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Missing chicks – reward offered.

chicksAs industry analysts we attend conferences, a LOT of conferences, in order to stay connected with what is going on in the industry and the people involved in driving it forward. Sometimes we are speakers (keynote and otherwise), moderators, or panelists; occasionally all three. Other times we are there as attendees, either by invitation, or simply because the event has a lot to offer in the way of the line up of speakers, the spectrum of sponsors, or the list of typical attendees. This year Digital Clarity Group will be present at more than 50 different events. That is a lot of catered coffee.

Most recently at IMS 13 New York City, I had the pleasure of moderating a couple of panels, and Digital Clarity Group hosted the opening day cocktail party. With a sold out crowd of more than 300 registered attendees, it was a well-run event with a great line-up of expert panelists and keynote presenters. With all that was going on, something struck me – like many conferences in our industry, there were a disproportionate number of men participating in the panels and presenting their perspectives versus women. Out of 48 scheduled speakers (keynotes, case studies, and panels), there were only 10 women. That is nearly a 4:1 ratio of XY to XX chromosome representation.  And note that of the 341 registered attendees, 203 were men and 138 women — a 1.5:1 ratio for anyone doing the math.

The ratio couldn’t be that out of whack at other premier events – could it?

The real world picture

Table 1 below shows the results of a quick survey of other industry (non-vendor specific) conference line ups turned up:

Table 1

Total # of promoted speakers

# of male speakers

# of females speakers

Ratio male:female speakers

Gilbane 2012





E2.0 2013





IMS Boston 2012





CMS Expo 2013





J. Boye 2013





With the exception of J. Boye, it would appear that our industry is out of touch with what is happening in the world when it comes to women in the workplace. In 2010 women accounted for 51.5 percent of all workers in the high-paying management, professional, and related occupations. And if you look at the Table 2 below, if a conference was truly going to align with the marketplace, then the ratio of male to female speakers should be closer to 2:1.

Table 2

Exec/Senior level officials & managers

First/Mid level officials
& managers

All Employees


















I am not saying that this slant is intentional, I’m pretty sure it isn’t, in most cases. There could be many reasons for the lack of representation:

  • Women simply do not submit as many speaking proposals (and this could be for a plethora of reasons.)
  • There may still be fewer women in the field in the first place, so the lack of women speakers just reflects this (although there is no way the industry personnel ratio is 9:1) – if this is the case, it is shifting towards a better balance with the insurgence of Marketing’s involvement in web technology decisions.
  • That the fewer “known” women available are used so often that organizers do not want to book them in successive years.
  • Those evaluating the speaking submissions might be predominantly of the male persuasion and abstracts written by women may not align with their sense of what they consider intriguing, interesting, or relevant.

Having attended and participated in more than our fair share of these events, and even helped coordinate and facilitate events as a whole, I can tell you a lot of who gets invited to participate on the front line of a conference has to do with awareness, familiarity, and the “sure win” of having dynamic speakers and panelists, with a proven record of being able to engage the audience that often beats out taking a chance on a newbie. After all, if a conference line up is inadvertently filled with “duds,” who is going to spend their limited conference and travel budget next year on the same event? Not many.

The reward

Now not to shock anyone, but women and men think, and in a lot of cases, present differently. There, the cat is out of the bag, the elephant in the room has been identified (it’s pink), and the jig is up. That is not to say that one way is better than the other.  Both men and women can be bad/boring/uninteresting  presentation styles, or have engaging/humorous/enlightening ones, and having sat through too many of the former, it goes without needing to be said that what we need are more of the latter.  It is more so to point out that one of the positives to be gained by more girl-power in the speakers line-up is the added variety of both cadence and delivery style within the agenda. And variety is good. There are so many other upsides to balancing out (and by that I mean adding more women) the speakers line-up:

  • Increased event registration/attendance by women.
  • More varied perspective on similar topics. (Let’s be honest – some conference agendas are filled with the same story just being told by a different suit, or more the case these days, a different combo of jeans and jacket.)
  • An opportunity to encourage female students to pursue a career in technical fields: applications, development, technical marketing, analyst . . .
  • A much broader selection of speakers to choose from.

These are just a few reasons that should have conference coordinators re-thinking their “tried and true” line up of Tims, Allens, Roberts, and Scotts, and throwing a few more Cathys and Mariannes into the mix.

run like a girl


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