Skip to Content

Women, Speaking and what’s fair?

Awhile back I wrote a post about someone I admire, it happened to be a woman and for Ada Lovelace day.

That woman, Marilyn, recently has become part of a group called Technically Women, along with several other woman that I know (some more than others). Now it’s quite interesting that very recently as I myself begin ramping up into a frenzy of event planning for the upcoming SAP TechEdevents around the world — why is that interesting you might ask? Well it’s interesting because my connection to every single one of the ladies involved in this group is related to past SAP events and because the women in this group have begun as a collective to ask the question, “why are there not more women speakers at events”.

Inside of the Irregularsgroup the conversation was started there by my friend and someone I respect very, very much asked the question to the group as well. Maggie (find her on Twitter or on her blog) is someone I meet years ago and instantly liked. I mean honest to goodness truly liked which is why I can honestly say – what I think on this issue and know that it will be understood and taken in the proper way.

Of course I’ve probably already got you thinking this is negative however it’s not at least not entirely but as Jeff blogged the other day I think there is a bigger issue here than just whether we need more women speaking or not.

Every once in a while this issue flares up, usually in relation to conferences not having anything other than a bunch of white guys on the speaker agenda, but I think we should stop fooling ourselves about the technology industry valuing diversity and on there being a system of meritocracy for achieving it.
Women, Hispanics, blacks, and people with disabilities are all conspicuously absent at events and on company payrolls. We have deluded ourselves into a false sense of security about the fact that because tech centers like Silicon Valley, Boulder, and Boston are themselves centers for cultural diversity, that our industry is diversified as a result. Not true.

Follow that with a phone call I had this week from someone I work with yet have had no contact with in the past, somehow the conversation moved to the topic of diversity, most likely since I’m a foreigner living here and she was a foreigner living there. She was astounded though when I made the comment that,

“I think it’s about damn time we start looking at this topic more seriously and if that means we need to consider the role women play as executives or speakers at events as a starting point then I’m all for it!”

Her response was, “wait your a man, what do you get out of it?”

At first I was not sure how to answer since it’s not an easy one to answer yet I think Cathy Brooks is on the right track with her post “Kerfuffle over a quandary: My take on the female conference speaker debate

Where she states

No matter how you slice it this is a complex topic and one with which I have found myself confronted very directly in the last several years in my role helping produce/content curate for a number of major technology gatherings. On more than one occasion I have found myself torn because while I am as big a proponent as any for supporting women in business, the plain fact is that it’s a numbers game. There are just fewer women from whom to choose. I’m not suggesting there aren’t smart, accomplished, capable women available to speak on pretty much any topic, but let’s face it. When you look around any given room at any given conference and do the math – apart from BlogHer or other gatherings by women-inclined organizations – if you find a room where the percentage of female presence is anything more than 5% to 10%, I’ll buy you lunch.

What is true, however, is that it’s time to stop talking about it, and take action. Big time.

Now that is taken out of context but I think it fits perfectly well together and still maintains her primary thought in the post.

Maggie herself stated in her post (which ignited this thought for me) “What Does it Take to be a “Top 10″ Social Media Speaker?

I think part of the problem is many of us suck at two things: valuing our skills and engaging in healthy self-promotion. There may be a good reason for the latter, which is what I want to focus on: when it comes to social media in particular, self-promotion so frequently trumps actual accomplishments that we have a saucy little word for it – douchebaggery. No one wants to be seen as a douchebag (except for the douchebags, and that’s because they don’t know any better).

So where am I going with all of this? Well the basic statement I have to make is “me too”!

I’m still young, or at least I like to think so despite the gray hair and I’ve been successful in my job however like Maggie who I considered to be far more talented and qualified than myself, well we seem to be in the same boat. It’s fighting the “Good Old Boys” and I’m simply not one of them despite being male, white, educated, etc…

Diversity in our business or any other business I see as a good thing because it gives those new folks an opportunity they currently don’t have. I saw this a lot while working in the automotive sector – the world is extremely small and everyone knew everyone and everyone seemed to bounce from one place to other and always because of the “my buddy John works there now” type of thing. This meant that those new folks – younger folks coming out of school often were shut out simply because they had not yet done the rounds – yet being fully qualified.

The lack of diversity, the lack of looking beyond the “usual suspects” hurts our industry as well as every other one simply because we are not looking at those on the edges – me I speak at events (sort of) I speak at my companies events and that is 3 times a year one right after the other and is certainly not a keynote – I’ve been invited to attend events yet I’ve never (honestly) been asked to speak at event other than 2 times to speak and share my companies success story (not my own thoughts on the market or community in the enterprise) of course I can only blame myself on that because I’ve never actually said “I’m willing to speak if you are looking” that self marketing that Maggie and the others elude to seems to be the essential missing piece for a lot of us in terms of this issue. Couple that with not being a member of the “Good Old Boys” club and I’m completely out of luck it seems.

Wait did that turn from diversity to what about me? I guess it did but isn’t that a big piece to the diversity puzzle? Either sit there an mope about it or get out there and do something about it? Maggie and the others have, and I hope if all goes as planned you can hear from Maggie herself on this topic today Friday, August 21, 2009 (9:15 am EST/ 15:15 CET) on the next episode of the Friday Morning Report!

As for me I guess until I tell someone where’s my speaking invitation or job offer or something like that I have no one to blame but myself? Despite the fact I’ve said time and time againit’s time to use your voice. Perhaps a lesson for us, Maggie and the others are using their voice and hopefully we’ll get to see people like her on stage soon, I can’t speak for them all but Maggie, Susan, Marilyn and several others I know have fantastic insights that I thoroughly enjoy hearing about more so than many of those “usual suspects”!

