Speaker Gender Divide in South Wales Tech Meetups 2017

Lack of women speakers at events is an important topic at the moment – not just in Cardiff/South Wales but worldwide. Recently I had the idea to look at the speaker gender divide of all the tech/digital meetups in South Wales that I could find which took place in 2017. Thankfully, with many of them hosting their meetups on sites like Meetup.com or Eventbrite, which don’t remove the info of past events, I was able to dig through their event archives and get a good idea of how the events’ speakers were advertised.

The data

2017 Prisma PieAltogether I looked at 136 events run by 22 different meetup organisations during 2017. Topics ranged from software development, cyber security and agile, all the way through to tech startups, blogging and SEO.

My goal here isn’t to point fingers or name and shame individual organisations. Therefore I’ll be keeping the names anonymous (sorry). The goal is to look at the wider industry/scene as a whole.

The result: out of the 173 speakers who spoke at those events last year, only 28 were women, compared to 145 male speakers. That’s 16% vs. 84%. Ouch… 😔

The eye-watering specifics

Think that the above is bad enough? It gets worse…

  • Two of the meetup organisations are women-focused events, so naturally their speaker line-ups were mostly (if not entirely) female. With the events of those two removed from the data, the divide then becomes 13% women to 87% men.
  • One meetup organisation – which shall remain nameless – ran 9 events during 2017 and hosted 28 speakers in total. All 28 were men. Admittedly these guys (no pun intended) are probably bringing down the average and therefore letting the side down overall. But even so, it’s still painful to see.

A few notes about the research

I’ll be the first to admit that this analysis isn’t perfect, for a few reasons:

  • The data only includes meetups that have historical data. I reckon I’ve caught most of them, but one or two might be absent if this was the case.
  • Following on from the above, conferences haven’t been included – mainly because most of them host their own websites and (bizarrely IMO) don’t publish an archive of their past events, meaning that I can’t see who spoke at them. It’s a shame as there’s a local conference who (up until recently) were pretty terrible at including women speakers at their events, so it would’ve been good to have included them in the analysis as well.
  • I’m going by what was written on the Meetup/Eventbrite page for the event, which might not reflect the reality. For example, they might have had two speakers (a man and a woman) advertised to speak, and that info is still live on the event page – but for all I know, one of them might have pulled out at the last minute.
  • Sometimes a company was advertised as a speaker (rather than an individual, who could be identified as a man or a woman) and therefore it was impossible to tell who the speaker was. In these cases I’ve not counted them in the analysis.
  • I have no idea if some of the speakers may identify as transgender or non-binary – sorry. It’s something I was aware of and wanted to bring up just in case anyone thought I was ignoring it completely. But for the purposes of this data, there were 3 categories: Men, Women and Unsure (the last one being if a company is named, not an individual – see above).

Next steps

When we enter 2019, my plan is to conduct the same analysis on 2018 meetups, to see if the speaker gender divide has improved, worsened(!) or pretty much stayed the same. Let’s all hope for the former eh? Keep an eye on this blog from January 2019 onwards…

Thoughts on the analysis & advice to event organisers

There’s probably been a million and one articles analysing observations such as these and offering advice on how to improve the situation, so I don’t want to rehash what’s already been said elsewhere. However…

  • The tragic thing about this is that it does mirror the UK statistics – “only 15% of the people working in STEM roles across the UK are women” (source). While that doesn’t make heavily-male or all-male lineups defensible, it shows the deeper issue in the industry as a whole: that there are more men than women working in these roles.
  • Are event organisers to blame? Yes and no (I guess it depends on the event organiser in question, whether they’re ignorant/oblivious to it or should know better). Running an event can be exciting, especially if you have people in mind to speak or – even better – if they approach you. I can imagine that if an event organiser is approached by speakers and they say “yes” to all of them, they may be ignorant to their gender and therefore to their events’ gender speaker divide overall.
  • Speaking from personal experience as an event organiser myself (more info/disclaimer below), more men than women usually get in touch asking to speak. Out of the first 5 people to contact me about speaking at my meetup, only one was a woman. It’s not just a South Wales thing either: Kelvin Newman of brightonSEO said that out of the 24 speaker pitches he had in a 24-hour period, 20 were men and 4 were women (source).

What can event organisers do?

  • Half the battle is being mindful of the situation and taking steps to improve the balance. If you’ve realised that you’ve primarily hosted male speakers in the past, it’s never too late to shift the balance.
  • Don’t know many women speakers in your field? Hopefully this list I put together will help: 30+ women speakers in South Wales covering a variety of digital/tech topics. Ask them to speak, or ask them if they know any women who’d be interested in speaking.

Full disclosure

This isn’t intended as an ‘attack’ on South Wales or the South Wales tech events scene. I grew up here, live here and love it here. I’ve been to some of the events I included in the analysis, and I’m friends with people who run and/or speak at these events. I even run my own meetup – Cardiff SEO Meet – and included its three 2017 events in the analysis as well. I try hard to be mindful of the gender speaker divide when I book speakers (and I’m proud to say it’s always been 50/50, with only one instance of 66/33, and even one instance of 2 women speakers and 0 men speakers). Despite this, sometimes we don’t get the best gender audience divide (it was c. 90% male at the last event, despite 50/50 speakers), so there’s still work to be done…

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