Sunday, May 15, 2005

Separate But Equal

Mary Hodder has written another post that has compelled me to do more than simply comment on her blog.

This time she is exploring the idea of diversity in conference speaker selection, and obviously as I've been working hard on putting BlogHer, this resonates with me. Indeed Mary herself is on the Advisory Board and is moderating a discussion, so it's probably in the back of her mind too.

Her first idea is one that will be met by severe push-back I'm sure: basically that if a conference features 90% white male speakers it should simply be honest and make sure the positioning of the conference's themes and associated messaging states that explicitly. For example: "addressing grand challenges from the perspective of *mostly* white men."

I won't be holding my breath to see that kind of language on any conference collateral any time soon.

But then Mary made reference to a discussion she had with one of the organizers of an event she had criticized in this way and reported this part of their exchange:

"He told me he'd read my post, and didn't understand why women complained about not having women speakers at conferences. He thought that women should just make their own conferences if they wanted to speak. I said in response, you mean, separate but equal? I think he got it, that this was a silly way to see things."

I'm not sure if the guy was implying that a conference would have to be women-focused to invite women speakers...that's a pretty bold, nay offensive, statement. Or perhaps he meant that if women wanted to see their numbers on the dais equal their representation in society, they'd have to do it themselves? Well, of course BlogHer is just the effort of a few women who wanted to put on the kind of conference they wanted to attend.

I've heard the following types of responses from men regarding this hot-button issue of male-dominated conference programs:

1. Women didn't submit (without quantifying how many of the speakers only were there because they submitted vs. being invited.)
2. These are male-dominated industries, so naturally the experts are all men.
3. The conference program is gender-neutral, so it doesn't matter that there's no diversity on the dais.
4. It's insulting to women to invite speakers just because they're women (as though people asking for more diversity were telling organizers to find any old woman to speak on topics they weren't qualified for.)
5. But mostly I hear this: if you're interested in the topic/program/sessions and the networking, you should come and give us your 4-figure conference fee dollars regardless of what our speaker make-up is.

And now's the time for all those who subscribe to the above to really reflect on how true it holds when the shoe is on the other foot. Because:

1. BlogHer is open to all. We've said it again and again.
2. Most of the sessions have absolutely nothing to do specifically with gender, but deal with technology, or professional interests or the very nature of blogging itself.
3. All of the women speakers and discussion leaders are respected leaders in their fields. Some of them may be unheard voices for many people, but many of them are among the most prominent voices today. You've just never seen so many of them in one place at one time before! And I know these women rock because we didn't ask for self-submissions specifically...we asked the community to recommend people, and we went on our own hunts.
3. Our conference fee is very affordable...$99 including service fee!

I have spent my life being the only woman in the room and being told, sometimes explicitly and sometimes tacitly, that I shouldn't have any problem with this. And most of the time I really didn't.

I'm hoping people check out the schedule for BlogHer, and our incredible roster of speakers...and feel exactly the same way!

That's what I'm really, truly hoping for.

My two cents on the top three justifications on why there are not more women speakers. 1. Most conferences don't have open call - the speakers are invited. Women just aren't on the radar screen to be top-of-mind when invitations go out. Not sure why...

2. Male-dominated...hmmm, orchestras used to be male-dominated as well until 'blind' auditions were held. Yep, all the 'good' classical musicians used to be male.

Read this post where Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Blink) recounts the story of Abbie Conant's audition for the Munich Philharmonic in 1980:

3. Honestly, I care much less for diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, etc. than for diversity of mindsets and worldviews. But I don't see that either at most conferences. I recall a conversation with a entrepreneur seeking feedback on his business plan. He was surprised by my critique as I raised brand new questions and issues. I found this hard to believe as it was only a cursory pass. He thought for a moment and then realized he'd only spoken to a set of people with similar backgrounds - and they were all businessMEN with mainly engineering and/or finance backgrounds.

Evelyn Rodriguez
Hey Evelyn: I often see people say something similar to your statement, "I care much less for diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, etc. than for diversity of mindsets and worldviews."

But we cannot ignore the fundamental truth that people's mindsets and worldviews are partially formed and shaped by who they are...and how the world treats them. And that race, ethnicity, gender, religion, orientation...these things significantly effect the sum total of a person's perspective.

Check out this post by my friend Wag - a black woman so pale that she is assumed to be white by most who meet her:
You are right. Good job.

BTW, really nice blog.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?