is this plausible?

  14. Mitch Joel - Twist Image
    Mitch Joel - Twist Image September 2, 2009

    I am on all sides of this conversation.
    1. I am represented by multiple speaker’s bureaus.
    2. I am frequently asked to be involved in the selection or recommendation of speakers.
    3. I’m one of those white guys you’re talking about (bald too… how much worse can it get?) 😉
    I agree with Tara 100% – the best conferences are those with lots of diversity – and that’s not just gender. It includes people of different color, religious beliefs and culturally too. Being exposed to others is how we all grow and learn more.
    Now, to the challenge (and this is for everyone – not just woman): it’s easy to say, “so and so can speak.” But just because someone can speak (or wants to) does not necesarily mean that they can present and hold an audience. I’ve seen some of the best entrepreneurs or people with the amazing business ideas that are excellent communicators but terrible presenters.
    While organizers need to seek out more diverse speakers, people wanting to speak need to amp up their skills in this space. I’ve seen people read from paper nervously, fumble through their slides, lean on podiums and – in general – be totally unprepared. When organizers are putting up money and selling tickets, gender, diversity, etc… goes out the window if the content (re: presenters) don’t knock it out of the park.
    The good news is that very few people are actually amazing at presenting – leaving tons of room for those interested to train, practice, film yourself, post it on YouTube and get in front of these organizers.

  15. Leigh
    Leigh September 2, 2009

    It’s really simple. I don’t often speak bc no one asks me to.
    When I do I get all the love in the world. Wow. Love you. So great. Awesome. Why don’t you speak more often?
    Well that’s an easy question to answer. Because no one asks me to.
    I’m on a speaker wiki. I know many of the conference organizers. They don’t have to suss me out. I’m not hiding under a rock. I’m hardly risk adverse.
    And they still don’t ask me. Why? Dunno. You’d have to ask them (maybe I’m too cranky or they don’t like my online icon? HA! 😉

  16. Lex
    Lex September 2, 2009

    Great and thoughtful responses guys!
    Leona – Thanks for referencing Maggie’s post it was part of the inspiration for this one.
    Monica – Thanks for passing along your friend’s thoughts. Are you doing speaking engagements yourself?
    Tara – thanks for sharing your pet peeve. Any suggestions for people who are eager to get themselves in front of the conference organisers from someone who has made it look easy? (Which I know for a fact it’s not).
    Mitch – I’m delighted you weighed in since you are on many sides of this conversation. However you are not, strictly speaking, on “all” of the sides since you are not a woman and the original challenge I posed was directly to the women out there asking them to “tell us why you aren’t on the speaker’s circuit.”
    But along with Tara and Monica’s responses you give a great view of some of the challenges and opportunities out there for conference organisers to reach out to new and developing speakers. And the areas where new and developing speakers can build their skills and find an audience.

  17. April Dunford
    April Dunford September 2, 2009

    This is a great discussion.
    I speak every chance I get. I don’t think I have ever turned down an opportunity to speak. So for me personally the answer to the question “Why don’t I speak more often?” is “Because I don’t get asked”.
    When I do get asked, there are usually a couple of factors involved. First, the folks running the conference know me. Secondly, they think I will be a draw.
    If I really decided I had to speak more, I’d network more with conference organizers and I’d work on the draw part (publish more, get seen in mainstream media more, get in front of a camera more, etc.).
    Are men better at doing this kind of stuff? I know some women with good personal networks but I know more men that are great networkers.

