Why There Are Just 17 Women at the Annual Sun Valley Conference This Year

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For a conference so focused on the future of media, the Allen and Co. annual Sun Valley conference sure does have a lot of old white dudes this year. Of the more than 300 people who have descended upon the elite, press-free deal-making conference of the year there are just 17 women, and 286 men, according to The Globe and Mail. The Sun Valley conference has always been an old boys club—it only opened up to women and African-Americans with two "unprecedented panels" focusing on the two groups back in 1998. Before then, only one woman ever was invited to the conference. So, yeah, this is "progress." But it's a little concerning that 15 years later not much has changed, especially since this year the conference apparently will more than ever focus on the digital future rather than "traditional deal-making," according to the New York Post. The future should involve women, right? 

To be fair, it does involve some power women, who, will both attend and participate in the week of panels and deal-making that happens at the Idaho resort. The attendees via Variety include familiar names like Sheryl Sandberg, Melinda Gates, Diane von Furstenberg, and Susie Buffet, daughter of Warren. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is notably missing from the list. But, Sandberg and Gates are both leading panels, "prestige appointments at this gig," as described by New York magazine. (Though Melinda will co-host with her bigwig husband Bill.) Unlike that groundbreaking conference in 1998, however, the talks don't focus on women or minorities but "Voices of the Valley" and a "chat" with Bill and Melinda. 

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Unfortunately, the small number of women in attendance isn't exactly an underrepresentation of the real world. Women make up just 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 CEOs, which has traditionally been Allen and Co's excuse for its lack of ladies. "It's harder in media and technology to find women who are running these companies. It's nice to have the balance, but we didn't have the availability," Herbert Allen, who founded the conference, told New York back in 1998. That hasn't changed much since.

Though that excuse is getting a bit old.  "It’s certainly harder and harder and harder to say there weren’t any qualified women [available], because there are so many qualified women, and there are so many reasons to include women," argues argues Rachel Sklar who runs Change the Ratio, an organization devoted to doing just that at conferences and panels. Instead the unbalanced ratio at this year's event is unfortunately symbolic of an ongoing problem in the tech and media and business worlds. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.