Can't Find Women for Your Tech Conference?

Maybe you're just bad at searching the Internet.
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These women are probably teaching this man how to search the Internet. (Shutterstock/Adam Gregor)

Verily: What problem can’t be solved with a PowerPoint presentation? 

Need to introduce a new iPhone, convey the importance of the law to a room full of dolor executives, or communicate how your governmental agency spies on an American company?

There’s a deck for that, that, and that.

So a writer, Joanne McNeil, and a developer, Divya Manian, today introduced a deck of their own—a deck meant to address the vast inequality between the number of men and number of women who speak at technology conferences.

The problem, as they see it: All those technology conference leaders—who are mostly men—just don’t know how to search the Internet. Their proposed solution? Learn to search.

Experts agree that most ‘best of’ lists that ignore women are the result of poor search skills,” Learn-to-Search.com reads. “Poor Internet search skills result in homogeneous communities.”

So it provides—along with a heap of beautifully contrived stock photos—helpful instructions on how, exactly, to search for female speakers on the Internet. Here’s an example:

McNeil & Manian 

Or:

McNeil & Manian

This is hard stuff.

“It is a parody, but the point we are making is serious,” said McNeil, who has contributed to The Atlantic before, in an email:

Look around! It is not hard for me to name talented women and people of color in tech or any field, but these are people that often work behind the scenes because their talent isn’t as widely recognized as their white male colleagues.”

Putting together a project with only white men is sort of like saying your favorite books are The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Da Vinci Code. Those books are not necessarily representative of the best of literature, but they are prominently displayed by the register in an airport bookstore so if you are in a rush, you’ll take them.”

Learn to Search also lets people anonymously alert Twitter users to the existence of the site. Any Twitter user’s name can be entered, and it might be a good tool when a male conference leader needs to be reminded how to search the Internet.

“The idea is to have people anonymously suggest to people [that] they have to take the extra step to find different voices … and hopefully having this tongue-in-cheek presentation of the basic steps would help make that happen,” wrote Manian in an email.

While this is a small, pointed tool, McNeil and Manian say the problem goes beyond equal representation at conferences. Women who do appear on-stage may face less pay than their male colleagues or be saddled with a diminished, “moderator” role. 

“It is sad we are still fighting for better representation in 2013,” wrote McNeil.

Men who do know how to search the Internet and who want to help their female colleagues in other ways may want to consider taking The Pledge.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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