A hopeful new trend is growing: People are noticing when conference speakers are all or mostly men (and often all white as well). And they are asking questions: What kind of selection process results in an all or mostly male speaker lineup? Is it true that all the best speakers just happen to white men, or are there other qualified speakers who are getting passed over? No one thinks these conferences are deliberately signing up only men, but they do think that all-male lineups are a sign of not trying very hard to get the best speakers.
One solution is for men to publicly pledge only to participate in panels that have at least one woman on them, as Rebbeca Rosen proposed in The Atlantic last week. Speakers in many different areas have already adopted this rule, but now it seems to be gaining popularity at an explosive rate.
Another way to help change the ratio is for people of any gender to make a rule to not speak at conferences with less than a certain percentage of women speakers: depending on the field, perhaps 10%, or 25% – we know one speaker with a 35% rule. This is something you can note in your talk application and decided on when the speakers are announced. If you are male and invited to speak at a conference, you can make it a habit to suggest qualified women speakers in addition or instead of yourself. Another rule that helps is to not attend conferences without an anti-harassment policy.
Finally, if you are a conference organizer, and are not having success getting applications from women, here are some writeups from conferences that succeeded in getting 25% or more women speakers. Also useful is the Geek Feminism article “Women speakers” which has lots of concrete advice.
As many people have pointed out, the simplest way to have more women speakers is to become friends with, learn about, or work with more women in your field. One thing you can do today: Follow 10 women on Twitter, add 5 women’s blogs to your news reader, or read 2 articles on women in your field on Wikipedia. (Bonus points for improving them.)
By taking these steps, you won’t just be helping women, you’ll be helping yourself. We bet that you’ll enjoy the conferences you attend more, learn new things, make new friends, and open up a world of interesting new perspectives.