  18. Nicky Jameson
    Nicky Jameson September 2, 2009

    “I’m just wondering why so many great guys I know are getting speaking gigs and the equivalently quality gals aren’t.”
    Ask and you shall receive. If you really want it.
    Here’s my take.
    All things being equal perhaps the men are simply more single minded in that they want the gigs, they ensure they do whatever it takes to get them (including the necessary prep)and get seen… which of course leads to more gigs, because then they are a known quantity. They are proactive. I think from the beginning they understand the intrinsic value of public speaking and presenting for both exposure and business building and they zero in on it. So it hardly matters that the topic isn’t their expertise… they will learn it and present what they know. I think, in certain niches, women may place limitations on themselves if they are not rock solid confident in pubic speaking and/or topic (which most people tell me would rather die than do) they may decline. I can’t count the number of women who say to me (“oh, I couldn’t possibly speak in public.. I’d just die or say something wrong”) Having said that, I know many business women who do lots of speaking gigs. So perhaps it’s the niche?
    I think we women and people of colour have to be more proactive at going after and getting opportunities to speak at these high profile gigs.And taking/creating opportunities to speak, and letting the right people know we are available.
    As I write this I am thinking of myself… I’ve done public speaking and presentations for a good part of my professional life yet if I’m honest I haven’t actively pursued speaking gigs this year at all. Something I plan to rectify for next year by including it in my marketing plan.
    While it would be great (and laudable) to see more diversity at conferences, I agree with Mitch that excellent, entertaining and informative presenters who can deliver are what organizers will look for first. I also agree you don’t need to be amazing and gaining excellence isn’t too difficult. Toastmasters, anyone?

  19. Tara Hunt
    Tara Hunt September 2, 2009

    There is this thing called ‘the boys network’ and, though it isn’t ‘exclusive’ and stuff today, it’s continues because, well, the guys are kickass at supporting one another. Then girls join that network and they are also kickass at supporting…the guys.
    What we need to do…and I mean all of us…is start looking. Already several women on this list have expressed their desire to speak. Awesome. I’m making a note and the next time a conference organizer starts talking about their speaker roster, I’ll say, “Cool. You need to fill some spots? How about April Dunford? Leigh (last name)? Leona Hobbs? Maggie Fox?” They all have experience and make audiences happy. 🙂
    I agree with Mitch that there aren’t many good speakers out there…but I don’t think you have to be a fabulous speaker to entertain. As Jeffrey Zeldman once said to me:
    There are awful speakers with fascinating content – people like these ones.
    There are great speakers with empty content – people either love or hate these ones.
    There are awful speakers with empty content – people, at the best, fall asleep or check their email with these ones, at worse, boo them off the stage.
    Then there are great speakers with fascinating content – people will talk about these ones for years.
    It’s best to be the latter, but if you are a little nervous and have fascinating stuff to talk about, you’ll please the audience. I’ve seen it happen everywhere, even at TED.
    But everyone should learn the art of storytelling. A good presentation is about giving compelling examples and making the audience feel awesomely smart walking away from it.

  20. tamera kremer
    tamera kremer September 2, 2009

    I usually speak when I pitch to do so based on my credentials and my track record, but these days with juggling my own business, my blog, and a family taking the time to pitch becomes something that gets pushed down the list at times. That being said, when I do speak I get asked back so the onus isn’t on me to pitch again.
    I could add much more, and probably will, but it’s getting late 🙂
    I would also say that a lot of women in marketing are in subordinate positions to the males at their companies and therefore if their company is kicking ass, it’s their boss who gets asked to speak… whole other issue. and a legacy one.

  21. Philippe Telio
    Philippe Telio September 3, 2009

    I am not a woman, and I am not a speaker, but let me give my perspective as a conference organizer (Startup Camp Montreal).
    We are on our 5th event (Oct 15, 2009), and I must admit that so far we have had 8 men and 0 woman keynote speakers. Not all bald men and somewhat diverse in culture, mind you.
    I’ve organized and been to countless events and the reality is that the ratio of W/M participants is almost as lopsided as the ratio of W/M speakers.
    The goal of our event is to both educate and inspire the startup community. As such, I have always found it important to have keynote speakers the participants can identify with. Gender being one of those identifying characteristics (not the most important in my view, but clearly a factor).
    At past events, I have made concerted efforts to invite women to participate…unsuccessfully in large part.
    Granted, this is possibly a chicken/egg debate… If we had more woman keynote speakers, would we attract more woman entrepreneurs? I’m not convinced.
    I did not chose our next keynote speaker to try and answer this question, but I am happy to say that Chris Shipley, founder of the DEMO event (and a woman), has agreed to speak at our next event.
    In the community culture we now live in, I believe it is as much the participants’ responsibility as it is the organizers’ to define who we want to see on-stage. Independent of gender and culture is my vote!