For those of who you living in the developer world this post shared to me by Nigel James is a must read on this particular topic!

You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
  • I concur with your sentiments on Marilyn & while I haven’t met her, I have chatted with her on mail a couple of times. The ‘awesomeness’ that Marilyn exudes is enough to inspire anyone 🙂
  • Craig:

    Great blog – I’ll dig into the numerous links you’ve provided when I’m more awake, and looking forward to another great Friday Morning Report today. Two points:

    As an ASUG program chair, I can honestly say I don’t consider whether potential speaking candidates are male or female. But since you bring it up, I’ll kick the idea back to HQ whether we should ask speakers their gender. I could probably guess, but as I recall from the “Bhanu is a woman?” SDN thread (before my time on SDN, and I knew her from ASUG anyway), guessing is lame.

    I think ASUG volunteers are diverse, including the BITI team I work with. This year, 2 out of 3 of the top leaders are women, and 3 out of 6 of the BITI “peeps” who are also SAP Mentors are women. I have links to a few photos I dug out of my SCN files, including one of the ASUG Annual conference speaker prep session. It’s a great group of people!


    A Few ASUG Speakers

    more BITI

    More BITI – 2008

    We have had turnover, so this is a reminder to me to update the team photo page!


  • Excellent read.  I wonder the same things.  Why aren’t there more women speakers.  Then you wrote about a lack or a pool of women speakers.  Really, I thought!  No way.  I was sure that more women were around that wanted to speak.  So, I just had to get the numbers.

    Here’s what I found: – Approx 3% top contributors – Approx. 18% active women bloggers. – Approx 3% top contributors – Approx. 18% active women bloggers.

    A couple of years ago I had the privilege of attending the SAP developers challenge.  There were three women there.  I believe about 60 people made it to the challenge.  That’s only approximately 5%.

    So even without considering speaking.  These are statistics that are scary.  Why aren’t women taking a more active role to promote themselves and build name recognition?

    In other words, come on gals – let’s start to get out there!

  • Thanks Craig for bringing more attention to this topic.  Being a female in technology for the past 20 years, there have been some major improvements to the male to female ratio, but, there is still a long way to go.  One of the better examples are the ASUG Conferences.  A rough estimate of the speakers from this years conference in Orlando is about 30% of the speakers were female.  ASUG doesn’t track gender, I just did a query on all of the accepted speakers and did a count of the female names.  So, it isn’t an exact percent.  I am hoping more women read this blog and get the courage to speak out and start blogging, giving presentations, etc.  I would be more than happy to assist them as well.  I can be contacted at

    Best Regards,
    Karin Tillotson

  • If you look at SAP consulting market 10 or 12 years ago – , most projects had primarily Germans / Europeans. Being an Indian, it was pretty hard to get a worthwhile SAP job. Fast forward to today – it is almost hard to find projects where the majority of the team is not of Indian origin. It did not happen overnight – most of us had to go through a painful process to get some recognition that we can do the job just as well as any one else. But even today, I don’t see a corresponding % of people of indian origin in top leadership positions, or giving keynotes at conferences. But over time, I am optimistic that this too will change. We just need a few pioneers to push through and break the ceiling.

    At my employers, present and past, I have always seen diversity being given a lot of importance – and have not seen any one not given an opportunity for being from a racial or gender minority. However, I have been in the industry only for just over a decade – and this was probably not the case in the past. And a lot of people in influential positions now were probably brought up in an era where diversity was not valued. So as they move out and the newer generation gets to fill their shoes – I am optimistic that things will turn for the better.
    But that might take long – and it is very unfair to the current generation to lose out. So I am thrilled to see more and more people advancing this cause now.

  • The best advice I received from one of the SAP Mentors was to just dive in and start contributing.  I agree with one of the comments – Get out there ladies and let’s make a difference.  For myself, I needed to start somewhere so blogging was a natural place for me to start.  Perhaps I need to throw my hat in to some speaking engagements as well.
  • A very interesting topic and I do think that the lack of female speakers is related to a lack of females in leadership positions (as somebody stated earlier).

    Males tend to promote males more than females, just as I can see other cultural groups promoting and hiring “their own”. It’s not PC, and we are not supposed to talk about it, but in most companies it holds true. 

    A while ago, I read an interesting article that quoted a high percentage of women saying they stopped pursuing the corporate ladder because they were tired of the politics and back stabbing. Now, I am not saying women play nicer than men, but I feel pretty close to my emotions (a “no no” in business) and being back stabbed hurts me to the core; politics bore me. Maybe men have a higher tolerance for this type of behavior, don’t take it personally and therefore just move on?

          As we all know, there are more women now in college and from what I read, they frequently do better than their male counterparts. So, I think the problem will eventually take care of itself. In the meantime, thanks for bringing up the topic. I am available to speak at conferences, by the way :-).

  • It feels real good that you truely want to do something for women..But sadly i feel leave alone women being invited to speak, women being offered a permenant job after taking a year of maternity break would be considered good in the current scenario..
    i know this is not a positive comment, but there are times when i wanted to be a superwoman !!
    The struggle is hard, to even to come to the pace that you were once in and then thinking about the limelight and all just seems so far far away..
    • That’s country specific isn’t it? Germany for example gives you 3 years maternity leave (although this can be split between mother and father) without risk of job lose the entire time – however I’ve heard horror stories from women who have gone back to a less than expected role.

      Positive or negative as long as the comments continue to flow we have a chance to move forward or?