Geek Feminism Wiki

The problem[]

Technical conferences generally have a paucity of women speakers. Many have none at all, some have a token woman, and most have a minority around the 10% mark. Only a very few conferences have a strong minority (>25%) of women speakers. Conferences with "soft" subject matter such as web design, user interfaces, or community management tend to have higher proportions of female speakers than those with "harder" subject matter. See: Percentage of women speakers at technical conferences


A number of causes have been suggested for this:

  • That because women are less aggressive self-promoters, it is not obvious to conference organizers who women entrepreneurs & developers are *that exist* and would add value as a speaker on their roster.
  • That women simply do not submit proposals
    • because of lack of confidence (see: Imposter syndrome)
    • because they are unpracticed and unsure how to write a good proposal
    • because they see lack of diversity at the conference and don't think they'll be wanted
    • because they expect lack of diversity and are uncomfortable being spotlighted as one of few women
    • because they don't think their work will support sending them to the conference
    • because they are self-employed and can't justify the cost of travel
    • because they have childcare or other carer duties that limit their travel
  • Conference committees seek out male speakers more actively than female ones
  • Selection committees may be consciously or unconsciously biased against female speakers when selecting papers
  • There are fewer women in the field in the first place, so the lack of women speakers just reflects this
  • That the few women available to speak are in high demand and cannot make it to enough confs
  • That the few women available become "overused" and that organisers do not want to book them in successive years


See also Finding women.

  • Make sure you address problems for women attendees first thing. Are there women's toilets accessible at the venue? Do you have anything to help parents, especially nursing mothers, attend? See Women-friendly events.
  • If you are running a conference, you could put a Diversity statement in your Call For Papers, making it clear that the conference values diversity and would welcome submissions from women and other minority groups.
  • Some tips for reviewing submissions:
    • One option would be to have blind reviews, removing identifying information from the submissions, to avoid subconscious gender bias. Similar efforts in other fields have resulted in higher rates of women being accepted.
    • You could have a policy of attempting to have the diversity of presenters match the diversity of submissions, to within a certain margin (eg. plus or minus one speaker)
  • Check the websites specifically focussing on women speakers.
  • Send your call for submissions to women's groups in the relevant area, eg LinuxChix's announce list for FLOSS conferences
  • Because of the history of poor proportions of women speakers and other issues that occur at technical conferences, women may be reticent about submitting papers. Organizers may need to offer greater encouragement, including:
    • Personal one-to-one outreach to potential speakers
    • Let the speakers know that you are particularly interested in speaker diversity and getting more women speakers
    • Ask potential speakers to recommend other potential speakers
  • Women are less likely to be sent to conferences by their employers, and more likely to be working for themselves or working as volunteers on projects. Therefore, the cost of travel and accommodation to a conference may be a barrier. Offering travel bursaries or other funding to speakers may help with this.
  • Call out conferences when they have an inordinately high percentage of male speakers. For example, see the Needs Women Speakers group on Upcoming.
  • Avoid tokenism: are you inviting women solely to address the social side of geekdom? Are you only accepting Unicorn Law talks? Seek out senior women to speak on core topics. See List of women keynote presenters at technical conferences for some examples in technical fields.
  • Appoint women to your program committee. When you can, appoint a woman to chair your program committee.
  • When accepting panels or streams, note that you encourage them to select diverse panellists and speakers.

Further reading[]

Tips for women speakers[]

These are tips especially for women who would like to speak at tech conferences.

  • Self-promotion:
    • Don't undersell yourself. Imposter syndrome is a killer. Most of the men submitting are just as much imposters as you are -- probably moreso, if the studies are right -- but they don't let it stop them.
    • Make sure to let people know about your conference speaking gigs! Mention them on your blog, on twitter, and include them in your resume. (If your resume list gets too long, pick a few of the best and point to a list elsewhere.) Being known as a conference speaker will make it easier to get further gigs.
  • What to talk about:
    • Nat Torkington (OSCON organiser) says: "When I choose keynoters, I look for people with something big to say, more than just "I did X software thing". I need impact, scope, magnitude. When you coach women for proposals and so on, it's worth making sure they know that."
    • Emma Jane Hogbin says that when she was organising HICKTech, she looked for people who could tell great stories about their experiences with technology. You don't need to be a technical expert to have a great story to tell!
  • Being a better speaker:
    • A blog to read: [1]
    • Some conferences have "How to be a better speaker" sessions early on (I'm thinking OSCON and Damian Conway's session, usually held on the Monday). If such a thing is provided, take up the opportunity!
    • You can actually hire a coach to help you present better. Look for "speech coaches" or similar.
    • Practice your talk at a local user group or Girl Geek Dinner. Most (all?) good speakers give the same talk to multiple audiences. If it's in a different location to the last time you gave it, it's probably OK.
  • Other:
    • If you are approached to speak at a conference, and if you have the energy to deal with it, ask the organisers if they are interested in having more women speakers. Often they would like to have more but just don't know where to look. Your social networks will tend to have more women in them than theirs, so you may be able to suggest someone to them and do a friend a favour at the same time.
    • Know your audience. Attending for at least one year before speaking gives you a chance to appreciate the atmosphere of the conference. (Is it more business-y or technical? Will lolcats make them laugh or confuse them?) If you don't have this luxury, look for videos of past talks and quiz friends who have attended previously.



The following chart shows what percent of speakers at various Linux and Free/Open Source Software conferences have been women over the years:



Women key note speakers[]