Help Me Help You

In response to “But no women submitted talks” or “Too bad Jenna didn’t submit a talk..."

I am asked, in what turns out to be a not so awesome way, if I’ll consider speaking at a conference or event. And if I won’t, do I know any other women who will. Sometimes this request comes after the speaker list has already been set and organizers have realized they don’t have enough diversity on the speaker lineup. Or it comes in a passive-aggressive, backhanded comment like “Well, if only Jenna would have submitted a talk...” with a side-glance my way.

Wait… so now it’s my fault?

I realize you probably don’t intend for it to come across this way, but it does. I don't want to be an afterthought. And I’m not the only one who gets this. See here and here. I'm sure there's more.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the request (when it comes as a request) and I absolutely want to help you. But if you are unwilling to put in the effort, this will all be meaningless in the overarching effort of increasing diversity in the tech industry. So in response, I have a few questions for you:

  • What if you reached out to the women leaders in your community before announcing your call for speakers?
  • Have you considered sending your call for submissions to these leaders and the women's groups around town?
  • What if instead of asking a woman to speak because you don’t have enough diversity in your lineup, you leave that problem out of the conversation and ask her to speak because you value her viewpoint, expertise, and passion?
  • What if instead of telling me that no women have submitted talks to your conference, you tell me what tangible activities you have done to attract women to speak at and attend your conference or event?
  • Have you looked at your planning committee/board? Is it diverse?
  • Is the diversity of the planning committee/board shown on your website with photos/bios for all people planning?
  • What if you asked a leader in your community from one of these women's groups to sit on your planning committee/board?
  • Better yet, what if you appointed her to chair the planning committee/board?
  • Have you considered partnering with one of these groups on your event? Bonus: This would even increase diversity in your conference goers.


Help me help you

And give these questions some thought.