How Tech Conferences Are (Finally) Injecting Gender Balance Into Their Speaker Line-ups
For the past several years, a big portion of my professional life has consisted of attending, and often speaking at, conferences around the world. As the founder of an M&A advisory for people seeking to buy or sell SaaS, content, ecommerce and app-based companies, I participate in gatherings covering a broad swath of business models.
Yet, while, as a company, we've always had a diverse client base and team, I have consistently noticed that many events (even well-known ones) have fallen short in that regard. Too many conferences have male speakers -- and only males -- and that's meant a limited range of opinions and viewpoints.
Now, that's changing: The stated goal of many organizers today is to not only create a more inclusive environment by featuring female speakers but also to encourage more women to enter the tech industry in the first place.
Below, I highlight five conferences that place a strong emphasis on promoting the role of women in tech, something that's long overdue.
Already known as one of the leading SaaS conferences in Europe, LTV Conf makes its North American debut on April 3-4, 2019, in New York City. Five of the eight confirmed speakers thus far are women. They include Brynne Kennedy, CEO and founder of Topia, and winner of Entrepreneur of the Year from the Women in IT Awards in 2017; and Autumn Manning, co-founder of YouEarnedIt, the award-winning employee engagement SaaS platform.
Since its inception, LTV Conf has placed a premium on female speakers, believing this makes for a richer overall experience for participants. As LTV Conf organizer Fun Lee explained to me, “Conference attendees, whether they know it or not, when they attend a conference, they seek change.
"By hosting an evenly gender-balanced line of up of speakers, this opportunity creates more data points for people to connect and think differently, which will spin off innovation.”
Women in IT Awards
￼Launched in 2015 by the business technology site Information Age, the Women in IT Awards event has grown beyond its original roots in London and New York, and expanded to also celebrate women in tech in Silicon Valley as well as Asia and Ireland.
As stated on the Women in IT Awards website, “The percentage of female IT leaders globally remains at 9% -- a figure that has changed very little in the past few years despite one-third of organizations claiming to have diversity initiatives.”
Women in IT Awards seeks to redress this disparity by celebrating the successes of female entrepreneurs and executives. Recent winners include Anika Balkan of Salesforce as Advocate of the Year and Maria Artunduaga of healthcare startup Respira Labs as Entrepreneur of the Year for Silicon Valley in 2018.
Another SaaS event, one of the world’s biggest and most established, to take diversity seriously is SaaStock. SaaStock last year launched its TakingStockPledge initiative in collaboration with customer service platform Zendesk, at SaaStock18.
The TakingStockPledge is comprised of six basic tenets that conference organizers everywhere would do well to emulate:
- The speaker and attendee roster is a reflection of society, not just its privileged middle-class segment.
- Each event highlights a range of voices from a variety of backgrounds.
- Extra care is given to bringing those voices, which aren’t normally heard.
- We provide a diverse, safe and accessible environment where the code of conduct is clearly stated and preserved at day and night time.
- Consideration is paid to the feelings and needs of everyone.
- We openly share best practices as well as failures in this area with everyone interested.
As always, SaaStock’s flagship event -- which draws thousands of attendees -- is in Dublin; this year, it runs October 14-16. There are also SaaStock events in 2019 Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, Sydney, New York and San Francisco. You can find more details here.
Content-based businesses, such as blogs monetized through affiliate marketing and advertising, have long been a lucrative sector for women in tech. A study by Sysomos showed a slim majority (50.9 percent) of bloggers to be female. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the most prominent digital conferences for content creators, BlogHer, is explicitly aimed at women.
The roll call of former speakers at BlogHer, launched in 2005, features such well-known luminaries of the tech, entertainment and political worlds as actors and entrepreneurs Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow, media titan Arianna Huffington and Kirsten Gillibrand, the U.S. senator for New York.
BlogHer now hosts events across the United States year-round, including such niche events as BlogHerFood, BlogHerHealth and BlogHer Creators Summit. If you’re a female content creator looking to connect and learn with some of the most successful bloggers in the business, there’s likely a BlogHer event for you.
SaaS-E, which held its inaugural event in Toronto in December 2018, was born partly of co-founder Anna Dewar Gully’s belief that “SaaS exists at the intersection between women’s interests and the economy.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Irina Dzhambazova on SaaStock’s SaaS Revolution podcast, Dewar Gully and co-founder of the Women’s Work Institute Kristen Liesch discuss how they arrived at the conclusion that SaaS businesses are uniquely positioned to benefit from greater gender and racial diversity. They also touch on the steps that executives should take to develop an effective diversity and inclusion strategy for their companies.
The second edition of SaaS-E is expected to take place in fall 2019.
For the tech industry to continue to flourish ,it's essential for there to be diversity, and that starts at the top -- where the most influence and ability to shape the industry’s direction are based. Many of these initiatives take the form of helping girls and young women get started with coding at an early age (an example: Girls Who Code) or encourage the pursuit of an education in one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines (like STEM for Her).
As the number of women in technology grows, expect more and more conferences to take an active role in promoting gender-equality: a welcome development that should spur both greater innovation and greater growth.