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September 28, 2010



A similar issue was brought up recently in this "No Women in Tech" post: http://techcrunch.com/2010/09/28/girls-in-blech/

I do wonder why diversity is not acknowledged at such events. Especially in Social Media. This isn't the technology industry where women are just smaller in numbers. There are just as many females blogging as men (or perhaps I have my details wrong).

And as for ethnicity diversity, thats a whole other can of worms.

Just a few months ago there was a study that showed that african-americans were one of the largest users of Twitter. Yet, they are rarely mentioned as an audience in the blog/social media world.

Overall, I'm not very bothered by their choices. It's their event and they can choose who they want to present. But as a Marketer, I often wonder why companies/groups do not target audiences that are shown through research to be on the rise. And to ignore women, who are the top consumers, makes me blink.

Aliza Sherman

I almost nodded when I read your comment "It's their event, they can choose who they want to present." But it brings up several questions/issues for me:

1. If they really do want just white males, why don't conference planners own up to it when they are asked? When confronted, they make up excuses why they didn't have a more diverse panel versus just owning it.

2. When you organize a major national event for a diverse industry, I think you have a certain responsibility to book your event to reflect the world around you versus an insular, homogenous picture of people just like you. If a conference is called Web 2.0 versus "Men in Web 2.0," then book a representative set of keynoters & speakers or rename your event so there isn't any confusion.

Deb Ng

Hi Aliza,

As you know I'm Conference Director for BlogWorld and I'm also a woman. I wanted it to be my mission this year to find more women to speak at our event. In fact, we all worked very hard at getting more women for our event. We also wanted to make sure people of all backgrounds and ethnicities were covered as well.

But you know what was more important than us than getting female speakers or speakers of color? Getting GOOD speakers. Really GOOD speakers regardless of their race or gender.
We're not a white boys club but should we sacrifice good content for the sake of adding more women or Asians or Hispanics? What is an acceptable percentage?

Yes, I/we wanted more women but it doesn't always work out that way and I'll tell you why.

* Many of the women who submitted proposals didn't sent in very strong proposals.
* Many of the women who we asked declined.
* Many of the women we asked backed out in the weeks before our event.
*We always receive more proposals from white males than anyone else. Do we turn down the best speakers and proposals simply because they're not women?

It's kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't sort of situation. What if I added in more women, simply because they were women, and they didn't do well?

What we tried to do was find the best speakers (and proposals) for each track. I'm proud of our line up. Yes, I want more women to speak at BlogWorld, but my job is to provide attendees with the best content possible. Sometimes that means making decisions that aren't very popular.


You know, I have about zero interest in discussing how many females or races are selected to present at a conference or in line to get a job.

Let the most qualified, most respected, speakers speak on their subjects of expertise. If the people want to hear from them, it's because they have something to say.

This conversation is getting old. Bringing in specific genders or races for the sake of diversity is ONLY called for when those throwing an event or hiring for a position refuse to consider candidates from those groups.

If all available options are considered, which I think BlogWorld deserves the benefit of the doubt for, then let's leave it alone. Don't we care most about what the people have to say, rather than which demographic they belong to?

Deb Ng

I'd also like to add that this is only a listing of our confirmed keynotes - and there may be a couple more (including women.)

Lisa Barone

I agree with Deb and Daniel. This conversation *is* getting old and it's only perpetuated for links and traffic. If you genuinely think there's a disparity between the number of men and women speaking at these kinds of events, then get involved to change it. I'd much prefer to have QUALITY speakers than an equal number of men and women. What does that get us? Nothing. And writing blogs posts about it only makes the gap look bigger than it really is and enforces the old stigma that women are treated differently. They're not unless treated differently...unless they want to be. And that's an entirely different story.

Kathy Nicholls

As a first time attendee at the BWE conference, I'm coming to get information. It doesn't matter to me if it's a woman or a man speaking if they are a GOOD presenter and have something valuable to offer. I'm trusting that Deb and those who plan this meeting are using that as a main criteria. I've done a lot of public speaking myself, planned conference as well, and it should always be about quality presentations. I'm looking forward to it, but gender or ethnicity really won't impact my decision about attending any particular sessions.

Lara Kulpa

As a speaker at BWE this year, and as a woman, I admit that this post set me off a little yesterday. So much so that I wrote my own post about it.

In looking around the internet this week alone, there have been SO many "it's not fair" claims being laid and it drives me absolutely bonkers.

There are female speakers EVERYWHERE in this year's lineup. Five years ago? Not so much. I'm sure this applies to many conferences, too. Personally? I'm of the "Quit complaining and do something about it," camp. *shrug*

Michele McGraw

I didn't even notice that when I looked at the line-up. To be honest, I wasn't look at whether speakers were male/female/white/yellow/black, just that they were speakers that were of interest to me and the industry.

