It’s Conference Season and The Complaining Begins

I’m a woman. (SHOCKER!) I secured my very first “big girl” speaking engagement a few months back, and I’m quite delighted to say the least. (I’ll be speaking on a panel at BlogWorld and New Media Expo 2010.)

At BWE I get to “hang with the big boys” as some would call it, like Darren Rowse, Brian Clark, Patrick O’Keefe, Jeremy Wright, and Chris Garrett among others. Blog World is, for me, the highlight of my year anyway because I’m lucky enough to call all of these men friends, and I get to spend a few days hanging out with them in person. Speaking or no.

But something disheartens me more and more each year, and it’s the wave of complaints that start surfacing on the web about the lack of women speakers at huge events like these. It’s everywhere, “Why aren’t there more women?” (Sidenote: This topic has been in the news recently too, discussing how women are still making 70% of what men make, doing the same job. My thoughts on this later…)

Remember, as I told you before and in case you forgot, I’m a woman.

Sure, I’m not doing a big, fancy keynote. (My brain silently mutters in a super slow and sexy voice, “yet…”) But there are three women involved with keynotes this year (Susan Bratton of Personal Life Media, Sonia Simone and Cali Lewis) and along with me being one of the lucky ladies who snagged herself a glorious hour, are about a bajillion other super cool ladies I happen to know (see for yourself). A few years ago, there were maybe 20 women who could’ve had something to say. Now? There are hundreds, if not thousands.

MY next step? Snagging a glorious hour all to myself.
Next step after that? Snagging a couple glorious hours all to myself. Maybe even at multiple events! *oooh, ahhh!*
After that, someday? Keynote. Panel or not, keynote.

*sigh* I know I’m not going to be popular with women for this next statement, but here goes…

Stop fucking whining, already! Don’t complain, compare, or judge. DO something.

You want to see more women in tech speaking at industry event keynotes? Get involved. Make suggestions to the event directors, explain why you (or whoever) would be a great fit for that event. Submit speaker proposals! The internet is a huge place, and despite thousands and thousands of people knowing who I am, I still had to stand in the virtual line and submit an application to speak just like everyone else… even some of “the big boys”. And guess what? Apparently, that helped me secure the slot… go figure!

I’m so sick and tired of the “we’re no further ahead than we were in the 60’s” and the “not only are there only 3 women, they’re all white” and the “but we’re mommies and wives and we don’t have time to ______”. Sick of it.

People complain, but here’s my take: I’m going to do my shit for me, NOT because I’m a woman… and you should too. So what can you do TODAY to further you? Because complaining isn’t going to change anything. You know what will change things? MORE successful women in tech actually putting themselves out there. Get off your duff and be bold and brave enough to lay it on the line, dammit!

A dear friend and client of mine in this industry has fought her way to where she is now, and people still don’t always know who she is or how hard she’s worked, much less what an amazing woman she is. Another friend left a super six-figure career in Silicon Valley to get out of the war, and still isn’t recognized for all she does. For every female friend of mine like that, there are at least a dozen men in the same boat. Truth be told? I know more men in this industry than I do women, and that’s because there are more men in this industry busting their (pun intended) balls to GET known. By me, in fact! Go figure that one out!

So to avoid driving myself into a lunatic state of mind over this, I’m just going to say it this way, to all my girls out there who want “better female representation” in tech:

Stop being so conservative with yourself and jaded with the world, and do something to make yourself or another woman you admire, known. Kick her ass (or your own) into gear if you have to, rather than complain over mimosas about how sexist the industry is.

P.S. For what it’s worth, I think women in the military should have to do “man-style” pushups and that if you wanted to be treated as an equal you need to behave like one. We women kick complete ass at everything we do, and sometimes even moreso than our male equivalents. But if you don’t stop bitching and start proving yourself and showing yourself, no one’s ever going to know. They’re just going to lump you in with the yentas and move on to the next person.

