Friday, November 25, 2005

Letters, we get letters...mostly indicating why BlogHer is not passe.

OK, someone help me out...was "Letters, oh we got letters..." the little ditty they sang on Pee Wee's Playhouse, or was it some other TV show?

Anyway, I've noticed a new phenomenon, I'm sure it is linked to the fact that we've announced BlogHer 06 and made it clear that we are moving onward with the BlogHer Mission to provide education, exposure and community by for and to women bloggers.

The phenomenon is that I get cc'ed on emails from frustrated women naming various conferences and events they've been invited to or heard about, and pointing out the dearth of women on the speaker list. In at least one case the woman didn't feel she could safely blog it herself. But was trying to spread the word to others who might.

There are some of us who blog this topic often:

-Lisa Stone did the math on the most recent Always On conference.
-Liz Lawley occasionally does "Speakerwatches" on, most recently checking out the abysmal Web 2.0 figures.
-Halley Suitt mentions it on Halley's Comment.
-Shelley Powers is a constant voice on this topic.
-And I mention not only speaker lists, but how media coverage distorts the role of women at industry events. And how, yes, conference organizers get exactly the speaker roster they believe it's important to have.

Nonetheless, there are lots of women who feel loathe to make waves, especially pointing fingers at conference organizers or conference sponsors, because they actually want to be invited to speak at those conferences. When we ask: "do you play the game, or change the rules?" who can blame lots of us for trying to do both?

So let me point out a couple of examples making waves with women, and try to offer a few suggestions.

Example #1: The Word of Mouth Basic Traning Conference, sponsored by WOMMA
Sent to me by a BlogHer 05 speaker (who must remain anonymous) who shared the following rant:

"I mean, aren’t there ANY women in the WOMMA world??!!! Featured keynotes: All men. Featured Authors: 1 woman and 7 men. And one session workshop entitled: "How to Get Women Talking." Puh-leaze. Okay. Maybe there’s more here than meets the eye. Somebody tell me where I’ve gone wrong."

To be fair when you dig into their agenda there are a few more women speaking in individual sessions, including one woman on the "Talking to Women" panel. So perhaps as disturbing as the disparity is the fact that these organizers don't think the women speakers are a good draw from a marketing perspective. They highlight in their marketing email 99% male speakers. Is this because the men actually are more illustrious/respected? Or is it because the organizers believe that their potential audiences will find men more reputable?

(Ironically the person whose name I recognize most is the one woman: Jackie Huba.)

Example #2: Les Blog 2.0
Sent to me via email with the following comments:

"Les Blogs 2, organised by Six Apart and sponsored by no end of esteemed organisations, is cramming in 51 speakers and 7 moderators over the course of 2 days. How many women have been invited to speak? a grand total of 4 - including Mina Trott - and 2 modorators. How is it that post Blogher sponsors (particularly Movable Type) are not asking about the parity of women represented at events they are paying for? The only conclusion is that they don't give a damn about women's acheivements. It's clear that the organizers feel the same way."

Again, to be fair, I counted 5 women speakers...and now don't you feel so much better? And yes, there is a woman from SixApart listed amongst the conference contacts, along with BlogHer friend Elizabeth Albrycht.

Do I agree with this emailer's contention that both the sponsoring comapnies and the organizers "don't give a damn"?

Actually I'm sure they care in the abstract. I doubt it has never crossed their mind. But as I made clear in this post I believe it is a matter of prioritization, and no, they didn't prioritize diversity. They didn't care enough.

Enough for whom, though? Clearly they cared enough for their attendees, who signed up in numbers allowing them to call the conference "sold out." But they didn't care enough for me, or for my emailing friends.

So, what should we do? What are my SUGGESTIONS? Make some noise. Join a growing chorus.

My anonymous friend was invited to the WOMMA conference. I would suggest we start responding to such invites with a pointed reply explaining why we won't attend, rather than just automatically sending the email to trash.

And I would suggest blogging it. David Weinberger was invited to an elite discussion group on a topic in which he is most interested in. And he declined because there was not a single woman on the list of 20 participants. He declined, telling them why. And he blogged it.

I know of another BlogHer who was invited to a similar event, and was the only woman to be so, (by a woman organizer no less) and she declined, telling the organizer that she was not going to be the only (read: token) woman at these events anymore. She didn't blog it, as far as I know, so I won't out her, but she has decided this is her way to try to take a stand.

