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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Women Need to Be At Tech Conferences

I have to admit I was a little shocked after initially reading this article titled “Why Women Shouldn’t Go to Tech Conferences” (can you blame me?) featured on Forbes Woman.

The article followed Susannah Breslin who was asked to speak on a women-panel about how to make a living blogging as a career. She was annoyed at the fact that the panelists discussed how they got brands to sponsor their blogs…


“They allude to getting paid what I assume everyone imagines are large sums to work with these companies, and I start to wonder if this is what social media and blogging have become. Ways to make money.”

You know, the same way you are annoyed when you are at a fitness convention and the panelists start talking about different kinds of elliptical machines. It’s a panel about blogging for heaven’s sake, yes you will find “young, cute chicks” discussing how they turned their love for fitness, shopping, or music into a money making website. Is that the only topic women have to offer on a tech panel? After reading this quote I really start to wonder if this is Ms. Breslin’s first tech conference…

"I wonder what all the men in the other rooms of this conference are doing. I imagine they are talking about apps they have created, and companies they have founded, and complicated technology things that they want other people to buy. I wonder if anywhere at this conference men are talking about whether or not they have feelings."

I imagine women at other conferences talk about the apps they have created, companies they have founded and very “complicated technology” that yes, women can understand too. See: Marissa Mayer, Caterina Fake, Elizabeth Crawford, Sara Chipps, Hilary Mason (the list is a long one, I assure you). It is unfair to make assumptions about the credibility of women in tech based on one genre of the tech industry. It’s the panels titled “A Woman’s Touch” or topics like “what its like to be a women in tech” are definitely part of the problem. Women as a whole shouldn’t be singled out or labelled, a smart idea is a smart idea regardless of the gender or the source that it originated from.

Susannah, if you’re reading this, I get it. The post was about how we should use blogging not only to advance our own careers but to help others as well. Point well made. But the way you first started with a controversial title and then twisted the article to paint a picture of women contributing nothing but a superficial agenda and ‘feelings’ is a bit absurd. I feel many people who read this article may have missed your point and left feeling justified that women do not have a place in tech.

I’ll admit, there may be female panelists at conferences that bring nothing to the table, but to be honest, there are men who don’t as well. To single out all women and label them the way articles like this just did is what groups like Women in WirelessWomen 2.0 & Girls in Tech works to turn around. Rachel Sklar (@rachelsklar #changetheratio) is considered a ‘women in tech watchdog’, calling out men-dominated panels and working to get the voices of female leaders heard in the tech industry. Our goal is to break down the artificial structures that create environment where there is only, as Susannah mentioned “the one fleeting moment” where it makes sense or is beneficial for a woman to be at a tech conference. There are many smart women in tech that have useful insights and stories that should be heard, which is why we are working on changing the ratio of both attendees and speakers.

Women in Wireless panels work to feature women in tech who are not only bloggers but mobile marketing executives, entrepreneurs, and CEOs of their own successful companies. If you are a women in tech and would like to speak, fill out our Speaker Application Form found on our website.

Because you really should be at tech conferences.

*I was initially tempted to title this article “Why Susannah Breslin Shouldn’t Go to Tech Conferences” to return the initial shock and offense back at her, but after some deliberation (and some of the WiW women physically holding me back from the computer) I decided not to go that route.

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