P.P.S. I shared this post before I scheduled it for publishing with one of the aforementioned lady friends. You won’t believe what she told me… She said that she was talking to a male conference director not long ago and he had been so excited that he was able to present a near 50/50 split of male and female speakers for his event. But a week before the conference? Almost ALL of the women bailed out. So there he was, left with half a conference, and no women. I dare you to sit back and analyze why they all bailed. I’m willing to bet that most of them did so out of fear of some kind.

P.P.P.S. The panel I’m doing with Chris, Patrick, and Jeremy wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t taken a deep breath and asked these guys if they liked my idea enough to join me on a panel. They all agreed, I wrote and submitted the proposal, and it was accepted. My idea. My organization skills. My taking the initiative to leap into this feet first and submit the idea. I’m honored to know such wonderful men in the industry, who have faith in me and believe in my ideas enough to stand with me and present them to the masses. But it never would’ve happened this way if I didn’t put myself on the line to make the effort.

15 thoughts on “It’s Conference Season and The Complaining Begins

  1. I couldn’t comment on most of this as I would be a much happier man if I understood the female psychology ;) but I can comment on the fact that when your idea came through I judged it on its merits not the gender of the person behind it and said yes immediately because it is a frikkin great idea :)

    1. Haha thank you Chris. And I absolutely believe you when you say what it was that did it for you, and I’m honored. :)
      I know that there are many men in this industry with the same philosophy and approach as you have also, which is why I feel far from downtrodden and ignored. Thank you for being so great!

  2. I know that Deb at Blogworld was very focused on ensuring balance with the panels at Blogworld. I’m on a panel with two other guys (Brian Solis & Warren Whitlock) the woman on our panel Ellen Gerstein is actually the real expert on the subject we are talking about. I would challenge your assumption that women back out of speaking because they are fearful. I think you are right that there are more men putting themselves out there and grabbing the spotlight. When I was putting the panel together for our topic (From Blog to Book) it was hard to find a woman who fit the bill, only a handful of female bloggers have made that transition. My peer group is dominated by men. So unless we see more women doing more we will continue to see men dominate the speaking circuit.

    1. Hi Simon! You’re right that a balance was important to Deb, but I think that what a lot of people forget is that her goal was to find really good speakers. Period. Regardless of race or gender, the BWE team wanted phenomenal speakers to present great topics. Looking at the lineup, I think we can all agree they overachieved on that goal.

      I think there are lots of reasons women back out, but I do think that one of the major reasons is fear. Clearly I’m speaking in terms of a majority here, and not exclusively all women, but there are still many women out there who prefer to stay out of the spotlight (technically based on a certain level of fear, be it fear of rejection, fear of their own performance, fear of lack of skill or knowledge, etc) and there are still many women out there who need to just put their proverbial balls on the line and give it their all.

      There are LOTS of powerful, positive women in this industry. Amber Naslund, Sonia Simone, Liz Strauss, even Deb herself. They all speak and do it often. Five years ago, none of these conferences would’ve known who these rockstar women were! Now, their names are quite common to hear, and it’s awesome. But those women are fearless. They live fearlessly and they lay it on the line and kick ass. They don’t back out of their commitments, they don’t whine and complain on their way to the top about gender equality, and they sure as hell don’t sit there and wait for things to come to them.

      So unless we see more women doing more we will continue to see men dominate the speaking circuit.

      My sentiments exactly. :)

  3. Hi Lara, Just so you know, I have been working to do something about the discrepancy in the number of women speakers and/or keynoters at business, tech and venture conferences:

    http://chaindaisies.wordpress.com

    While some people do whine and complain then walk away, I’m pretty much known for stepping up to the plate and doing something about it. I did that back in the 1990s when I saw a dearth of women online (in 1995 women made up 10% of the Internet population) and started Cybergrrl, Inc. Then I saw a dearth of women in the new media industry so founded Webgrrls International to address that discrepancy.

    I’m looking to aggregate educational and support resources for women who are trying to break into speaking at biz/tech/venture conferences and also help build a pipeline to lead event planners to highly qualified female speakers with strong experiences and content relevant to their events.

    Won’t you join me?

    1. Aliza – Thanks for stopping by to weigh in on this. :)

      I’m all aboard for helping but I think that the core of help needs to be directed at convincing these women that they’ve got to just lay it on the line. It’s not the conference directors or the industry, it’s the women themselves.

