Lena is Tired of my Face (do we need more female speakers?)

I like Lena, she writes an insightful post suggesting that the same ol’ speakers at conferences is getting boring, I agree. She makes a call that we need diversity in our speakers and asks where all the social media female speakers are at.

I left four comments on her blog of different speakers that are female and focus on the social media industry, please swing by and leave some other examples, hopefully conference organizers will see this, and attract new talent. I listed out:

  • Tara Hunt (social media/anti-marketing marketing)
  • Connie Benson (community)
  • KD Paine (Social Media Measurement)
  • Jennifer Jones (Marketing Voices Podcast)
  • Any of the blogher founders
  • Deb Schultz -Social Media Marketing
  • Heather Champ –Flickr
  • Teresa Valdez Klein, she’s really fantastic.
  • Charlene Li, my colleague at Forrester
  • Know of other female speakers who rock at social media? Leave a comment here or over at Lena’s blog

    Some conferences are pretty balanced, for example today, I’ll be at the Customer Service is the New Marketing conference at the presidio in SF, it’s being put on by the Get Satisfaction team (a website that is a disruption to your corporate website) I’ll be running a workshop on online community best practices (and area of coverage as an analyst) and will be leading the attendees to share their best practices. I’ll be capturing the top attendee responses and will share via this blog. Many of the speakers are female, it appears to be a mixed crowd.

    A few years ago I bitched about the lack of asian speakers, and ended up creating this list. I guess if I’m over-exposed now, then things have certainly shifted.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter if our speakers are pink or purple, transgender or androgynous, what matters is 1) they’re experts at their field 2) great presenters 3) the audience walks away with more than they did before the session.

    Update: Lena has suggested that making lists isn’t enough. I’ve send this post to an upcoming conference organizer whose having a hard time getting speakers, I hope it makes a difference. Susan Getgood says to vote with your feet, a practical approach that hits conference organizers in the wallet.

    43 Replies to “Lena is Tired of my Face (do we need more female speakers?)”

    1. Seriously, Jeremiah, do you think this issue refers to gender alone? Isn’t the real issue that it’s more or less only a small circle of speakers – period – who’s making the rounds on the neverending conference trail? Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t matter, which conference you go to, because even if you choose the one closest to your home, you are bound to run into the same set of speakers.

    2. Marshall, thanks

      Mads, that’s always going to be the case, geography often limits speakers to a very small regional area to speak at.

      In the bay area, I see the same folks over and over, but you know what? It’s ok, as I consider them friends (being with them so much and having fun over the last 3 years) I really embrace it.

      The trick is to use the web to reach out past your geography and find new ideas and people.

      That is, after all, what the promise of the internet is all about.

    3. This problem is everywhere. SpinnCon is having its first Israel event, and there isn’t one woman on the panel. I don’t entirely blame the organizers – they say they tried to get female panelists, and I believe them. But there isn’t even one, and that in my opinion is a sign of something else, not simply that no women were available.

      I think the problem is more in line with what Mads described above: the core group of speakers. And they are always men.

      Why does this happen? Do men know how to promote themselves better? Do people (including women) take them more seriously than women?

    4. I would also put Jenna Woodul, Chief Community Officer at LiveWorld.com on that list. Jenna has over 20 years of experience in this area starting with her work at Apple in the 1980’s.

    5. Yes, I am the Lena to whom Jeremiah is referring.

      We do need diversity. Diversity is not the word…we need a total shift.

      People keep talking about how women are such ‘naturals’ at what makes social media so effective, so why aren’t the female leaders more visible?

      I simply DO NOT BUY the story that conference organizers give when they say there are no women available. I know how the game works. These ‘organizers’ ask the other speakers for recommendations and men refer other men. That’s the deal. I just spoke at an event in Miami and I recommended three of the speakers. Heck, it makes a very busy job easier to just go on recommendations…why wouldn’t they?

      As opposed to lists – which are passive – what I was hoping was that some of the male social media action figures would say: “Lena has a point. The next conference where I speak, I’m going to note how many male speakers there are in comparison to female speakers and I will recommend 2-3 female social media power players for speaking opps.” Now THAT’S action. Me and passive don’t work well together.

      Here’s part of my comments on the Lipsticking blog – made in response to reader’s comments:

      “The point of this blog post is NOT to create another list of ‘women in social media’.

