That woman, Marilyn, recently has become part of a group called Technically Women, along with several other woman that I know (some more than others). Now it’s quite interesting that very recently as I myself begin ramping up into a frenzy of event planning for the upcoming SAP TechEd events around the world — why is that interesting you might ask? Well it’s interesting because my connection to every single one of the ladies involved in this group is related to past SAP events and because the women in this group have begun as a collective to ask the question, “why are there not more women speakers at events”.
Inside of the Irregulars group the conversation was started there by my friend and someone I respect very, very much asked the question to the group as well. Maggie (find her on Twitter or on her blog) is someone I meet years ago and instantly liked. I mean honest to goodness truly liked which is why I can honestly say – what I think on this issue and know that it will be understood and taken in the proper way.
Of course I’ve probably already got you thinking this is negative however it’s not at least not entirely but as Jeff blogged the other day I think there is a bigger issue here than just whether we need more women speaking or not.
Every once in a while this issue flares up, usually in relation to conferences not having anything other than a bunch of white guys on the speaker agenda, but I think we should stop fooling ourselves about the technology industry valuing diversity and on there being a system of meritocracy for achieving it.
Women, Hispanics, blacks, and people with disabilities are all conspicuously absent at events and on company payrolls. We have deluded ourselves into a false sense of security about the fact that because tech centers like Silicon Valley, Boulder, and Boston are themselves centers for cultural diversity, that our industry is diversified as a result. Not true.
Follow that with a phone call I had this week from someone I work with yet have had no contact with in the past, somehow the conversation moved to the topic of diversity, most likely since I’m a foreigner living here and she was a foreigner living there. She was astounded though when I made the comment that,
“I think it’s about damn time we start looking at this topic more seriously and if that means we need to consider the role women play as executives or speakers at events as a starting point then I’m all for it!”
Her response was, “wait your a man, what do you get out of it?”
At first I was not sure how to answer since it’s not an easy one to answer yet I think Cathy Brooks is on the right track with her post “Kerfuffle over a quandary: My take on the female conference speaker debate”
Where she states
No matter how you slice it this is a complex topic and one with which I have found myself confronted very directly in the last several years in my role helping produce/content curate for a number of major technology gatherings. On more than one occasion I have found myself torn because while I am as big a proponent as any for supporting women in business, the plain fact is that it’s a numbers game. There are just fewer women from whom to choose. I’m not suggesting there aren’t smart, accomplished, capable women available to speak on pretty much any topic, but let’s face it. When you look around any given room at any given conference and do the math – apart from BlogHer or other gatherings by women-inclined organizations – if you find a room where the percentage of female presence is anything more than 5% to 10%, I’ll buy you lunch.
What is true, however, is that it’s time to stop talking about it, and take action. Big time.
Now that is taken out of context but I think it fits perfectly well together and still maintains her primary thought in the post.
Maggie herself stated in her post (which ignited this thought for me) “What Does it Take to be a “Top 10″ Social Media Speaker?”
I think part of the problem is many of us suck at two things: valuing our skills and engaging in healthy self-promotion. There may be a good reason for the latter, which is what I want to focus on: when it comes to social media in particular, self-promotion so frequently trumps actual accomplishments that we have a saucy little word for it – douchebaggery. No one wants to be seen as a douchebag (except for the douchebags, and that’s because they don’t know any better).
So where am I going with all of this? Well the basic statement I have to make is “me too”!
I’m still young, or at least I like to think so despite the gray hair and I’ve been successful in my job however like Maggie who I considered to be far more talented and qualified than myself, well we seem to be in the same boat. It’s fighting the “Good Old Boys” and I’m simply not one of them despite being male, white, educated, etc…
Diversity in our business or any other business I see as a good thing because it gives those new folks an opportunity they currently don’t have. I saw this a lot while working in the automotive sector – the world is extremely small and everyone knew everyone and everyone seemed to bounce from one place to other and always because of the “my buddy John works there now” type of thing. This meant that those new folks – younger folks coming out of school often were shut out simply because they had not yet done the rounds – yet being fully qualified.
The lack of diversity, the lack of looking beyond the “usual suspects” hurts our industry as well as every other one simply because we are not looking at those on the edges – me I speak at events (sort of) I speak at my companies events and that is 3 times a year one right after the other and is certainly not a keynote – I’ve been invited to attend events yet I’ve never (honestly) been asked to speak at event other than 2 times to speak and share my companies success story (not my own thoughts on the market or community in the enterprise) of course I can only blame myself on that because I’ve never actually said “I’m willing to speak if you are looking” that self marketing that Maggie and the others elude to seems to be the essential missing piece for a lot of us in terms of this issue. Couple that with not being a member of the “Good Old Boys” club and I’m completely out of luck it seems.
Wait did that turn from diversity to what about me? I guess it did but isn’t that a big piece to the diversity puzzle? Either sit there an mope about it or get out there and do something about it? Maggie and the others have, and I hope if all goes as planned you can hear from Maggie herself on this topic tomorrow Friday, August 21, 2009 on the next episode of the Friday Morning Report!
As for me I guess until I tell someone where’s my speaking invitation or job offer or something like that I have no one to blame but myself? Despite the fact I’ve said time and time again it’s time to use your voice. Perhaps a lesson for us, Maggie and the others are using their voice and hopefully we’ll get to see people like her on stage soon, I can’t speak for them all but Maggie, Susan, Marilyn and several others I know have fantastic insights that I thoroughly enjoy hearing about more so than many of those “usual suspects”!