SM4W13 - Why it mattered to me

After organising and running #SM4W13 a conference for women and by women, I wanted to share with you, why it meant so much to me.

Recently gender has been the hot topic of conversation for many technology based conferences. Some even being cancelled, due to a barrage of negative comments online. Rightfully or not, people are voicing their opinions on the situation and it’s having massive impacts on the conferences, organisers, sponsors, participants, and potential speakers of the future.

The issue is, most technology conferences, have a heavy, if not all white male, speaker line-up. Talking to various organisers, brings up a variety of reasons for this, however the fact remains it doesn’t look good, that minorities are not being well represented. There are barriers at every stage of the conference process, be it interest, confidence to apply, or organisers not knowing the right people to invite to speak.

As a speaker who talks UK-wide on Digital Technologies and Women in Tech, I would always want to be asked to speak based on my skills and knowledge, rather than ticking any quota box. In April I spoke at Preston Social on “Geeks Not Gender” where I asked the audience the question “Quota versus Quality?” and what could be done to redress the balance. Research points towards a lack of women putting themselves forward as speakers in the Technology sector, rather than them not being picked to be in the line-up. So how could we change this?

There are groups out there for minorities and even niche interests, that support and nurture the potential speakers of the future, in a safe and comfortable atmosphere. Groups for women in SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) such as Plug-In-Lancashire and Manchester Girl Geeks also offer opportunities for networking and presenting short talks, to help increase confidence and track records.

As this is an issue I’m extremely passionate about however, I wanted to do more, to see if we could inspire and increase the diverse range of speakers at technology conferences and events.

Flicking through the contacts in my phone, it was easy to list off many females, who were in my networks, were key players in their chosen field and were vibrant speakers. When asked if they would speak at our event, it was telling to hear every single one say yes, and were incredibly enthusiastic about what we were trying to achieve.

And so #SM4W13 was born!

When we started this event we had two aims, the first was to highlight positive female role models who use social media effectively for business, and we certainly feel we achieved this. The second was to encourage more women to speak at conferences and events. The responses on the evaluation forms told us that 59% of those who attended would now be willing to speak at an event. Additionally, 78% of attendees felt their confidence in using social media has increased. Mission Accomplished!!
Fantastic feedback also included attendees gaining valuable connections, skills useful for personal and business, shared expertise, and found it useful to have female role models as speakers, who were experts in their fields.

It was also great to hear feedback about the most important thing of any conference in my opinion - the quality, not the gender of the speakers. Maybe these people would choose quality over quota...
“The gender of the speaker doesn't matter to me”

“It shouldn't matter who is speaking, it's about the quality”

“Great although male opinion is equally important”

The second most important thing, is the welcoming environment. We worked really hard to make sure we picked an accessible and comfortable venue, easily accessible both in terms of getting there and disability access; convenient start, end and break times; good coffee and lunch; and a supportive and open team of helpers and speakers. This hopefully breaks down some of those barriers that put women off attending conferences, that haven’t tried to consider all angles before.

And to finish off, I wanted to share some of my favourite comments from the day with you, that proved to me, we did what we set out to do!

“Its a great platform for women to build their confidence in front of others. It is a comfortable, welcoming and friendly environment where women feel confident to collaborate with others.”

“I like that it addresses the issues in the tech field and specifically had female only speakers. I hope that it encourages equality of representation. The sessions were applicable to anyone.”

I’ve always been passionate about equality and representation, and I hope this goes some way into changing to current landscape of most conferences. It goes to show, there are female speakers out there who can make a great line-up, even better.

I look forward to hearing about those women inspired by the conference, speaking at their next staff meeting, interest group or international conference. The world is a beautiful and diverse place, let’s make more conferences engaging, supportive and representative for all.