What I'm Reading...
Women Superstars

X Chromosome Web 2.0 Rock Stars

by Guest Blogger, Lena West, Chief Social Media Strategist at xynoMedia Technology

There is a thread here that has interested me - and I'm not going to let it die. I want to piggyback on the post about Sheri McConnell.Rockstar

I read this post last week and didn't really think more of it at the time.  But, as the week went on, I started to think more and more about it. Then I was thinking about it an awful lot. It was just under my skin in a way that things I get passionate about have a tendency to do.

Really, where are all the female web 2.0 rock stars?

I'm so tired of seeing the faces of Paul Gillin, Guy Kawasaki, Jeremiah Owyang, etc.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a HUGE fan of these guys. I try to attend every event where Jeremiah Owyang is speaking - he's THAT insightful. And, I download anything (within reason) Guy posts to his blog. I tell people to read Paul's book al the time. Very smart guys, no doubt, but I'm just a little tired of the same old same old. And, while the W List was great, I'd rather a speaking opp at AlwaysOn/Forrester/Gartner/Fortune Small Business conferences.

Thinking that I might be a little 'over the top' (as I tend to get about issues that hit home), I asked a very, very well-known marketing/business change guru the question that made me doubt for the first time that this man had cajones. Normally he's a bold guy with fresh ideas and super dope responses.

But, when I asked him:

"Where are all the female web 2.0/social media rock stars? Not the company starters. I mean the ones that the media should/could be quoting?"

His response was to dodge the issue by replying that:

  1. gender isn't an issue (Hah! Since when dude?)
  2. good content is what matters (as if there's no good content from women??)
  3. and then he pulled a dummy move by telling me "the web needs me" and offering up Kathy Sierra as a good example of a successful woman in the web 2.0 world (excellent example, but ONE woman???)

Nice try buckaroo. I like flattery and all like that there, but I'm not buying that crumbling bridge you're sellin'.

I immediately replied that I would LOVE to have the liberty of thinking that gender (or race) doesn't matter in this world, but that is a leisure afforded only to white males - of which he is one.

Up until this time, we had had a back and forth communication - after I sent my last reply, the email lines went icy cold.

I find it amazing that the men who are in power in web 2.0 TALK a good game about inclusion, but are basically unwilling to show up to effect change - even in the least little bit. They ask women not to focus on gender, to just let things evolve...I wonder where Black, Latino or Jewish people would be if things were just allowed to evolve?

I find it ironic that everyone wants to talk about inclusion in this damn industry and NO ONE wants to talk about race or gender - I should say, not the men. Their cajones shrink to the size of tic tacs the minute the subject of women's advancement, industry power and recognition comes into view.

Dreck, I thought this guy was smarter, more with-it and more in-tune than that. Maybe, maybe not. It's not going to stop me from reading his material and emailing him every now and again. He's still smart as hell...I just look at him differently now.

Perhaps he is thinking about it, but he's just not willing to go there with me...(yet - or ever).

Perhaps he's thinking about an appropriate response.

Perhaps he's figuring out a plan of action.

Perhaps he's asking all the other male 'action figures' what they think.

Perhaps...

And, maybe I'm making a hole in my career by even posting this, but I don't give crap. Like I told you before, authenticity is the best form of marketing there is.

P.S. Never one to present a problem without a solution. I think I have a solution, but I'm not going to share it quite yet. Let me work on it for a good bit and get back to you with my results. Stay tuned...

Comments

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Jake McKee

@Lena,

I for one am glad to see this continuation of this conversation. I wanted to point out a couple of things you said:

"I'd rather a speaking opp at AlwaysOn/Forrester/Gartner/Fortune Small Business conferences."

Great! So who have you talked to in order to make that happen? If you're waiting for them to come to you, you'll have to do more than you're doing now (whatever that is) if theyre not already coming to you. This goes for everyone... it's part of the reason I'm up at 3:30a working on a book proposal.

You said several things and I'd like to walk through the logic path:

"So, the question is...how do we make it easier for women to apply for available speaking gigs?"

I didn't realize that the application process was different for women than it is for men. Every time I've watched a qualified woman put her mind to getting a speaking gig, she often does (with the same success percentage as the men I watch attempt it)

"Or, maybe even more basic than that, how do we get women to put speaking at the top of their priority/marketing efforts list?"

Ah ha! Now we're getting somewhere. This is truly a fantastic question.I speak at non-tech, non-Web2.0 events regularly and the gender mix is often much different. I was at an event marketing conference a while back and the attendance AND speakers were about 75% women. The question I have is whether there's something about our industry that changes a dynamic of *interest* for women to participate? It can't be all industry sexism. Is there something about our industry that naturally attracts a majority of women who don't have the same level of interest? It can't be all sexism alone can it? (Honestly asking here)

"Or maybe, how do we get 'the establishment' to recognize/find people who won't exactly promote themselves?"

Even better question. I don't care who I'm seeing speak, so long as they're sharing new, smart ideas I can actually apply to my work/clients/life. I'm tired generally of the same people, male and female. I love Shel Israel, great guy, but how many times have I seen him speak? I want more fresh faces!

But one last thing to challenge you on: the idea that there's some all powerful "establishment". Our industry is founded on a belief and a reality that if you want to do something, you can make it happen. Noah Kagan put together Community Next, an incredible event on a lark because he wanted to see some people speak that he was interested in. BarCamps can be rounded up quickly. BlogHer started from nothing and in a few short years turned into something huge. Hell, many of the conferences I've spoken at had female scheduling leads/planners.

