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April 2007
May 2007

2007-04-30 »

BarCampMontreal2: the (missing) women of tech conferences

On Saturday I went to BarCampMontreal2 where there was a presentation called "Where are all the girls?" by Martine Pagé.

I don't currently have an opinion on the whole issue and its direct relative, the "women in tech conferences" issue, because I don't really have enough information to form a considered opinion. But with that in mind, what information do we have, anyway?

We can start with some statistics. Martine quoted an article with statistics on male vs. female speakers at tech/web/design conferences. The number of female speakers varies, but is typically about 15-20% and is as high as 30% (at only one place). Now, what do those numbers mean? A couple of things. First, while the overall human population is about 51% women, the population of women speakers at tech conferences is... less. So tech conferences are biased, right?

Well, not exactly. Everyone knows that the tech industry is itself biased. According to a Stanford University study, 32% of the IT workforce in 2004 was female. This implies that speakers at tech conferences underrepresent, but not hugely, the population of women in technology overall: 20% speaking out of 32% overall.

But one statistic that's not given is how many women attend tech conferences. That number would help break apart two stats: the number of women who are interested at all, vs. the fraction of those who are willing to make presentations. At BarCampMontreal2 the attendees were about 10% women, while the presenters were about 20% women. That means women who attended were more likely to present than men who attended. How come? Now that's something worth discussing.

Furthermore, the majority of male presenters talked about technical or business topics. The four women that I saw present (I apologize if I'm leaving someone out; I missed about half the conference) talked about WikiTravel (technical), Travelling Alone (non-technical), Lucid Dreaming (non-technical), and Women in Technology (social issues). In other words, 3/4 of the topics were "geeky but non-technical" and thus were just fine at a BarCamp, but wouldn't have been found at a normal tech conference. What does that say about the reasons women don't attend tech conferences? What does it say about the social effect of BarCamps?


We should probably be thanking sfllaw, who I suspect was single-handedly responsible for skewing the above statistics.

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