I don't know what the answer is. There are a lot of women bloggers and in social media. Are women not applying to speak because they feel they can't/shouldn't?? Or are they applying and not being picked? I think there is a lot more to this. Maybe more women need to put themselves out there and start speaking.


Let me start off by defending Aliza. For those that don't know she and I and a few other folks have been discussing this for over 2 years now. I know her post was meant to be as constructive as possible.

That said, here are some facts about our event. For the last 3 years now for whatever reason, our ratio of women to men speakers is 64/65% men to 35/36% women. It mirrors our attendance exactly and according to surveys it matches the overall demographics of the blogosphere.

But that is only part of the story. We don't have any goal going into planning the event each year for women to men, or black to white, minority to majority, liberal to conservative. But we absolutely go into every event and nearly every single session asking who is a non-white male who can speak this year? Give a keynote? Give this talk, or be on this panel?

That credit goes to Dave Taylor. He served as our conference director for the first show in 2007. During one of our early planning calls he said "we should really reach out and get more women to speak". The thought had never occurred to me but the moment he said it, I knew he was right. From that moment our thought process has been as I described above. Not to meet any kind of pre-conceived diversity agenda but to accurately represent and serve the blogosphere / socialmediasphere as a whole.

It is true we have fewer female keynoters this year than we did last year (7 in 2009). But it wasn't for lack of effort. Susan Bratton can tell you much to her disappointment we have been trying for two years to put together a panel of "Leading Women of the Social Media World" without success. In fact this year after months of effort with zero success we simply changed her panel to a different topic and invited the best speakers we could find for the topic. Susan deserved to be on our stage and so she is there even if it is with two brilliant men. I am not going to mention the list of women we approached who turned us down for all sorts of reasons because it is irrelevant to the discussion imo.

Why is it so hard for us to find great women speak our keynote our event?

90% of our submissions are from men to start. So we have to literally chase that additional 25% to get them on stage.

Do you want to hear an even more shocking fact?
When I ask women I know in the social media space who do they think would be a great female keynoter at BlogWorld, the list is always a very short one. One, two or three names at the most. Trust me, I have asked a lot of woman this question.

As Deb mentioned our first goal is to have GREAT CONTENT for our attendees. We will never substitute a woman for a man just because she is a woman. It's wrong and it’s not going to happen at our event. We are very proud of the quality of our content and we are happy to compare it to any other social media event in the world.

One last point, we are not a tech conference. BlogWorld & New Media Expo is a CONTENT EVENT. The technology is just something we use to distribute our content. BlogWorld is all about content creators and our goal is to help them create, distribute and monetize that content.

We are very proud of the work we put into this event and we are very proud of the fact that we are by far the most diverse conference in the social media world. You can read more about that in a post I put up in 2008 here:


Rick Calvert
CEO & Co-Founder
BlogWorld & New Media Expo

Aliza Sherman

I am grateful to both Deb and Rick for weighing in on this as we've had several conversations about the ratio of male/female speakers at their conference and other conferences. I think what they've said points to several things that are critical to this topic:

1. They care and are cognizant of the issue.
2. They place content and quality first.
3. Women aren't stepping up to the plate in terms of submissions.
4. Women speakers are still far less visible than their male counterparts.

I think there is plenty of work for all of us to do to encourage the good stuff and change the not so good. Caring is the first place to start. Focusing on content/quality which, while subjective, is a good goal for conference organizers to have.

My focus is to find ways to get women better educated and better supported in their quests to speak at these events and to create a stronger referral pipeline for them. That includes working with event planners to better define what they are looking for and to share with women both winning and rejected speaking proposal submissions.

I'm just looking for solutions. Drawing attention to a discrepancy is just that - drawing attention to a discrepancy. With awareness, we have a chance to make headway to make positive change.


We have the same goals Aliza. That's why I appreciated your post, and your continued hard work on this 8).


Who are the great women with keynote potential? I'd love to know everyone's thoughts.

I've started a Twitter list, and I invite your nominations. That way, when Rick asks you for suggestions, you'll be ready.


Aliza, this is so important to us, as you know well.

I won't rehash what Rick and Deb have already shared, but I did want to relate a thought...well, a problem actually.

While proactively reaching out to engage talented women the past few years, I've asked each to recommend a few top educators and experts who might be a good match for a particular session, panel, keynote, what have you...And each time, the names mentioned are men. I interrupted one particular conversation mid-stream this year and said "Wait, I have to stop you for a second. You just rattled off the names of several men, what about women?" Moment of silence, and then the reply "Hmm...I'll have to think about it." Honestly, it frustrates me.

I grew up with a strong, educated Mom, and I don't relate to male-dominated events. They make me feel uncomfortable.