  22. Mitch Joel - Twist Image
    Mitch Joel - Twist Image September 3, 2009

    In listening to the conversation (both here and in other spaces), I think I uncovered one of the major reasons why this is happening.
    Most people mentioned who say that they are willing to be speakers (and by quick searching, it looks to be over 90%)don’t have much information about speaking on their Blogs, websites, etc… (Maggie when you click on your speaking link, it is dead 🙁
    So, even if people now know you would like to speak, how would they see what you speak about it?
    Everything changed for me in speaking the minute my company set-up a speaker’s page (Tara has a great one here:
    Here’s what you need on that page:
    – a bio that is about your speaking.
    – a clear statement on the topics you cover (i.e. Digital Marketing, Personal Branding and Social Media).
    – a list of topics (with catchy titles) and what the attendee will learn with an abstract about the session.
    – a video demo – live – in action, so they can see what you do.
    – pictures of you speaking live – again in action.
    – testimonials from organizations that the potential client can relate to. Or – at least – a list of companies/organization you have previously spoken for.
    Like anything else, people can’t buy from you unless you’re marketing to them. They’re not going to figure it out on their own.
    I make it simple, but more importantly, I give them something they can go back to their organizing committee with, so that they are all on the same page.
    When I am on the other side of the coin (organizing committee) and I don’t see this type of content from a speaker, it concerns me because I wonder to myself, “how professional can this person be if they have no testimonials or a video sample of them doing what they say they do.” It would almost be like not having a demo reel or portfolio section on your corporate website if you’re a Digital Marketer.
    Tara is right. You don’t have to be the most amazing speaker, but you do have to be professional, prepared and able to hold an audience. If you can’t prove that on a simple webpage, do you really think a conference organizer is going to roll dice just for the sake of diversity?

  23. Paige
    Paige September 3, 2009

    The conversation here is fantastic. And the passion that is going into the responses is outstanding.
    My question now becomes what do we, as the group in question, do to shake things up a little? I’d also suggest we get the likes of Meghan Warby, Lucia Mancuso, Amrita Chandra and Verna Kulish in on it.

  24. Leona Hobbs
    Leona Hobbs September 3, 2009

    @Mitch – that link is now fixed. Thanks!

  25. Monica
    Monica September 3, 2009

    I don’t speak. I don’t have anything to speak about since I don’t work in that kind of industry anymore.
    The most I ever did was speak at our “lunch & learn” sessions at my old law firm.

  26. maggiefox | Social Media Group
    maggiefox | Social Media Group September 3, 2009

    Hey Lex – this is such a great post. The best part? The dialogue it’s sustaining. The thing I find most wonderful about the discussion that’s been ongoing about this issue is that it is STILL ongoing, among both men and women, weeks later.
    I’ve been on stage at all of the events you mention (with the exception of SxSWi, though we have high hopes for two panels submitted for 2010). And yet not being included in various “Top 10 in Social Media” lists made my head want to explode, especially considering they always seemed to be made up of the usual suspects.
    I’ll put it down to two things:
    1. Laziness (it’s hard to find good new speakers, and you’re taking a chance when you put one on stage)
    2. Lack of appreciation for diversity. And yet, as @Tara said, diverse conferences are ALWAYS the most interesting.
    I’ll add that diversity is good for innovation and innovation is good for business, so I really don’t get why we keep seeing the same-old, same-old, and it seems neither do most of the people in this comment thread.
    @Mitch – thanks for the heads up, but that link must have been broken for only a few hours (I just sent it to the head of a speaker’s bureau that also represents you 😉

  27. Judy Gombita
    Judy Gombita September 3, 2009

    Did you see/read August FastCompany column (Radical Tech), Where are the Women in Tech and Social Media? (, written by my twittermate Allyson Kapin (@womenwhotech)?
    It was on the home page of FastCompany for a few days, and sparked a lot of comments, blog posts and tweets.
    I’ve written/said/tweeted it many times: the gender/diversity balance in a conference program is part of my determination of whether to invest the time or money in the event (i.e., I vote with my conference feet).
    It doesn’t seem rather strategic, from a programmer’s point of view, to (maybe) offend 50 per cent of your potential audience by having such a small gender representation as subject-experts/role models at the podium. (The same would be true for ethnic diversity.)
    Glad to see you raising the issue in a Canadian-based forum, Alexa.

  28. Mitch sent me a note last night and also made the argument with me that I don’t do some things I should probably do if i want to speak.
    And you know what? He’s absolutely right.
    But I don’t see most of the non-key note speakers on your average conference line up having anything more than i do. And in our fine city and industry, there are very few Sr. Executive women. You would think that would mean i would get at least a few calls a year. But i don’t. If we want to say that’s bc i don’t have a web page talking about my great speaking abilities, I’ll take that. I won’t necessarily buy it, but i’ll take it 🙂

  29. Mitch Joel - Twist Image
    Mitch Joel - Twist Image September 3, 2009

    It’s not about “talking about my great speaking abilities” – it’s about letting people know that you are a speaker (or interested in taking part in a panel) in the first place.
    Again, look at the many people we have all listed out. Almost none of them mention anywhere that they are open/available to speak (or that it is even something they do). I think that’s the least people should do.
    It’s like being pissed off that no one is hiring you when you have never sent out a resume or told anyone publicly that you’re looking for work.
    Lastly, I do think you have to have a certain level of skill. Smart people who present well and capture a crowd’s imagination do get referrals and it does snowball. I see it happen all of the time to all sorts of diverse speakers. If it’s not happening for you, try working with a coach or joining your local Toastmasters and you’ll be able to better work out why the requests are not streaming in.

  30. Kelly Rusk
    Kelly Rusk September 3, 2009

    Great discussion. I’m also interested in speaking but don’t get many opportunities (and granted, I haven’t tried *too* hard)
    I’ve found I’m pretty easily intimidated because I don’t have a lot of experience, except for guest lecturing at our local college every year and a few local events I’ve been asked to participate in.
    Now, however, the company I work for wants us to get out and me to speak more–I’m game, but don’t know how to do it!
    Thanks Mitch for the suggestion about the speaking page–I think I mention somewhere on my blog that I’m available to speak, but that’s about it. And I definitely do have video and even testimonials that probably should be up there.

  31. Raul Pacheco
    Raul Pacheco September 3, 2009

    Every single speaker I suggested for TEDxVancouver is a woman. Most of the presentations I’ve seen (keynotes) this year have been women. I am a bit surprised that we are still having this discussion (I seem to have seen a similar discussion a few weeks back in American blogs), because at least in the city where I live in (Vancouver, BC Canada) I find that there’s lots of amazing women speakers. Maybe we’re just lucky here.
    There is one woman who would put just about everyone on any speaker’s list to shame with her speaking abilities, and she has cerebral palsy: Glenda Watson-Hyatt. Glenda gave a talk (using text-to-voice software and equipment) at WordCamp Fraser Valley on accessibility in blogs. Inspiring, humbling and very articulate.
    It does appear to be true that the industry is populated more by men. But diversity doesn’t only come from gender. Am a member of two under-represented minorities (gay and Hispanic) – but I can’t recall any conference where I have been invited for any of those two reasons. Now, if there was a GayCamp or a LatinoCamp, maybe 🙂

  32. Lex
    Lex September 3, 2009

    Thank you all for leaping in with both feet! I am blown away by the great responses and dialog this post is creating.
    In my mind, my original challenge was intended to get people/women to consider their own personal reasons for not being up there. (My own included.) Whether it be lack of invites, lack of time, lack of interest, another reasons already cited or some other intangible influence, internal or external. The discussion has morphed, as they all do, to include a discussion of gender balance at conferences and how to help conference organisers find and recognize you as a speaker for their events.
    Personally, I think the discussion of why “they” aren’t inviting “us” is less useful than “why am I not up there?” Especially if it includes the level of candour and introspection you are sharing here.
    Independent of gender, the discussion of the role we all play in creating opportunities and barriers for our own speaking careers is useful to consider. Mitch and Tara both make excellent points about marketing yourself as a speaker, making yourself easy to find and being preparing make an impression when you are invited.
    I hope this discussion will inspire others to stop and think for a moment or two about what they could do to make themselves more easily approachable and put themselves out there as speakers. You are all certainly making me think, so thank you.

  33. Justin Kozuch
    Justin Kozuch September 3, 2009

    I’ve been watching the tweets around this blog post, and I thought I would throw my 2 cents in as an event organizer.
    Without being too self-promotional, we try to get as many women to speak at our events as possible. We have had quite a few women speak at our events, and we know that we can do better. We are trying. Maybe for our next event, we will make a greater effort into attracting more women.
    I could rehash a point we’ve made before, but instead, we wrote a post a few months back about a very similar issue:
    The question is, how can we work together to create fewer “sausage fests”? How can we encourage and empower women to attend and speak at more events? I’d be interested in hearing what you think, women AND men.

  34. Elena
    Elena September 3, 2009

    What a great discussion! I learned so much just by reading the comments! My two cents: I love public speaking, and speak every time I get a chance on a number of topics I feel strongly about and have experience with (like social media, social media for non-profits and in government context, being an immigrant and working in Communications). I love being a voice for diversity – it’s an important thing to me.
    I do feel conferences tend to get stale, and tend to invite the same speakers over and over again…happened to Mesh, in my opinion. When this happens, it is wise to open up the discussion, and strive for diversity of views and opinions. Too often people are content within their silos.
    “Why am I no up there?” – I am doing my best to try and change that. I have been invited to speak as various events more in the past year than ever before, but it didn’t happen overnight. It is definitely a huge help and inspiration just seeing other women doing great job as speakers at conferences. Unfortunately, my list of “role models” who inspire me, i.e. women immigrants or from a minority group, who are also public speakers in areas of communications, marketing and PR is very short.

  35. Raul
    Raul September 3, 2009

    Let me through another comment that might be seen as inflammatory (but heck, I do love me some good discussion). What about those conferences where ALL THE SAME WOMEN get invited to speak at? Where’s the diversity there?

  36. tamera kremer
    tamera kremer September 3, 2009

    This is why I love you. Diversity actually means diverse voices too. And I also would throw in that while lack of women’s voices is a HUGE issue, we should also be talking about opening the field beyond white/ straight/ physically capable. Let’s define what being truly diverse really means.

  37. Sulemaan Ahmed
    Sulemaan Ahmed September 3, 2009

    This is one of the best posts on One Degree in a while. I’ve been on the organizing committee of the CMA Digital Marketing Conference and I’m a firm believer that sex, race, religion or color should not be a factor in who is selected.
    Mitch raises some good points about creating awareness and doing a good job to get invited again or invited elsewhere. I agree with him and firmly believe if that is done you will get the opportunities. I’m not saying that as a woman but as a visible minority. If you want something you have to work for it.
    On the flipside, I believe conference organizers need to be more open and work hard to implement diversity within their speaking line-up. Not to be politically-correct but that diversity makes for a better conference. And that means more $.
    I would also recommend that if you want to effectuate change, get involved in organizing conferences in order to influence who is selected as speakers. Kate Trgovac is a great example. Tamera Kremer is another one.
    Thanks for all the great posts and insights on this subject it’s a privilege to read them.

  38. Rohan Jayasekera
    Rohan Jayasekera September 4, 2009

    Great discussion. Not being a woman I can’t answer Lex’s original question, but I’d like to ask everyone organizing an event with speakers to ask themselves this question: do we want groupthink? Sometimes the honest answer will be yes. If it truly is no, excellent — now act on that.

  39. Jodi Echakowitz
    Jodi Echakowitz September 4, 2009

    Alexa, thanks for getting such a great conversation started. Judy, thanks for pointing this post out to me.
    I spend a lot of time getting my clients onto the podium at events in their respective industries, but have never really taken the time to consider what value I could add to a conference agenda.
    While I have a huge thirst for knowledge, this conversation may just be the kick in the butt that I (and perhaps many others out there) need to reflect on what learnings I could share with others.

