Women at Tech Conferences: Mythbusting

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So, uh… for the past few years, we haven’t announced any Gnomedex speakers before opening conference registration to the world – largely because we’ve always taken special care to craft our content around the registered audience. Some might argue that we’re putting the cart before the horse with this approach.

With our limited amount of resources, we have to spend our time crafting content that our registrants hope to see – not what our POTENTIAL audience might want to see. I never really saw speaker selection as male vs. female, but I have been giving special consideration to females who I believe have been making a difference in this digital world of ours (directly in the tech industry or otherwise).

I’m not sure whether this was an oversight or a blatant omission, but Gnomedex didn’t make Kottke’s list of Gender diversity at web conferences. Maybe we’re not considered a “web” conference? Granted, our numbers wouldn’t have likely fared any better than the others, although I can tell you a few things about last year’s construct:

  • Susan Mernit’s discussion was something I don’t think our audience was expecting – but (I thought) turned out to be a welcomed change of pace. Even my mom was compelled to comment (and yes, my mom and dad are Gnomedex staples).
  • Halley Suitt’s discussion was compelling, insightful, focused, and extremely interactive.
  • Tara Hunt’s discussion with Chris Messina helped bring a different energy to the room (not just because of their “couple” dynamic). If I had my way, more couples would be up on stage.
  • Identity Woman’s discussion was completely impromptu – as she was informally voted on stage by the Gnomedex audience!!! Jeez, doesn’t that say enough about the open nature of our conference?
  • Beth Goza was pumped and prepared to proselytize the world with her mad Second Life skillz. She’s been a Gnomedex fan since Gnomedex II – and one of my favorite geeks, period.
  • Our conference leadership team is 50% male and 50% female: Ponzi and myself.

What’s more, I had invited at least *FOUR* other notable women to participate (last year) who either declined, never responded, or couldn’t do it because of scheduling conflicts. It’s not like I didn’t try, people – really. And before everybody starts crying foul, let me give you a couple more statistics:

  • Gnomedex 7.0 is already 1/3 sold out.
  • 95% of Gnomedex 7.0 registrants are male.

And considering we have yet to announce a single speaker for this event, you tell *US* how we’re supposed to move forward. Even if I had 50/50 gender representation, the audience is already skewed heavily male – despite the fact that everybody has an equal opportunity to attend. Even with 25/25/25/25 (male, female, white, non-white) on stage, there’s no guarantee of having equal percentages in the audience.

AGAIN, the opinions of registered Gnomedex attendees hold infinitely more weight with us than those who have (a) not signed up for Gnomedex, or (b) won’t sign up for Gnomedex, no matter what.

Oh, hell… I almost forgot:

  • The only person to register and attend all seven Gnomedex conferences is female (Christine Juhnke). She’s not a blogger, she’s not a developer, she doesn’t live in Silicon Valley, she’s not a technophile, she’s not a VC, and she doesn’t live her life on “Web 2.0″ anything.

Gnomedex, by the way, continues to attract influencers before they become influencers – male and female.