      Why is it that when someone comments about the dearth of female social media power players, that people start creating lists?

      Yes, these women exist. They all do good work, no doubt. But, are they keynoting conferences of any magnitude? Are they even profiled and held out as experts nearly as much as the males.

      It’s not the fact of their existence that I’m questioning – it’s their visibility. And, sad to say most of these women are invisible when it comes to most people in social media.

      Ask someone who Jeremiah Owyang is and you’ll get a totally different answer than if you ask them who Jennifer Jones is or Heather Champ.

      When I ask the question: Who are the mal ‘action figures’ in social media? You can almost see them in your mind’s eye.

      But, I ask, who are the female power players in social media…we start creating lists.

      It’s almost like someone who has been accused of being a racist or bigot to then start naming all their friends who are people of color.”

      Although I’m passionate about this, I don’t like presenting a problem without a solution and trust me, I’m working on one.

      Thanks to all who want to be part of the solution with me — and thanks to Jeremiah for continuing the dialogue and using his platform to bring light to this matter.


    6. The really unfortunate part is that when women do speak up and say something about sexism in the tech world, they can do themselves some real career damage (which is why I’m not using my real name here).

      It’s there, and it’s rampant, and it’s incredibly frustrating — all the moreso becasue so many of the perpetrators genuinely do not think that they’re sexist. If you asked them, they’d say that of course women do great work, and that they believe in equal opportunity, etc etc — but when push comes to shove they fall back on their boy’s club comfort zone.

      The solution is for more men to push themselves out of their comfort zone on a regular basis. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of potential payoff for men to do so, which is why change is so slow to come.

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    8. I agree the issue is more about broadening the horizon of speakers in general – male or female. We all read so many blogs and newsletters. Who do you like to read that you don’t know that you haven’t seen speak? That’s how the circle should be widened.

      However, if it’s knowledgeable female speakers you seek, I’ve got no choice but to point you in the direction of President and Founder of the firm I work for; Tamera Kremer of Wildfire Strategic Marketing.

    9. I’d add Tamar Weinberg to that list.

      She started in the SEO/search sphere but has since really established herself in the social media realm. She’s a top Digger, blogs for Techipedia/Lifehacker/Search Engine Roundtable and has spoken on social media-related issues at Search Marketing Expo and PubCon Las Vegas. She’s develop a very large fan base and is definitely one to watch!

    10. I definitely see a gender bias issue in the tech world, but I think it will only ultimately be solved with time and a new generation of boys and girls growing up equally involved with technology.

      In the mean time, do we have an obligation to draw attention to women in this field by virtue of our gender alone? No. The only place where that’s strictly necessary is in the classroom, and only for the purposes of combatting whatever “girls don’t code” messages our daughters are still getting.

      Yes, having women at the podium at technology conferences is laudable. But as a conference organizer, I would never want to see anyone sacrifice the quality of a session in order to choose a less qualified female speaker over a more qualified male one.

      The only thing that I ask as a woman in this industry is that my friendliness, gender, age and appearance not be used as reasons to either overlook me or pay me the wrong kind of attention.

      That said, I’m honored to be included in any post where Jeremiah mentions my name and the word “fantastic” in the same breath. Gender has nothing to do with that. Thanks, J! 🙂

    11. Oh gawd, this discussion again. We’ve been having it for years and years now but somehow it keeps popping up as news that there’s too few women speakers at tech conferences.

      Thankfully, I can now just point people to this list–if there’s a lack of women speakers at your conference, it’s ’cause you aren’t even trying.

      (Yes, I’m on that list, but so are a lot of other amazing women)

    12. From Dan Pink’s blog:

      In a Newsweek interview, University College London psychologist Adrian Furnham reveals the differences in intelligence between men and women.

      The key finding: Although men are overrepresented on both the very high and very low ends of the spectrum, in general there are no differences in intelligence between the sexes. The really key finding: Men think they’re smarter and — wtf? — women concur. As Furnham explains:

      “[O]n average, women underestimate their IQ scores by about five points while men overestimate their own IQs. . . . Men with average to below-average intelligence think that they are quite clever. And very smart women think their intelligence is low. . . . Both sexes believe that their fathers are smarter than their mothers and grandfathers are more intelligent than their grandmothers. . . . If there are children, [both] men and women think their sons are brighter than their daughters.”


