Are There Too Many Male Speakers at Events?
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 12 April 2012
Are Conferences Dominated By Male Speakers?
Yesterday I announced that UKOLN’s annual IWMW 2012 event is now open for bookings. But is the event, aimed at those responsible for managing institutional Web services, dominated by male speakers? In a recent Twitter discussion Nicole Harris revisited this topic which she has commented on previously:
… more lack of female presenters i moan about. % of female speakers at UKSG plenaries even, not just tech
As we run many events at UKOLN I wondered whether we too tended to fail to give female speakers an opportunity to talk. In order to base subsequent discussion on evidence I looked at the numbers of male and female plenary speakers at IWMW events and also included the figures for the forthcoming IWMW 2012 event. The figures are summarised in the following table.
It seems then that there have been only 13.5% female plenary speakers at the 16 IWMW events, with the IWMW 2005 and IWMW 2009 events held at Manchester and Essex seemingly being men-only events from a speaker’s perspective. A post about a Gendered Conference Campaign on the Feminist Philosophers blog”aims to raise awareness of the prevalence of all-male conferences … of the harm that they do“. Is the IWMW event guilty of “All-male events and volumes help to perpetuate the stereotyping of [web technologies] as male” as is highlighted on the blog in the field of philosophy?
Although the IWMW event hosts a number of plenary talks, the main focus is on the parallel workshop sessions which aim to provide a more interactive and participative approach to learning and staff development. What are the gender balances for the workshop facilitators? The figures are given in the following table.
- A record of the facilitators of the sessions held at the first IWMW event was not kept.
- The numbers given in the two tables may contain small inaccuracies due to people running multiple sessions, late replacements, etc.
From these figures we can see that there are almost twice proportionately as many female facilitators as plenary speakers. We can conclude that the event is not based on only men leading talks and sessions, although we are far from parity. But does this simply reflect the gender disparity across the institutional web management community? One way of finding an answer to this would be to look at the gender split across the participants at IWMW events.
Since we do not record gender information we made use of the Status field (Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms). This approach does mean that the gender of attendees who are Doctors or Professors may be mis-recorded but for the IWMW event, these numbers are likely to be small. The figures for recent years are given below.
We can thus conclude that the overall numbers for plenary speakers and facilitators (354 males and 96 females or 78% and 21%) are not significantly different from the overall gender split at the event.
Do We Need to Gather Gender Statistics?
In order to be able to analyse gender information for both participant as well as speakers at future events we have started to have a discussion as to whether we should explicitly ask for such information on registration forms. We had to manually identify whether participants were male or female and are aware that in some circumstances, such as ambiguous or unfamiliar first names, such as Dr Chris Sexton, mistakes may we made.
When we raised this question on Twitter, the responses were mixed. Some people felt that it was inappropriate, perhaps because we should be minimising personal questions which are asked but also, it seems, because of a feeling that gender issues aren’t a simple binary split. But others felt that it would be appropriate to ask such questions, especially if the purpose of asking the question was provided.
This specific issue does raise a more general question regarding gathering of information. Some people feel that information on booking forms should only be used if the information will be used in some concrete fashion. For the IWMW 2012 event we ask about the mobile devices which people are likely bring to the event partly to be able to ensure that any technologies we intend to use at the event can be used on popular devices, but also so that we can identify trends in the numbers of devices people are taking to the IWMW events and the types of devices themselves. We are unlikely to make use of gender information in any specific ways, but we are wondering whether the information about the speakers and facilitators should inform our policies for future events. Should we, for example, actively solicit more contributions from women? On the other hand, if the number of female speakers correlates with the numbers of female attendees, might the imbalance be a larger societal issue for which we, as event organisations, are not in a position to address? Or maybe you feel that such suggesting there should be some form of quotas for female speakers is ‘political correctness gone mad’?
We have now opened up bookings for IWMW 2012, without asking for gender information. In addition Sally Kerr, EA Draffan, Dawn Ellis and Helen Sargan will be giving plenary talks, with Katherine Pickles and Marieke Guy chairing sessions and Claire Gibbons, Sheila MacNeill and Marie Salter, together with Marieke Guy facilitating workshop sessions.
But what about other UKOLN events? And what about other events held across the sector? How does the gender split for participants and speakers at IWMW events compare with, say, ALT-C, UCISA and JISC conferences? And do such organisations have policies which seek to ensure appropriate levels of representation from women? Alternatively, if you run a library event with female participants in the majority, do you face these issues in reverse?
I should add that after the first few years of running successful IWMW event the programme committee pro-actively sought female speakers and workshop facilitators, which resulted in 28% of the workshop facilitators in 2001 and 2002 and 52% in 2003 being female. However in subsequent years gender issues seem to have been forgotten about, with no plenary speakers giving talks in 2005 and 2009.
Your views would be welcome. Feel free to leave a comment on this post. Alternatively you may wish to resp0nd to the survey forms which ask for your views on asking for gender information on event booking forms and policies on seeking larger numbers of female speakers.