A Simple Suggestion to Help Phase Out All-Male Panels at Tech Conferences

Men: You can help fix this. Refuse to participate unless there are women on stage with you.


Dear Men,

Have you noticed that a lot of the time it just seems like, gosh, there are a lot of dudes speaking at this conference? Perhaps you've been on a panel and you've looked around and seen man after man after man. Maybe you've thought, it's too bad the organizers didn't think to balance this out a bit more and ask some women to speak too.

I love that this has bothered you. And I am happy to tell you about a simple step you can take to help change this: Refuse to speak on all male-panels. Just say no.

I am borrowing this idea from the Jewish non-profit world, where an organization known as Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community has created a pledge that asks men to forswear all-male panels. As sociologist Shaul Kelner explains:

Since accepting AWP's challenge and making a pledge two years ago not to participate in all-male panels, I have had the opportunity to invoke the pledge in a number of professional and communal settings. (Not too many, thankfully. That is a good sign.)

I cannot speak for the dozens of other Jewish male leaders, scholars and activists who also made the pledge, but in my case, push has never actually come to shove. My convictions have not yet been tested. I never had to refuse participation because, so far, not once have the conveners failed to "find" a woman who can participate. Generally, the conversations have gone something like this:

"Prof. Kelner, will you teach at our all-night Shavuot study session?"

"Sure. I'd be happy to. Who else is on the program?"

"Abe, Isaac and Jake"

"You couldn't find any women to teach? Look, I'd love to join the program, but I've made a pledge not to participate in all-male panels. And anyway, do you really want to send the message that there are no qualified women?"

"Wow! You're right. Thank you. We're going to fix this."

"Do that, and I'll be happy to participate."

By presenting it as a pledge, Kelner says, it comes across with greater force than as just a personal choice or principle.

I am writing this today because yet another tech conference -- Edge: Building Out From the Edge of Web Technology -- has been announced and this time there is exactly one woman confirmed to speak. This came to my attention via a great and thoughtful post by Matt Andrews, a web developer at The Guardian. Here are the participants (the one woman had not yet submitted a photo and does not appear here):


Andrews tweeted at the conference's organizer, Andrew Betts, calling the line-up inexcusable. Betts replied, "Inexcusable is pretty strong. I don't feel need to defend this, but am happy with our process." Andrews writes:

I don't know what their selection process was, but if it was me organising it, I would explicitly not be satisfied with a process that resulted in 100% male speakers. I would have stopped once we'd reached, say, 17 male out of 22 possible speakers (being pretty conservative, I think) and insisted that the remaining five (a cool 22% female representation) would have to be women.

But unless you are the organizer, you don't have that power. And thus, people who are a-okay with this outcome have the ability to pull off these conferences. Until they don't.

That's where you -- men, like Andrews, who are appalled by this -- come in. The conference organizer is not the only person here with power. If you have been asked to speak on or moderate a panel, make it your business to ensure that this does not happen. We created a simple pledge that our editor Alexis has taken. Feel free to add yourself or make the pledge in your head privately.

And, with that, thanks! It means a lot.



NOTE 5:45 PM EST: We have removed the list of signatories due to a flood of spam/trolls. As disappointed as we are that we have to take this step, the point of this project was never to produce a public list of people who had taken the pledge, but to get people to participate in making panels at science and tech conferences more balanced. -RJR

Further update, Monday: I've written a follow-up post responding to some of the criticism this idea has received here.

Update: I've gotten a request for the code for the form if you'd like to embed it on your own site and thought that perhaps more people would be interested. Here it is:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/embeddedform?formkey=dElCZ1JBVGFmMWVUZ1pIQU5hcGpWUHc6MQ" width="615" height="250" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0">Loading...</iframe>