Gender equality at media and tech conferences

Martin Thörnkvist is the Program Director for Media Evolution’s annual conference Media Evolution The Conference and the Technology for Design track at Business of Design Week in Hong Kong.

Speakers, v. 3
Some of the spekears at The Conference 2012 (photo by Kate Miltner).

There’s been a debate about gender equality at conferences in Sweden recently. It was started by Brit Stakston and enhanced by our Minister for Information Technology and Energy, Anna-Karin Hatt.

Over and over again I hear people say that it’s hard to find female speakers for tech and media conferences, and that it’s impossible to have a gender equal speakers lineup.

At this year’s edition of Media Evolution The Conference 50% of the keynote speakers and 45% of the total speakers lineup were women.

We are a living proof that gender equal conferences is possible.

Correlation between speakers and participants

Even more interestingly, when we went through the participants list we found that 42% of the participants were women. Which is almost the same proportion as the speakers. Last year 39% of the attendees were female and 38% of the speakers.

Last year at Sweden Social Web Camp, an unconference where the participants put their name in a big grid of slots to hold a session, I counted how many session where held be women. One third. It turned out that one third of the attendees where female.

So, in these two cases there seems to be a correlation between the gender split of speakers and participants. I find it very interesting for both the event experience and from a business perspective. 

It doesn’t just happen

Initiatives such as Rättviseförmedlingen and Change the Ratio have been of big importance for us to keep working towards our goal of gender equal conference (and we know we’re not there just yet).

We experienced something that was shocking to us when we invited people to suggest topics for an unconference track at our conference. Only one (1!) woman did so. We ended up with 11 men and 1 woman in this crowdsourced track. This shows that you need to be constantly on your feet to change the ratio and accomplish the goal of gender equality.

We’ve learned that it’s not enough to invite women. You need to start by looking at the design and set up in which you want somebody to be a part. In many cases it’s rather the topic that needs to change. In most cases the outcome become much better if you force yourself to go beyond the most obvious solution.

The bigger picture

My hope is that by having many women on our stages we will inspire other conferences to do the same. And also encourage women to start companies and bigger corporations to hire female executives.

It’s easy to book the usual suspects and the executives of well known companies, but it’s much more interesting to dig a little deeper and build trust in your community that whoever speaks will deliver on a high level.

Ignoring 50% of the population is the biggest mistake you can make in the 21st century.

Read more:
Kvinnor, mångfald och it. Hur gör vi? – Brit Stakston
Jämställdheten och it-branschen – Anna-Karin Hatt
Könsfördelningen bland talarna på Internetdagarna – Janne Elvelid

A comment
  • Gender, Technology, Diversity and Creativity

    [...] conferences like The Conference from Media Evolution in our hometown of Malmö are doing their part in making a more accessible [...]