AlwaysOn, which I think I signed up with in its very earliest days, recently conducted a member survey. The one comment I left was to tell them that every email I received from them (and it's multiple emails per day) comes with a sea of white male faces. Every. Single. One. And that it bored me. And that I was tired of not seeing anyone like me. And that I would never go to one of their expensive events when a major element of my perspective wasn't valued enough to be represented.

Does that mean that you'll suddenly find yourself in the wasteland, without opportunities to network and speak?

No. It really, really doesn't. Because some organizers get it. (And I'm not even talking about the all-women speaker BlogHer credo.)

SXSW Interactive, as an example, only about the hippest, coolest conference on the planet. And their (male) organizer reached out to BlogHer the organization, and to BlogHers as a group, to solicit proposals and ideas. Not only did BlogHers come through (proving that we are perfectly happy to submit when we feel there's actually a chance we'll be taken seriously) SXSW came through. It's not just the 4 sessions that BlogHer (the org.) is co-producing with SXSW, there's a deep list of women speakers on the agenda. And we should be blogging these positive developments too.

NewCommForum 2006, organized by two women, so far has a list of speakers that's about 50/50. These organizers also reached out to BlogHer for ideas and suggestions.

Even BlogOn 2005, which was hardly at 50/50, did have about one third women speakers...which when we're talking about "reputable" conferences settling for 10% or less, represents progress.

These are the kinds of conferences we should seek out, support and attend. And we should let them know why. $$$ and positive reinforcement for the good guys, economic embargo on and bad press for the bad guys.

And keep sticking your neck out: ask for speaking slots, submit proposals and don't forget to list yourself on the Speaker's Wiki. There are organizers using it, I know for a fact.

What else would you suggest?

I’ll tell you exactly what will get the online community moving on this issue: Stop complaining to the event organisers and start contacting the sponsors.

Ask them why they are associating themselves with events that marginalise and neglect the achievements of women, and why they haven’t asked the organisers for assurances that getting a representative number of women speakers on board is a priority for them. Let them know that when they sponsor events where women are marginalised that people take note and that there reputation will be tarnished.
Good suggestion. Let the organizers know, but also let the sponsors know. After all companies sponsor events because they want to reach people. Thanks for the suggestion.
Lisa, thanks for linking to this post from the comment you left on my blog.

I agree. It's time to hit the pocketbook - the sponsors. I'm wondering what would be an effective way to open up this conversation. Thoughts?
Oh, BITE ME. I will forgo chocolate today for typing LISA instead of ELISA. Can I blame it on not having any chocolate yet today? I'm SORR

So glad you mentioned the dearth-of-women speakers thing re WOMMA's event in Florida in January. It's a pet peeve of mine too! Here's a post I wrote about "cool women bloggers" I met at the Blog Business Summit last August in San Francisco

Oh and the only reason I didn't make it to BlogHer 05 was that I couldn't afford two trips to the West Coast so close together. Hope to get to BlogHer 06. Heck, hope I get invited to speak!
Hi. I'm the CEO of WOMMA, and have lead our speaker-selection process.

Frankly, I think we've been pretty fair. Let me describe our process, you make your own decision.

1. We've had an open call for speakers on our web site and the web site for this conference. There have been very few proposals from women. I hope more women will send in proposals. We're booked for this event, but we're alread planning the next two.

2. Our only mission is to provide a platform for experts in word of mouth. Women experts - call us!

3. We are a member-based organizaiton. Anyone is welcome to join. We invite our member COMPANIES to speak, they choose the PERSON they send. I hope more women-run companies will join, and more members will send female speakers to represent them.

Non-profit organizations like WOMMA are are driven by participation and member support. If you want to have an impact, join and get involved.

Feel free to call or email me - I'm happy to discuss.



Andy Sernovitz
Word of Mouth Marketing Association
312-335-0035 - fax: 312-275-7687
333 W. North Avenue, #500
Chicago, IL 60610

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I appreciate your commenting Andy, and that is the most common reason conference organizers give for lack of diversity in their panels...lack of submissions. Most events that have a call for submission also do plenty of inviting and inviting back.But I have written before that if a conference organizer thinks diversity of perspective is important to their event they can take steps to ensure it's there. SXSW is a great example of an organization that takes outreach seriously, and has been rewarded by a flood of submissions from a diverse population.

One part of your comment that's very revealing to me is that you invite companies to speak without knowing which speakers they will send. Obviously if that's your practice you have no control over who they send. So it just confirms how the issue still exists far beyond conference panels.

Thanks again for chiming in. I sincerely appreciate your willingness to have a public conversation about it.
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