Monday, September 12, 2005

Burningbird: Change starts at home

There is a fantastically, marvelous comment thread over on Shelly's blog, Burningbird � Change starts at home. Shelly started by pointing out the apparent disconnect between a social software conference in the UK called "Our Social World" and the lack of women speakers.

Shelly gives us another piece in the pattern that exists strongly in the online interaction world. I've been thinking pragmatically about this issue of getting more diversity (in every sense of the word) into conferences. First challenge is finding the people - we know the same group and it is hard to find others. SO things like the Speaker's Wiki that Mary Hodder initiated after Blogher matters. But there is the marketing challenge. (By marketing I mean matching up an event with those who want to attend it and can bear the cost of it - cash, in kind, time, travel, etc.) It is much easier to attract participants with "known" or "marquee" speakers, even if they have been heard before. So how do we market the new voices? How do we open up ourselves to new experiences? How do we blend?

Anyway, the comment thread after Shelly's post is fantastic. The organizers of the conference in question jumped in. People got all heated up. People found points of agreement and disagreement. I'm hoping the next phase will be that people start talking about potential action to help folks like these conference organizers who didn't get the diversity of speakers (and in this, I'm speaking far beyond gender ratio to also getting some new voices as the relatively small set of insiders is getting pretty repetitive - and yes, we still love you guys, but we want to hear other people now.)

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Blogger Tish Grier said...

Hi Nancy...

I've done alot of thinking about this one. There are alot of problems with many of the conferences that go on--particularly the cost-prohibitivenesss of the conferences---as much as the problem with a lack of women speakers.

Mary and I had a lengthy discussion on this some time back. Part of my reluctance to register as a speaker is that I don't have any academic or necessarily professional cred to be taken seriously as a speaker. And, I know the way that men think re speakers--if a woman doesn't have the cred or isn't speaking about family, she's not likely to get invited to speak.

it sucks, but it's a fact of life in a male dominated subculture like this (something I know a great deal about is subcultures)....

it is frustrating to say the least.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Melinda Casino said...

Tish - Hell, you've got the hat, that gives you authority right there. ;)

(No, I don't have anything to contribute... sorry.)

10:33 PM  
Blogger Tish Grier said...

S.D.: I'm thinking of getting a larger one, to match the personality...then they can't miss me!

7:23 AM  
Blogger Nancy White said...

Tish, I think you are voicing what many, many of us feel. I think its time to take the plunge and risk. The very LEAST we do by this is opening some eyes. Maybe not getting the speaking opportunities just yet, but it is on the road.

I was afraid too. Then I went and looked at my list of how many times I have presented. I was amazed. Positioning and confidence aren't my strong suit, but I DO have something to offer. So you do. Lets rock 'em!

10:28 AM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Hi, I was the chair at this conference and did make one comment on the burningbird site. However I must say that I found the comment stream vicious and intimidating. I am a woman who can hold her own in many settings and its rare for me to feel like that. However my experience in that particular stream could easily put me off further involvement. I did actually ask for constructive comments on what might be done ...practically, but noone apparently is all that interested in doing that.
There was absolutly no qualification criteria necessary to be a speaker. Tish you would have been welcome.
I'm not saying that everything that could have been done to promote inclusion was done, but parhaps we were niave and in my case had a whole full time job to do as well.

4:40 AM  
Blogger Nancy White said...

Hey Suw, thanks for chiming in. I am sitting here, asking myself what that thread would have felt like were I you, which is a different issue than the topic of the comment, but really important. In fact a bunch of us have been thinking about in a series of telephone calls we alternately call "us/them" and "I don't know" around how difficult it is to have a "conversation" in a discussion thread. And it is easy for me to stay calm and cool when I'm an observer.

At play in the thread on Shelly's site from my perspective (which is just one tiny facet of the whole thing), there were people who did not express themselves civilly. I've unfortunately come to expect that. But on the really good side towards the end it felt as though it was starting to be a productive discussion. You hung in there as di others. And I say productive because it started to show how differently we perceive a situation.I believe this is one of the things at the heart of the problem of getting more women with something to say to speak.