      Think about BlogHer for a second. That conference is mostly seen as a “mommy blogger haven”. You’re not going to find the pioneers there, you’re going to find women who have taken to the internet and put the focus on themselves as mommies. You’re going to find brands who want to get mommies to talk about them so they give them free stuff. You don’t find business-minded, entrepreneurial, original-thinking ladies there like you do in the tech industry.

      I’ve been online since the early 90’s myself, and heavily involved in my industry for over 8 years. Never before now have I seen SO MANY women involved in public speaking in this field, and never before have I seen so much complaining about the lack thereof. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

  4. Coming from personal experience, the act of public speaking in itself is intimidating for many people. Having spent most of my career in Silicon Valley where it is predominately men, the thought of speaking in front of an audience of men used to terrify the crap out of me mainly because the Silicon Valley way tends to be aggressive and tough.

    But a mentor taught me to stop looking at me as a woman and the audience as a group of guys, and instead to look at the situation as one warrior talking to a group of other warriors. We’re all in it for the same reason – to win. The only thing anyone cares about is results because that is what matters in business…the results we produce. utilizing that warrior perspective, helped me in so many ways.

    As a quick example, look at these high school/college kids who are getting funding for their ventures. They’re getting the money because they are producing results either revenue or users. Some of them are not even old enough to drive a car.

    As an idea for a solution, perhaps if more women started developing more of their warrior spirit in the business arena, we’d start to see more women speakers. Thoughts?

    1. Oh, Steph! I remember discussing the “warrior” mentality with you and you’re so right.

      It’s not about a woman speaking versus a man speaking – that’s like saying “Why aren’t there any male nurses?” or “Where are all the female construction workers?” It’s so cliche and overused as a battle stance it makes me physically ill.

      It’s not about gender, race, or age when it comes to things like this. It’s about knowledge, experience, and having the guts to put forth the damn effort. They’re not going to come crawling to you and begging you for anything at all until you’ve shown them how freaking awesome you are (sometimes several times over several years) and awesomeness is just simply not biased. You are or you aren’t. You’re a winner or a whiner. Plain and simple. :)

  5. Great discussion! I’m a woman in tech, I’m speaking at BlogWorld and I’ve felt the full gamut of emotions on this issue. I was one of 10 girls in a 100 person Software Engineering program in University. I read all the “Hardball for women”, “naked in the boardroom”, “negotiating for women” and all the other gender equality type of books.

    You know what really helped? When I stopped caring. When I just went back to doing what brought me into tech/social media/blogging in the first place, I stopped worried about the whole “boys club” thing, and that made a huuuuge difference. Like woah.

    Anyways, I’m speaking, there are other women speakers like us, and lets just keep bringing the awesomeness! :)

    1. You know what really helped? When I stopped caring. When I just went back to doing what brought me into tech/social media/blogging in the first place, I stopped worried about the whole “boys club” thing, and that made a huuuuge difference. Like woah.

      I love it! The more women sit and complain about gender inequality, the more we, as a whole, look like we deserve it. Time to stand up and grow a pair! ;)

  6. Dear Lara, how I wish I had met you at Blogworld now. It was my first Blogworld conference and I had an unforgettable time! On this subject, THANK YOU for speaking my mind and my heart exactly! Ironic as it may seem, in my corporate career, I have seen MORE men being supportive – super supportive of women’s career and MORE women backstabbing one another to get ahead. It’s very sad. I am very new to the blogging world even though I have been doing this for a while because I am just now recently turning it more into a business (thanks to Darren’s brilliant words where I just turned a corner :)) – but I am (SHOCKING yes) submitting a proposal next year to speak at Blogworld and I will offer to give a session. Thank you for the fantastic writing voice here….I am so glad to connect with you! (And you do a great job at the Problogger forums if I may say so! )

    1. You’re so sweet, Farnoosh! :) Thank you so much for your kind words, and I can’t wait to see you rock it next year at BWE!!!
      You’re so right too, I’ve never been turned away from anything for being a woman!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *