Doing diversity at your conference. A message to #eventprofs.

December 22, 2011

Today I read a blog that really struck home. Many of you probably know that in addition to my Sr Tech role at 7D, I’m also the co-founder of an audiovisual staging business. I would estimate that 90% of this industry is comprised of men. So far I’m the only woman-owned and operated business of my type in the United States.

Having been an active creator and participant in the tech industry since I was a teenager, I’ve always been aware of the imbalance of male and female professionals. However, I never felt that it was because someone told me I couldn’t, it seemed more like I was just an oddball. My friends thought science was boring and I was a weirdo for wanting to spend lunch breaks reading books or chatting with friends on listservs (ha!). As I’ve aged, though, I’ve learned that our perception had a lot more to do with our conditioning and a lot less about biological composition or someone telling me I couldn’t. Because, trust me, if someone told me I couldn’t because I was a girl, there would be one hell of a stink.

How will you field your speakers?

(Proof is to the right. When starting in little league they told me girls didn’t play hardball – but I didn’t like softball! Well, long story short, that’s not a bobby sox uniform.)

So back to this email today. It was titled “Curating a Conference While Changing Ratios” and it was centered around a tech conference organizer’s experience as a woman. After being overlooked as an organizer by the Mayor in favor of her two male counterparts (while on stage) and observing the dominance of white-males in her speaker lineup, she shares some wonderful resources and ideas on how crucial increasing diversity can be to improving the quality of an event.

This message really resonated with me. Besides trying to succeed as a business owner in the homogenous AV industry, Jessica and I also speak about technology and social media at many conferences and events. I didn’t realize how powerful this role could be, until two women contacted me to tell me I’d changed their life after attending one of my sessions. Folks, my session was on WEBCASTING. How the in the world does that possibly change a person’s life?? Well, the first woman was finally able to develop a working proficiency in the technology and jargon so she could propose a solution to her boss. She received a promotion. The second felt so empowered by my message of managing technology with confidence that she made an entire career change!! Webcasting. Huh. All jokes aside, this meant more than I could ever express. Our whole Ladies Love TechTalk idea is more than just a marketing ploy. It’s about empowerment through education and knowledge in a safe, fun atmosphere.

I encourage you to review your goals and programs to see if there is a gap in diversity, and see how it might improve the quality of your speaker lineup. Because it’s less about “helping minorities” and more about achieving better results for all stakeholders by increasing the diversity of their knowledge and experience. Here are a few resources that might help:

Jen’s Blog about Conference Ratios (the inspiration for this blog)

Impact Center – Gender Intelligence

Change the Ratio Organization

HBR Study showing diversity increases group intelligence

Female Hackathon (fun insight into us girl geeks!)