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Bringing More Women’s Voices to Tech Conferences

After attending a tech conference in November 2017, Lin Classon, director of Public Cloud Product at Ensono, took to Twitter to point out something she noticed: an empty women’s washroom despite almost 40,000 attendees.

Classon’s tweet sparked a discussion which made it clear that many women in technology shared similar experiences. Their experiences posed a question: If the women’s bathroom is empty during a crowded conference, where else are women underrepresented at the multitude of tech conferences each year? Expert panels? Keynote speakers? Regardless, this question deserved a closer look.

In March 2019, Ensono and Walker Sands worked together to launch a first-of-its-kind report. SPEAK UP: Bringing More Women’s Voices to Tech Conferences set out to discover the raw experiences of women at tech conferences. The data, shocking at times, unveiled opportunities for much-needed change. Here are a few statistics that stood out:

  • Despite major initiatives (like Girls Who Code) to build the pipeline of women in STEM careers, only 25% of tech conference keynote speakers in the last three years were women.
  • Forty-three percent of women who’d been at a conference with a code of conduct said they’ve witnessed sexual harassment at the event.
  • Seventy percent of women who’ve sat on a panel at a technology conference have been the only woman on the panel.
  • One in four women have experienced sexual harassment at a tech conference. The tech industry's "boy's club" reputation is far from a secret — take CES's robot strippers last year for example.

While this study does shine a light on some harsh truths about women in tech, it also provides solutions.

"In the age of #MeToo, I constantly read about gender issues occurring across every industry, and it's frustrating because most of the news focuses on the problem. A report that not only takes an objective look at where the tech industry is at in terms of gender equality, but also provides actionable solutions for businesses to take matters into their own hands was desperately needed, and I'm honored for the role I got to play in the process," said Megan Perkins, a media relations specialist on the Ensono account.

Conferences are a major part of many people’s careers that can help advance careers and lead to new opportunities, so businesses must make a greater effort to include and support their female employees at these events. This may mean sponsoring conferences to ensure female executives have a guaranteed platform to speak or being more intentional about diversifying the individuals they select and prepare to attend tech conferences.

Women are interested in tech conferences, but they want to feel like their presence is valued. In fact, the report also found that 76% of women are more likely to attend a conference with a keynote speaker, panelist or other programming that features a woman.

While progress has been made, the results of this data study were clear: It’s time for businesses to step up and take greater responsibility in making sure more women are seen and heard at tech conferences. Walker Sands is honored to be a part of a movement that’s bringing awareness to this much-needed industry makeover.

"This report not only gave us the opportunity to bring incredible results for our client, but we all felt like we were initiating positive change. This was a fun project to work on and great team effort,” said senior account manager on the account Bridget Devine.

A special thanks to Bobby Chilver, Bridget Devine, Brittany Martin, Mick Swasko, Victoria Lewis, Megan Perkins, Kyle Davis and the Ensono team for helping to make this inaugural report a success.