Sunday, September 10, 2006

Update: Conference diversity, Office 2.0 etc.

After a lively few blogging days right before and during Labor Day weekend I headed into a week where I had to put the nose to the grindstone and get stuff done. But that certainly didn't mean the brouhaha that began before Labor Day over the lack of diversity in the Office 2.0 Conference speaker roster went away. Au contraire, it simply evolved.

If you need to catch up on what went down last week, you can read my two posts on the subject and follow the many other links I included in those posts. A couple of other recap posts are here and here.

I know there are those who think this is the same old conversation, and that nothing has changed. But I did see some differences:

First of all, we had men in the mix: I actually first learned of the unbalanced speaker roster from a guy's post, perhaps the earliest post talking about this particular issue. Other men jumped in too, all throughout the conversation. This was more than the usual suspects. Not only that, but some of the male speakers actually responded and joined the conversation, and I'm pretty sure I haven't seen that before. So, perhaps this is a small sign that everyone is starting to realize as one guy put it that it's time for everyone to step up, men included, and express their outrage.

The second difference was in the response of the conference organizer. Don't get me wrong, I was pretty unimpressed at first, as I blogged in both of my posts. Sure, I thought that it showed blog-savvy to go around and politely and non-defensively comment on every post on the subject, but I also wasn't won over by the response which was of the passive "you're right; I'm sorry; help me" variety. Even that, I have to say, is different that the responses I've seen to similar blog swarms in the past. Let me enumerate the typical responses:

1. Ignore it altogether. That would be the F*ck You response #1.

2. Respond and say that you chose speakers based on competence not genitalia (or color or whatever.) That would be the F*ck You response #2.

3. Respond and say that you have some women, and it simply reflects larger issues in tech or society, and you can't fix that with your itty bitty little conference. That would be the F*ck You response #3.

4. Respond and say that you posted one call for speakers message one time on your one conference blog (read by 10s if not hundreds of people) and if different speakers didn't come to you, well, really that's their fault, not yours. That would be the F*ck You response #4. This one is VERY popular.

and finally...

5. Respond and say that you're really sorry, and that you're so glad this was brought to your attention, and that next year you'll do so much better. And then a year later, it starts all over. This is sort of the time-released F*ck You response.

So, as passive as Ismael's comments seemed to me, the difference was that he was willing to do something right now for this conference this year. And he emailed directly asking for that help...ideas, recommendations, referrals, introductions...whatever we could do. Which begged the question: should we help? Yes, it was late in the game. Yes, it would never have come up if a chorus of voices didn't rise up to rip this guy a new one. Sure, this is crisis containment and a major attempt to CYA.

So?

This is an age-old debate, really, isn't it? If we clamor for progress what do we do when presented with an imperfect path to progress? In my case, I put aside my ambivalence and thought about the outcome. Part of the BlogHer mission is to create or foster opportunities for exposure for women bloggers. The fact of the matter is that if we can recommend a dozen women to this organizer, and if even half of them end up speaking...because they of their own free will decided the opportunity was worth it...then that is serving the BlogHer mission.

After Ismael's email I sent him "homework": an initial list of women with links to their bios, or blogs, or profiles on the Speaker Wiki to review, and we set up a call. When we spoke on Wednesday he described each session to me and the kind of panelists he was looking for. We discussed the other women he was simultaneously approaching on his own. He talked about wanting a woman or women on every panel. I went away and did more searching around. And yes, the Speaker Wiki is really a good resource. It really is. Even to help you flesh out the skills and background of people you already know. (There's another post in the works on finding speakers.)

Finally I got back to him with more specific recommendations and started sending out feelers. In case you're wondering I mentioned to every person I emailed that there had been a blog swarm about gender diversity at this conference. I could totally respect it if that influenced whether or not someone wanted to speak.

Of course he invited someone from BlogHer to speak too, and I will. And we probably could have left it at that. But I spent a lot of time doing speaker research. Contrary to what those who scream "political correctness at the expense of quality" might think: it's not about getting just any women on the dais...it's about acknowledging and exposing the relevant women who should be speaking on any number of topics, and aren't.

The result of his work on his own and my additional assistance is that the conference now has 12 women speakers where it once had one. And I know there are at least another half dozen potential additions to that list. It went from a 2% ratio to 20%. And that figure might go up. Some of the additions are people that submitted themselves after the lopsided speaker list was released. Some are people Ismael contacted after seeing the lists of suggestions that people published. Some were people I recommended and invited.

Both Debi Jones and Liza Sabater have talked about using technology to mobilize around events that are woman-unfriendly. Debi talked last year about using SmartMob techniques to congregate outside such exclusive events. Liza talked this year about a similar idea: the Estroswarm.

Well, wasn't that what happened here, online, six weeks before the event? The bottom line is that this was a blog swarm that actually resulted in real-time change. I think that rocks. I've said in my previous posts that it is much preferred for organizers to think of this from day one of their planning. It shouldn't be an afterthought. It should be a P.R. move. But with that horse out of the barn, do we prefer that someone merely learns their lesson for next year, or that they act while there's still time right now?

After consideration, I think it's the latter.

So, that's the update. It's been a busy week, and there were probably a million reasons I didn't need to spend so much time on someone else's event! Nonetheless, I hope in the end there are 6-12 good reasons why I did.

PS-Another idea that cropped up, via Anne Zelenka, during the blog swarm was to do a "podcast jam" coinciding with the Conference, and trying to include other women, like Anne, who couldn't physically make it to the conference. So, according to this post, it is on.

Comments:
"do we prefer that someone merely learns their lesson for next year, or that they act while there's still time right now?"

I agree with you: the latter.

I don't see any point in identifying a wrong and then turning our backs when someone tries to make it right. I have learned a lot watching Ismael handle this. There are extreme views on both sides; it's nice to know that there's also a big middle ground where a bunch of us can work together.
 
"There are extreme views on both sides; it's nice to know that there's also a big middle ground where a bunch of us can work together."

Anne: I think that's a good way to put it. We need the extremes...on one side to remind us why we still have to fight, on the other to remind us how much more we can fight for.

But in the middle, as oyu say, there is work that can be done.
 
Hi there,
I don't want to come of all against diversity or anything. But I was wondering, what happened to the 9 people who lost their places as speakers?
 
Scott: I don't think 9 people lost their places at all. In one case I think one speaker decided his co-founder could speak in his place (although the schedule doesn't yet reflect such a switch) but in every other case I believe they're all additions, not replacements.
 
Well that is good if no one got pushed out, as that would be pretty disheartening.
It is all very well if we say
"lets have more women and minorities"
but if you are the person who gets missed out because of it, well that can be less fun.
I would say there are few who don't want more women in our industry, and it must make it easier for girls who can see women who have already made it.
 
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