At other conferences I've attended, while I realistically couldn’t have had the same reaction as a woman, I have found myself muttering “where are all the women?”. It's made me wonder, not about the mindsets of event organizers so much (although there are clearly many that make no efforts toward diversity), but about the state of the business world for women, and what's at the root of this issue.

I have questions.

Are woman-owned start-ups on the rise or decline and why?

Are university tech, communications and business curriculums which feed young business development an even mix of M/F?

Are investors who back new tech, media and communications start-ups predominantly male, and are they trending toward backing male-led companies?

The root starts much earlier than conferences; the manifestation of this issue comes in the home, then at the university level and finally upon entrance into the business world. I'm convinced of it, and troubled by it at once.

Your reply to Rick included "My focus is to find ways to get women better educated and better supported in their quests to speak at these events and to create a stronger referral pipeline for them."

That was heartening to read; we share that goal here, all of us.

Looking forward to talking with you about this further.


Dave Cynkin
Co-Founder, Sleep Deprivationist & Thrill Seeker
BlogWorld & New Media Expo

Deb Ng

Something else to add to Dave's point:

Dave and I were on a conference call with one of our Track Committees a couple of months ago when we both said we were looking for some good, successful women to speak.None of the strong women on the committee stepped up and said, "I'd like to speak." We thought that was kind of funny-ish.

It's kind of frustrating because we know people are going to wonder where the women are. We know where they are, we'd like to get them in front of a podium.

Jim "Genuine" Turner

I hate to be the bandwagon jumper here, but all that Rick, Dave and Deb have said here echoes my thoughts completely. As you know Aliza last year as the conference director in Deb's shoes, my attempt was to have a 50/50 mix of men to women speakers. It was very difficult to get that balance.

I did a Blog World Expo Radio show on this very issue last year after attending the Future of Web Apps conference in Miami. There was about 600 people in attendance and about 10 of those were women. They had a woman speaking and she stopped her session 15 mins early and said, "Where are all the women?" It was a surreal moment.

You and I just attended Type A Mom where we both spoke and your keynote there was cheered as a complete success. You are blazing a trail here too so keep pushing.

Lucretia Pruitt

Okay, now I'm going to lob a bomb in here.

Deb? Rick? I know you both. I've known you both for years. But yeah, BlogWorld is not alone in it's gender bias.

You want a list of qualified women to speak? Ask me. Ask Aliza. Ask Geoff Livingston (who constantly manages to find them for his events and has weighed in on this many times.) Ask the women who manage to find a roster of STRONG, intelligent, articulate, female speakers every year for events like http://gracehopper.org/2010/ BJ Wishinsky manages to find those women every year. Liz Strauss manages to find them every year for SOBCon.

If women aren't submitting strong proposals to your conference? Maybe it's because you aren't perceived as a conference that is friendly to women speakers yet.

Rick, I love you as a friend and a person - but I'm utterly BLOWN AWAY that you would say that "Susan Bratton can tell you much to her disappointment we have been trying for two years to put together a panel of "Leading Women of the Social Media World" without success" -- Seriously? If that's the case - the only reason for it is that you aren't willing to pay the women who are speaking at that level.

Aliza? Thanks for writing this. It's hard to write something that might reflect badly on folks you consider friends. But maybe instead of defending it - they need to take a long look at it and FIX it.

Rick Calvert

We are not defending anything and we have nothing to fix. We are simply stating facts. I will repost some more facts I just mentioned on our blog.

As of today our conference director is a woman, our director of sales is a woman, 6 out of 10 of our community track leaders are women. A half dozen women serve on speaker selection committees 4 of our keynote speakers are women, and nearly half of all our speakers are women (130 out of 280). Not because they are women but because they are who we thought were the most qualified for that particular role.

For anyone to suggested we are gender biased in any way is pure nonsense and ignores the well documented facts. We have no quota system and never will. Our first and last priority is quality content for our attendees.

We do not pay our speakers, men or women. Funny enough we have broken that rule twice. Once for a man and once for very high profile woman. A woman we would love to keynote our event. She broke her contract and stiffed us a two weeks before the show. Needless to say we won't be asking her again.

I only mention it to point out the lengths we go to, to attract quality women to speak.

And you very well know Lucretia we have asked you and we have asked Aliza. Liz Strauss has spoken at our event for 3 years running now and even put together an entire track one year.

We welcome discussions like these every time they come up because we know the facts are on our side.

Rachel Luxemburg

As one of the women who actually did submit a proposal for a BWE speaking slot, I have to say - it's nice to see this thread and the active participation from Deb and Rick, but you know what would have been nicer? Some feedback from BWE after I submitted my proposal.

if it's THAT hard to get women to submit and you care THAT much about getting more women into the pipeline, would it have killed you to reach out to the women who did take the time to send in a proposal and say, "Hey, this proposal's not going to make the cut, but thanks for submitting and we hope you'll try again next year"?

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