We have to first look inwards. Understand our perspectives and experiences. Then we have to tell others what we see and compare it to what they see. That's when the dialog can start.

But HOW we do this is the hard part and most often we don't do it very well - for lots of reasons. And then things don't progress.

Back to the content of the thread...

In this case, getting the word out to women who might have self selected is one piece. Knowing who might have been asked is another. And as Tish pointed out, having those women feel, hm, I don't know what word to choose here, feel welcomed/qualified and interested to speak. It is a complex problem. I think we can make progress, but it takes getting out of our perspectives a bit - which is hard.

All in all, I hope you don't take the thread as a personal attack (and I know I would, so that is a really mixed message -- I know!). I appreciated that you hung in there and shared your perspective and experience. Likewise, I wish I could turn back time and have raised my hand to volunteer to help you find women. Because I do believe they are there. I know they are there after my experience at Blogher, but I also saw in that case the key was a totally differenty type of "invitation" than what we see from most event organizers.

The issue of not having women at the table, to me, IS an issue. But we don't need to attack each other on the way to a solution.

Personally, if you felt attacked by me, I apologize. That was not my intent. I have had the priveledge of meeting you and loved what you brought to the Northern Voice conference - and loved that you brought not only your knowledge, but your personal perspectives.

Now, next time there is an event in the works, lets activate our networks to make sure women and men hear the invitiation!

6:33 AM  
Blogger Shelley said...

Nancy, good post. But Suzanne is different than Suw.

Suzanne, I thought your response was treated with great civility. Exactly which comments did you feel attacked by?

Folks also need to remember that strong and passionate responses are not necessarily an attack on a specific person; nor is questioning an event the same as insulting a person. If we can't get past this, then we'll never be able to challenge the status quo. Every time we try, we'll be accused of 'hostile' behavior and 'insulting' someone beloved of someone, somewhere.

We women need to be especially aware of this, because this is used all too often to shut down conversations we may start.

So Suzanne, I for one would appreciate a note from you, in comments here if you don't feel you can comment at BB, specifically referencing what you felt were attacks on you, personally.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Nancy White said...

Uh, ok, now I really feel silly. Sorry for mixing you up with Suw, Suzanne. Can I blame it on middle age?

Shelly, I think we need "teflon jammy" training to help us not take the flames to heart. Sarcasm is still tough online as well...

OK, time to unpack my bags (on the road again...)

4:28 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

just to say I didn't say that I felt attacked or insulted, Nancy said that she might have felt insulted herself, but that was when she thought that I was Suw.
I said that I thought the "Burningbird" thread was intimidating, and in a way this is an exemplar of the point I might have made. The thread seems to me to be intimidating because a lot of people make a lots of different points, many of them extremly divergent. Some are responded to others are not,some of them are mixed up and attributed to the wrong people. There is limit to developing and expanding meanings and the thing goes round in circles a bit.
On the way some people explode (presumably for their own reasons). However it doesnt encouraged any movement to resolution.
I said I found it vicious because in these moments of explosion, sarcasm and the wish to win the point, overcome calm deveopement of a discourse. Therefore the bits of it that interest me, lay fallow and arn't grown further.
I then get pushed to do what I am just about to do, which is defensive and falls into the same camp and which I might never say, if I felt that a conversation was developeing, which might answer a question which I am interested in both here and in my day job. I.e. how do you cross the divide to contact those who do not see themselves as the obvious condidates for this event.

Irene Grief and Kate Erlich are both in Cambridge MA, so not so local for us. Catherine Howells is and I have contacted her by email.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Tish Grier said...

"teflon jammy"

man! I love this phrase (as I spend alot of time in front of the computer in jammies)...but, the underlying sentiment is quite true. We need to be less sensitive to flaming because alot of people (men *and* women on this one) will flame. Not to mention that sometimes a person doesn't mean to flame but their word choice makes it look that way (unintentional flaming?)....

We could also use more asbestos lingerie....

11:07 AM  

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