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Yet Another Post About Diversity


Though I didn’t get the memo, apparently this month’s topic among social media bloggers is “diversity.” As in, “why aren’t there enough women or people of color speaking at conferences.” Diversity among conference speakers wasn’t something I thought much about as a civilian.  I assumed that because this field has more white men working in it than women or people of color, it stands to reason that there would be more white men speaking at conferences or participating in the space.

Now, as BlogWorld’s Conference Director, it’s on my mind every day.

I always operated under the impression that if I wasn’t getting ahead in whatever I did, it had nothing to do with gender, color, creed or sexual orientation, it had to do with me not stepping up and giving things my best effort. And, as you may know, I’m not really a fan of “empowerment,” as in “we need to empower women to get ahead” because to me this indicates weakness or that women (or people of color)  aren’t smart enough to get ahead on their own and I sort of found that insulting. I don’t mind sharing tools, I draw the line at holding hands. ( But that’s a personal opinion, and it’s not necessarily shared by the other people here at BlogWorld. )

Diversity v. Good Content

As the conference director for BlogWorld & New Media Expo, the diversity thing came up as soon as I accepted the gig. As soon as people found out I was the person tasked with finding speakers and shaping the educational content for our events, I received emails, tweets and and other communication reminding me to make sure I bring in more women speakers.

Now, Rick Calvert, BlogWorld’s Founder and CEO and I have different stock answers when it comes to the women question. When Rick is reminded that we need to bring in more women, his response is always that we’re very conscious of this and it’s a priority – and he’s right. Rick is very conscientious and is working with various minority groups to find good speakers and content of interest to a diverse group of attendees. He’s an awesome role model.

My stock answer is that it’s more important to me to make sure BlogWorld has the best content possible, whether women, men, people of color or martians. Because as far as I’m concerned, the content is the one of the main reasons behind BlogWorld’s success and I have to be true to our attendees. I’m not going to choose speakers simply because of their gender or the color of their skin, I’m going to recommend them because they’re smart and have good ideas. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to choose a diverse group of speakers.

Women Rose to the Challenge

Something interesting happened. At BlogWorld ’09 30-something percent of our speakers were women. This led to a few people to consider us a women “unfriendly” event, which is laughable because more women than men work for BlogWorld.

At BlogWorld ’10, my first year on the job, the “diversity” question came up after we announced all our speakers. “Where are all the women?” everyone asked. I found this confusing as I felt we had plenty of women speaking. I counted noses and reported that 48% of our speakers were women, including 3 keynoters. What was all the commotion about?

And so the hubub died down. For a while.

Now the diversity question is coming up again. I can’t speak for other conferences as I don’t know how they choose their content, but I can tell you that for me, first and foremost, my obligation is to BlogWorld attendees to provide the best content possible. However, that doesn’t mean that when our track leaders suggest panels to me, I don’t turn around and say to them, “why aren’t there any women on this panel?”or “why don’t you have so and so on this panel” in order to create a sense of balance.

Last week, we announced a large group of speakers, most of them women. We didn’t invite them to speak because they were women though. We invited them to speak because they submitted good ideas and crafted thoughtful, intelligent proposals. We watched videos and ensured all women chosen were good speakers. All of the posts about women speakers last year paid off as they rose to the challenge and empowered themselves to step up.

Hopefully all the posts about “diversity” this year will cause a similar trend.

It’s too early to tell exactly how diverse our group of speakers will be this year, but I can tell you once again that we’re doing our best to bring you the best content possible, from the best speakers possible, and yes, they come from all walks of life. I’m glad the diversity questions has come up again. I didn’t used to think about it before, but I’m forced to think about it now and that’s a very good thing. BlogWorld East will take place in my former home town of New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world.  I’m looking forward the new opportunities it will bring to meet a more diverse group of professionals, and. hopefully, upcoming speakers.

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  • Anonymous

    I write the Problogger bloggers to watch list. It’s never diverse enough. I didn’t include enough people ‘of colour.’ When it was pointed out by others that there was several people from different ethnic backgrounds, I was told that I’d ignored African Americans.

    The thing is – there was two I had considered putting on that list. I chose not to, as I’d included them in a previous list and I didn’t want to double up. Heck, I got told I should leave America some time and find some good bloggers 😛

    There wasn’t enough people from chosen niches. There was too many people from others. I get that people do feel under represented and when people showed honest disappointment, I encouraged conversation and asked for feedback. I’m cool with that as I’m learning.

    The thing I learned with as soon as you start trying to be diverse, people lose out. You are including people to please the louder people rather than because they are the best. That’s wrong. Find the best content and the best people, and do all you can to share them with the audience. 🙂

    You already do that. And you rock.

  • Kavya Hari

    Primarily,blog post is nothing but to share our own experiences on here 🙂 And, it’s personal view. Thank you so much for your post on here 🙂

  • AnaRC

    Deb I’m glad you are concerned about the diversity factor. I’ve been helping some conferences lately with this issue. Here is what I’ve found:
    1) Usually people of color know about the conference but they don’t dare submit a speaking proposal. We’re now encouraging our different Latino communities to send speaking proposals and to seek partnerships with more experienced speakers to submit compelling sessions.
    2) It’s a vicious cycle! The main issue is money. Most of the great speakers I’ve met are having a real issue with getting themselves to the conferences. Even if the registration ticket is paid, they still have to come up with flight and hotel. But then it’s a vicious cycle: if they don’t go to the conferences, they never get to make the real connections with “experienced speakers” or brands that will eventually sponsor them to other conferences.

    The solution? I don’t think that you should compromise quality for diversity. First because it’s an insult to us all when we find ourselves represented by speakers who just got there because of the diversity factor or because they happen to have a little more money (oh boy you can tell when that happens!!!). Quality should be key and you must use the same selection criteria when approving a panel that is formed by minorities.

    The only solution I’ve found has been investment. You must invest in diversity. Some conferences have delegated a sponsorship to diversity (and they’ve found many brands willing to jump on board). This has allowed organizers to find the BEST experts of the conference topics to bring them on board regardless of the money issue. The other solution is to partner with non-profit organizations in the digital space. #Latism for example is granting 60 scholarships to social media conferences to break that cycle. Last year we granted over 30 scholarships. If you know of any Latino(a) potential speaker who cannot make it, please send them our way. There are other organizations like ours for African Americans.
    Get the tribes to bring diversity. They’ve done their homework already. So session leaders already know who are the experts in their topic. You can encourage them to bring a minority speaker to the panel list right at the submission point. Not as a rule but as a recommendation. You’ll be surprised at the increased numbers. Sorry for the long comment but you can tell that this topic is dear to my heart 🙂

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