    13. Jeremiah – I guess I underestimated you because I was both surprised and pleased to see you take up this cause. 🙂

      Quite honestly, Sprezzatura has a point. When I have blogged about the gender inequality on the Technorati top 100, my female readers are 100% empowered, my most loyal male readers are supportive, and the rest of them either shut their mouth or say that I am bitching and making excuses.

      I’ve even been told (by a male blogger) that I would (and should!!) ruin my ‘bloggng career’ by playing the gender card.

      That all being said, this isn’t just a discrimination issue, I know that fewer women go after speaking gigs in the first place. Whether it be a preservation of work-life balance or self esteem issues is kind of beside the point – we just seem to want it less than our male counterparts

      Quite honestly, for those of us willing to put ourselves out there, it does make it somewhat easier for us to get the speaking gigs we want. Like Teresa, I wouldn’t want to be chosen for a spot over someone more qualified than I am, but I’ll risk stating that if I am as qualified as someone else, and chosen because I am a woman, I’m certainly NOT going to say no to the opportunity. 😉

    14. Yes, this topic AGAIN. And, for the record, in my opinion, lists are passive and don’t change much. Nothing moves unless something changes. It’s sooo deceptively easy to hide behind a list. Again, passive change.

      I think that blaming women for their lack of self promotion is not the solution here.

      At first I thought that someone had a point when they bought this up, but the more I think about it, the more I know it’s a smoke screen. Don’t believe the hype.

      The women that were “listed” on the comments on the Lipsticking blog – and the women listed here – are anything but wallflowers. So what’s the explanation that *they’re* not getting high-profile media and speaking gigs?

      Someone emailed me as a result of this post and said that some women are “voluntarily invisible”. And, I’ll give her that. There are some women who could totally care less about speaking — or are simply unwilling to do the work to get there. I will concede that.

      That doesn’t explain everyone though.

      And, that’s *not* what I was talking about. If we’re going to “list”, let’s do it!

      Is KD Paine not willing to do what it takes to get plum speaking gigs? I don’t think so.

      What about Deb Schultz? Nope. She’s on it, too.

      Charlene Li? Jennifer Jones? Elisa Camahort? Toby Bloomberg?

      Nah. Nope. Nada. Nu-uh.

      I know over half of these women personally. They are go-getters and they have the get up and go. Trust me, it’s not for lack of promotion.

      I guess I’m just wondering when everyone else will step up and admit that this industry is biased and needs work — and STOP blaming women.

      Voluntary invisibility? I don’t buy it as an across the board reason for the disparity.


    15. Jeremiah, I rarely get engaged in this debate as it’s an old one and has been raised in every industry I have worked in.

      Bottom line, whether it be a male speaker or a female speaker what the audience is looking for is someone engaging, entertaining and insightful. I for one do not want to be on a list of speakers or a panel because of my gender (female) or race (Eurasian) – i am sure most of us do not want to be considered “token gestures”.

      Are women less likely to self promote themselves than men – possibily – but those who are leaders in their field especially in social media do make it known if they are interested in speaking.

      I wonder though, when a speaking opportunity comes about, how open are men or women to recommend others that they know of in their own field?

      Many of us know men and women across the globe in the area of social media and certainly know people in our own countries. But how often do we offer and suggest to event organisers people we know to speak at events? Or do we only offer up our friends?

      I always make it known to event organisers that I am happy to share my network with them and on more than one occassion have helped them find great experts. That gets you know as a valuable connector and does far more for out personal brand and reputation than you could imagine.

      So if any event organiser is reading this post – feel free to connect with me – I’ll happily share my network of lively and engaging speakers with you for your live or virtual events.

    16. I am honored to be on this list. I do agree that what happens often is that the people who get asked “who is good” are men and that men tend to recommend men. In my opinion, often women also tend to favor men (look at how many women are voting for Barack)…it is how women are trained from childhood…I was just talking to a very powerful CEO and woman friend just last night about this tendency. Women do need to be more supportive of each other especially in technology. So congrats to Jeremiah for being bold to get the conversation started and thank you for including me on the list.

    17. I would like to add Eleanor Wynn, Principal Engineer for Social Networking, Intel and Danese Cooper, one of the leaders in Open Source, grassroots leader of Sun blogs and now over at Intel.