I see lots of discussion from women (not saying you, just generally throughout all these gender+Web2.0 discussions over the years) that say "I'm demanding diversity from conferences I'm likely not to attend and nothing changed". Then let's change it. Let's create something better than those options!

Lena West

@Sheri:

Thanks for writing.

Yes, S L O W L Y is right.

Thanks for the encouragement.

-Lena

Sheri McConnell

Hi Lena,

Great Piggyback! I live and breathe women's issues. Raisign three girls and a bou in our patriarchial society isn't easy. Things are changing though because of women like us... S L O W L Y. But they are changing and thank goodness women like us "think" about what is going on around us. Thanks for continuing the thread and letting it get under your skin.

Sheri McConnell

Lena West

@Elisa:

I was hopin' you'd join in...

I couldn't have said it better myself. It is *incumbent* upon conference organizers to ensure that diversity is represented on their collective daises (is that a word?) - especially, like you mention, if they're charging for the conference, inviting the media and telling everyone the the conference is the shiznit.

Thanks for weighing in about "lists". Don't get me started.

I think I mentioned over on Jeremiah's blog that someone like you has *NO PROBLEM* self-promoting for speaking. The 'straw man' came up over there as well. If anyone buys the wholesale argument that women don't self-promote, they have their head in the sand, because I know for a FACT that many women in social media are out there daily gettin' their grind on trying to land the top notch opps and to ignore them is a sin.

Glad you chimed in...

-Lena

Elisa Camahort

Short answer to Nicole's question:

"If you are setting up a conference and want to fill the content, do you really have to *search* and hunt those females to get them to speak?"

Yes.

Absolutely yes. If one is running a conference, and in most cases charging for it, and promoting it at the bees knees of all conference on subject xx, then yes. This doesn't mean women shouldn't be proactive and put themselves out there. But yes.

I've written about this so often on my blog. It's the conference organizer's job to present a great program, and things won't change until the people who run the various shows value diversity of perspective and experience enough to seek it out on their speaking rosters. Which they don't. I hear men and women say "One shouldn't sacrifice quality to get diversity." Sure, who said you should? You are right there buying into the notion that a sufficient number of talented qualified women don't exist. Really? My experience programming BlogHer conferences has shown me I can find talented qualified women to speak on any topic anywhere in the social media realm and beyond. It's a straw man argument that anyone should be ashamed to use.

See this post for yet another recent example where somehow women were completely overlooked, and the response was to create a list. (There are links to many of my other posts about conference rosters and diversity in that post.)

Oh, and I agree with Lena: Lists by themselves are clearly not the answer. These lists already exist in many places.

Stormy

I interviewed several people for the women in community management talk I gave recently.

The women I talked to included:
Dawn Foster, http://fastwonderblog.com/
Connie Bensen, http://www.conniebensen.com/
Alolita Sharma

I gave the talk at the LinuxChix miniconf at LAC and I'm giving it again at the Women in Open Source Day at SCALE. (I also have/had keynotes at both the main events.)

Lena West

@Karin:

I never said that men *would* refrain from speaking in order to promote women speakers. What said was that was what I was hoping would happen...and then I submitted the more likely scenario of them recommending 2-3 women speakers as they accepted their own speaking assignments.

I couldn't really follow the middle part of your post...so I can't really comment there, but I do agree that some [corrected from my email to Karin] of invisibility is voluntary. But, the women that were listed in the comments to this post (no matter how much I don't like 'listing') are far from voluntarily invisible, but they're still invisible compared to most men.

I buy the voluntarily invisible excuse for a little bit, but that doesn't account for all.

I guess I'm just wondering when everyone else will step up and admit that this industry is biased and needs work -- and STOP blaming women.

For example, why isn't KD Paine (who is a freakin' powerhouse) keynoting a Forrester event?? Why aren't any of the other women here speaking at any of the AlwaysOn events??

Voluntary invisibility? I don't buy it as an across the board reason for the disparity.

-Lena

Susan Mernit

Nice post, Lena--guess the operative words here are social and marketing--but the translation from the jargonese could be self-marketing or self-promoting--the guys you mention have good ideas, but they expend 100% more effort than most of the women I know in making sure not a single living soul takes a breath without knowing what they have to offer.
In the he who beats his own drum most loudly gets the speaking gigs arean, women are pretty much MIA.

Lena West

@Vicki:

Thanks for sharing your viewpoint. I think the group concept is *VERY* interesting...and could present a possible "solution".

And, I agree with you about including women just for the heck of it...but there are so *many* good women working in social media.

And, you're right about those who open their mouths get fed...I already have one speaking gig lined up from this blog post. A nice, unintended benefit :)

-Lena

Vicki Davis

We see the same thing in the education sector and there are a growing number of women, however, many of us (like myself) are happy in the classroom and not going to accept a lot of speaking engagements (I max out at 3 a semester.)

I think the answer is for groups of women to work together -- I co host a show of 4 women at Ed Tech Talk called the Women of Web 2.0 and although we may not have had much a voice separately -- together, it has worked quite well.

However, I caution to include women just because our anatomy meets the part -- include women because they are GOOD -- not just good but GREAT at what they do.

Coming from the business world where I was successful in a "man's world" it has been easier for me to elbow my own way into opportunities -- however, I have found that traditionally the skills taught to women are not conducive to getting them noticed. Those of us who are more apt to open our mouths and speak out are the one's noticed.

We must intentionally seek out and encourage the excellent. Kudos to you for bringing this to the attention of others. We need more discussions like this and not only about women, but we need to intentionally include geographic and racial diversity to truly get a global picture of Web 2.0 -- for Web 2.0 is truly global.

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