Speak Up: Bringing More Women’s Voices to Tech Conferences

A data-driven PR campaign centered on gender disparity at tech conferences helped position Ensono as a leader in the IT industry while bringing attention to an important issue

80+

media placements

11

top-tier media placements

3

inbound speaking opportunities

Project Overview

Lin Classon, a director at IT company, Ensono, stood in front of an empty women’s restroom at Amazon’s AWS re:Invent, while the line for the men’s room snaked around the corner. She tweeted a picture of the stark contrast to demonstrate the lack of women in attendance, which sparked conversations on social media about the gender gap in tech and posed an important question: Why do so few women attend tech conferences?

In the months following this tweet, Walker Sands worked closely with Classon and other executives at Ensono to create “Speak Up: Bringing More Women’s Voices to Tech Conferences,” a report that presented findings on gender disparity at tech conferences. Promoted through a strategic, data-driven media strategy, the report generated more than 80 pieces of coverage, including placements in Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Fast Company to position Ensono at the forefront of the effort to combat gender bias in the IT industry.

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The Challenge

Ensono came to Walker Sands looking to elevate its brand in a meaningful way. Specifically, Ensono needed a campaign that would:

  • Associate its brand name with a social good initiative that was authentic to the company and its large enterprise customers
  • Drive coverage in leading tech and business media

Inspired by Lin’s tweet and the importance of tech events to the IT industry, Walker Sands suggested a data report that would examine women’s presence at tech events, organizational responsibility around individual representation at conferences and how to improve conference diversity. But while Lin’s tweet sparked an important conversation on social media, no research on the topic existed.

The Solution

To collect the data necessary to capture media attention and elevate Ensono’s brand, the Walker Sands team split their research into two parts.

First, Walker Sands audited 18 major tech conferences around the world (e.g., CES, Mobile World Congress) to discover: 1) the number of women who have given keynote presentations since 2016, and 2) the specific accommodations conferences provided (e.g., code of conduct statements, on-site nursing rooms, etc.). The teams searched for conference pamphlets from past years, placed calls to conference organizers and used tools like Wayback Machine to visit archived event webpages when information wasn’t accessible.

Second, the team surveyed 500 women in the U.S. and U.K. who attended a technology conference in the past year about their experiences in order to create a more holistic view of how conference norms impact diversity and inclusion. Key findings from the survey showed that 70% of women who have sat on a panel at a tech conference were the only woman on the panel, and one in four women has experienced sexual harassment at a tech conference.

Ultimately, the findings were used to tell a holistic story and packaged into a report titled, “Speak Up: Bringing More Women’s Voices to Tech Conferences.” The focus of the report was not to provide a “how-to” for conference coordinators, but instead to provide a resource for company leaders, offering advice and solutions for improving diversity among the team members they send to conferences. Recommendations included ensuring marketing departments are committed to seeking out more diverse candidates for speaking opportunities at trade shows, creating an internal code of conduct for events and conducting speaker training for employees.

To earn widespread coverage for Ensono, the launch of the report was supported by a media outreach strategy that targeted five media segments and reporter beats: women’s interests, diversity and culture, HR, tech and business. Reporters received personalized outreach alongside the report and a one-pager on research methodology.

Walker Sands further set Ensono executives up for success by providing media briefings for subsequent reporter interviews and an employee FAQ document that helped Ensono launch the report internally.

The Results

The report was covered in more than 80 media outlets and 11 top-tier publications, including Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal and Fast Company, and is still widely covered and inquired about today. Nearly a year after the launch, a Protocol reporter reached out for more information for a story. Meanwhile, over a year after its publication, the Forbes coverage of the report remains the top converting referrer site to Ensono's website, further demonstrating the power of data-driven PR.

In addition to extensive press coverage, the report sparked conversations within the community. Ensono’s CMO was asked to give keynotes on the Speak Up findings at two conferences, and a student at MIT reached out for advice on making MIT’s conferences more inclusive. The co-founder and president of Davies + Dixon, a digital marketing firm in Seattle, wrote a letter to the editor in Crain’s Chicago Business to thank them for publishing the findings.

Reporters who engaged with the PR team expressed frustrations with the reality of the report, yet were excited by the data coming to light. A Forbes contributor said “... the brainstorming at the end on how to tackle the problems was excellent. I'm so used to seeing the same old suggestions, but these really got into the corporate culture in a productive way,” and an editor at Quartz replied, “This was fabulous. So clear and well written. I couldn't be happier!”

In addition to achieving Ensono’s goal of driving coverage in leading tech and business media, the momentum of the Speak Up report is ongoing. Since its launch, Walker Sands has developed a tip sheet and code of conduct template for organizations to use and customize when sending employees to external events, and Ensono and the Illinois Technology Association are hosting a one-day “Speak Up” event geared toward women in technology careers within the Chicago community.