Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about conferences. Partially because I'm looking for some good ones to add to my autumn calendar, but also because this evening my colleague Leila Johnston and I are hosting our own conference, Storywarp.
I'm a little nervous about the event – will people enjoy themselves? will I make a good moderator? will we have enough beer? – but I'm also really excited: I'm about to hear a lot of interesting ideas from bright people, and at least one of those people ISN'T a white male.
Now, nothing against white men, but they do not make up the whole of the creative industry. And yet... panel after panel, conference after conference, speaker after speaker... male. This just isn't representative of reality. And what's more, by holding up a bunch of white men as leaders, we are setting an example for those who follow.
Dated practices are shaping our future
In March Sarah Milstein wrote a fantastic piece for O'Reilly Radar called Would I Attend My Own Conference? where she argued that conferences need more diversity. She's not the only one doing so. Yet despite Cindy Gallop changing the face of VC, Edward Boches asking where the women are and Farrah Bostic calling time on too many white men, this situation isn't really changing. dConstruct's 2011 lineup features two women (and seven men) and the upcoming Immersive Writing Lab boasts a list of seven speakers – all male. The story with creative juries is even worse.
I don't think this imbalance is due to any sort of malevolence or a deliberate desire to exclude women. I think it's down to people in leadership positions doing things they way they've always done them: talking to the same people and looking for inspiration in the same places. The trouble is, this backwards-looking thinking is shaping our collective future. I get that if you're a guy, especially a white guy, this might not be something you notice. But I notice it, and I know I'm not alone. Women hold up half the sky, and last time I checked, we accounted for a significant tranche of just about any audience.
What's with the under-representation?
I am very lucky to work with a talented and diverse group of people at Made by Many. A good chunk of those people are women, and mightily impressive women at that. What's more, I am privileged to know many bright and interesting women from across the creative industry. It's not like there's a shortage of us.
When Leila and I planned Storywarp, we made a conscious decision to include voices you might not normally hear (our own included). We have a female moderator (me) and a woman on our panel (we started with two but schedule conflicts intervened). More backgrounds = more perspectives = a more interesting conference, we figured. And you know what? It wasn't hard.
It's not about men versus women. It's about men *and* women, and how we all bring different experiences, perspectives and ideas to the table. I don't want to sit at an all-female table any more than I want to listen to an all-male panel. So to those of you who plan events, host conferences and generally play a part in shaping the future of this industry: enough of the force-fed monoculture. We're a diverse lot – represent us accordingly.