  40. Lisa Campbell Salazar
    Lisa Campbell Salazar September 5, 2009

    Personally, as a women working in the tech industry I’ve found that men in general don’t care to trust my skills, and rather do things for me than give me access, whether it’s to a FTP server or php myadmin. I have to say that tech is different than marketing, i.e. marketing requires less technical skills and more strategic skills. That being said, beyond the tech and marketing world women in general are much less represented in conferences, higher institutions and other positions of power like government.
    Personally, I’ve spoken at a number of conferences, from Fullbright to the Interactive Technology in Education Conference to MobileTech4SocialChange in San Francisco. That being said, even though I’ve worked for major social networks that are award winning I don’t get asked to speak at local tech events. Why? I’m pretty shy and modest when it comes to local networking. I’m not really into meeting up just for the sake of meeting up, although I think our community is awesome and I am proud to call myself a part of it.
    I like a lot of the tips that people shared in the comments section. Self-marketing is so important, getting yourself out there and letting people know you’re a speaker. I always get fuming angry when I’m passed up for scholarships at events that really I should be speaking at. Maybe I should stop applying as an attendee and start applying as a speaker? It takes a lot of confidence, but it’s obviously worth it in the log run and has way more perks!

  41. Marjorie Kase
    Marjorie Kase September 8, 2009

    Thanks Alexa for speaking out about this. Some female friends of mine who happened to be women had a lively discussion about this last week during the panel picker process for SXSW. There was general agreement that SXSW is in general, the exception to rule. I attribute this to the panel picker process itself. Maybe if more conferences went the way of including audience feedback, there wouldn’t be such a disparity.
    I agree with Lisa Campbell Salazar. It is indeed about self-promotion. A list I posted on our blog of notable SXSW panels by women got retweeted 25+ times by both men and women, reached a collective audience of 50K+, and drove 463 people to the post thanks to endless DM and Facebook requests. The list was open to anyone who wanted to be included, not just the usual speakers (good point Raul). Hopefully, it did the trick.
    Link to the post

  42. heather parlato
    heather parlato September 8, 2009

    great post & great discussion. i wanted to point out that i was at the creative freelancer conference [only in its 2nd year] and the balance of gender in the speakers was almost equal. the keynote speaker was petrula vrontikis, who talked about the importance of changing how you work as you mature in your career, turning more to writing and speaking and giving back to your industry.
    i am fairly new to owning my own business, and so i’m also new to the concept of speaking about my industry. i think the main thing holding me back previously was not knowing if i was enough of an expert to share my opinion, and not feeling connected to a unique perspective enough to share it. running my own practice as opposed to working in-house has really helped me develop my thoughts and opinions, and i do feel ready to add speaking to my repertoire. i’m starting out getting my feet wet with speaking to schools and my chamber of commerce. once those go over well, i’ll be looking into appropriate panels i can participate in.

  43. Justin Kozuch
    Justin Kozuch September 9, 2009

    Wanted to add an additional thought (ok, somewhat shameless self-promotion) to this post.
    We’re always looking for female speakers for our events. While we’ve had quite a few, we think that we could do better. We’ve setup an application form at for all interested speakers.

  44. Marjorie Kase
    Marjorie Kase September 9, 2009

    I just wanted to add an addendum to my comment. Your post inspired me to apply to a traditionally male dominated conference series, which I am more than qualified to speak at. I will report back when I hear an answer. Thanks again for reporting on this worthy topic!

  45. Janice Diner
    Janice Diner September 11, 2009

    I have been following this conversation for days and have decided to add my POV. Being a senior creative director and social media strategist, I have had opportunities to speak, some of which I have gladly participated in. Being female never seemed to be a career category that was relevant to my career success. However speaking takes time and commitment, like everything else. For me the balancing act of running a business and executing social media programs has taken precedent over speaking at conferences the last few months.
    That being said there is apparently a lack of female speakers at conferences and this past summer while at Cannes Lions I noticed a shocking lack of woman on stage receiving awards.
    So I take up the challenge, I guess had better get out there and speak.

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