      I have witnessed a lot of the debate over why aren’t there more female bloggers, female speakers etc. We are here. We have always been here. I think the difference is in how genders behave. Females have a tendency to not self promote and engage in more narcissitic behavior. Males do the exact opposite. This is no different than what has gone in corporate life for years. The ownership to drive more visibile females into this space doesn’t rest on the event organizers, but rests on the shoulders of us- women. Let’s start “roaring” a bit louder.

    18. I left a comment on Lena’s post which I won’t repeat in its entirety here. And I’ve written on this topic many times (see the series of links in that post.)

      Bottom line: these lists of great women already exist and are always growing. No one ever asked anyone to sacrifice quality for diversity. And I know from my own experience that one doesn’t have to. That’s a strawman argument.

      The question is: Do you value diversity? Do you think having a diverse roster in and of itself brings value to attendees? I do.

    19. Great post – the Web Analytics world is seeing a rise in women speakers and even Jim Sterne has made a call for “Female Gurus” to promote. A few to add to the list from the web analytics sector:

      Jen Veesenmeyer from Stratigent
      Robbin Steiff from Luna Metrics

      Coming from the Web Analytics arena and now sitting in the Web 2.0 space evangelizing about widget analytics – I speak periodically am available for more gigs as they arise 🙂

    20. It is helpful when organizers invite groups of women or let them know the names and contact info for other women you’ve invited; and ask them who they would invite. In other words, not asking the same network to use their same standards for judging importance and value.

    21. I keep seeing the speaker agendas for upcoming cons and am rather frustrated. I mean, I can jump up and down and wave my arms, but as we all know this has nothing to do with a lack of women speakers. Adding my name to the wiki and sighing, loudly.

    22. Like Elisa and Lena, I’ve been pushing this rock up that hill for a number of years. There are so many reasons why.

      The real question is, what is each of us willing to do to change it?

      I choose to vote with my feet, and no longer even consider attending conferences that don’t strive for diversity, along multiple dimensions.

    23. Great post Jeremiah. As you know we had originally asked your colleague at Forrester Charline Li to speak and when she had a last minute conflict she suggested you fill in for her 8). You of course did a fantastic job.

      Even though we replaced one woman with a man we still had a tremendous group of female speakers and I would humbly suggest if you are a looking for a list of great female bloggers / web 2.0 gurus you might want to start with our list of speakers at the inaugural BlogWorld & New Media Expo. http://tinyurl.com/2vrk5m

    24. Hi Jeremiah. I just commented on a recent post by Ms. Connie Reece (“Five White Men Talk about Social Media, http://everydotconnects.com/2008/03/21/five-white-men-talk-about-social-media/

      Saw this post there. Just wanted to make sure and highlight that I speak regularly on panels focused on social media and monetization strategies. In the Affiliate Marketing world, I have been an advocate for social media strategies and community building. At Affiliate Summit West in Vegas last month, I put together a panel that included Deb Schultz, myself and iJustine (note there’s a 15 year age range there).

      My answer to this issue is a combination of eduction for show organizers, press, etc, and encouragement for women to be more aggressive about self-promotion.

      Something I’ve never been shy about.


    25. My single girlfriends were just discussing today that seminars were the best place to go where the speakers and audience are mostly men. At the last event we went to, there were only two wives and one female marketer besides myself and about 600 men.



    26. Agreed that Beth Kanter rocks at social media; as does the rest of the She’s Geeky crew! Go to one of their conferences if you want to meet a ton of awesome women, many professional presenters.

    27. Reem Abeidoh of Social Impressions is someone who should definitely be on this list. Her complete understanding of social media and her abilities in public speech make her a “must have” on any list of social media figures, female or male.

      She is a regular on The Drill Down and a co-host on the Social Blend. Her presence is commanding and she is able to inspire others with her passion for social media and social networking.

      Reem is held in high regard by some of the top users in social media. Not having her on the list would make it incomplete.

    28. Marshall, thanks

      Mads, that's always going to be the case, geography often limits speakers to a very small regional area to speak at.

      In the bay area, I see the same folks over and over, but you know what? It's ok, as I consider them friends (being with them so much and having fun over the last 3 years) I really embrace it.

      The trick is to use the web to reach out past your geography and find new ideas and people.

      That is, after all, what the promise of the internet is all about.

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