Women Speaking at Conferences

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    The EuroSTAR programme for 2015 was launched yesterday and since then a few people have highlighted the lack of women on the programme – particularly as keynotes and/or tutorial speakers.

    Just to give some background, the gender split for the EuroSTAR audience is approximately 68% male 32% female. For 2015, roughly 85% of those who submitted a proposal to speak were men, 15% were women. Of the 59 sessions that have speakers assigned, 9 of those will be presented/facilitated by women – roughly 15%.

    If 32% of the audience are women, why is the proportion submitting proposals so low?

    Interested to hear your views on this…


    Some further viewpoints on the discussion on Twitter today:

    Would be great to centralise the discussion without (Twitter) character restrictions…


    It’s a topic that crops up in so many situations. For me the challenge is all about ensuring the maximum of opportunity for under-represented groups (not necessarily just women) to participate without descending to tokenism.
    It is very clear to me that people not in the “favoured demographic” often self-select not to participate. This could be taken as a justification for their under-representation. But that’s just not the case – people who are used to being under-represented historically have to be actively supported to get involved. It’s not patronising (or it shouldn’t be) and it’s not discrimination. We all know about the benefits of diversity (from EuroSTAR 2014). So to permit a lack of diversity to persist is simply unwise.
    But the tricky part is how to do this. Writing encouraging words (“we especially welcome applications from…”) is a start, but really doesn’t do enough. Some level of requirement that under-represented groups are shortlisted may be appropriate.
    I think that it may be divisive if it can be claimed that someone got a spot solely because of affirmative action, but getting shortlisted is much less contentious.
    In the end, we don’t need to enforce absolute balance. If the ratios start to improve the psychological restraints that mean fewer women apply will also fade away, as the evidence of participation erodes the perception.


    And of course, blind reviews – how could I forget? (Thanks to Pamela Gillaspie). I have no idea how many people are involved in the selection process. If it’s a handful it’s maybe difficult to have both affirmative action AND blind reviews. But it’s a proven technique.


    Hi Paul, thanks for your input and congrats on making the programme for 2015. Interesting ideas – I think it’s difficult to try to balance diversity and retain a level playing field for all who submit proposals.

    I think Fiona Charles’ & Anne-Marie Charrett’s Speak Easy programme is a great initiative aimed at greater diversity at tech conferences and it’s one that EuroSTAR supports. Perhaps this is a first step?

    Encouraging more submissions from diverse demographic groups is something the entire community can take responsibility for
    – encourage colleagues to submit to conferences, speak at meetups, publish online. In summary, be heard.
    – endorse/recommend novices (from smallMer events) for larger conferences
    – contact conference organisers when a novice stands out and say “hey, get this person on your programme!

    Keen to hear more…


    I’ve blogged my answer: http://quality-intelligence.blogspot.ca/


    I’m one of the women who do a lot of conference talk and yet rarely submit to EuroSTAR, so I wanted to pitch in to this one.

    I think EuroSTAR is losing many of the best presenters from the submissions – gender-neutrally – for the fact that getting accepted pays only the conference fee. To speak at EuroSTAR, I will have to 1) pay for my travel and stay 2) take time off work since my work has no reason to promote themselves at testing conferences. I believe there’s many non-consultants in the same situation.

    As a great (female) speaker, I get invited to talk enough in places that actually do not make me pay for it. I deliver tens of talks a year because I have tons of experiences on how testing works in a product company. Looking at what is available on the programme, I see people from non-testing companies to be a minority – as out organizations really do not have the agenda to sell things to the testing community and thus pay for it,.

    From the experience of being in the program committee only a few years ago, I know that it at least used to be so that keynotes are paid for, whereas the other talks are ones you pay for doing. Keynotes are not “blind review” but invited with the knowledge and connections the program committee has. If you know many great female testers (as testing has a lot of women, including a lot of great women), you will end up with gender-diverse lineup. Or it could be that out of fear of us women lashing out for lack of women, the last position gets filled as “the best woman we can think of for this programme”, which I found to be insulting approach while in the middle of the decision-making process.


    Here’s a different perspective – my blog post : In short, are we doing enough to earn our spot as keynoters?



    Thanks for sharing here Fiona, Maaret and Anne-Marie.

    Personally I don’t like the idea of quotas. The numbers above suggest that women make the programme at the same rate as men for regular programme sessions, but vastly more men submit – so there’s no difference in the quality of submissions and more women submitting would result in more women speaking.

    The next question is: how do you go from being a conference speaker to a keynote speaker? Is it down to experience or is there more to it than that – maybe the circles you mix in or how you ‘network’ as Anne-Marie mentioned in her article?

    EuroSTAR has had three keynotes presented by women in the last four conferences – Fiona Charles (2013) and Isabel Evans twice (2011, 2014). In 2009, 2 of the 4 keynotes were women – Naomi Karten & Gitte Ottosen. In that year, Dorothy Graham was Programme Chair of an all-female committee – maybe there was a greater awareness of women keynoters amongst this committee than any since (or previously!)?

    Maybe more women as Programme Chairs would increase awareness of women who intend to keynote?

    BTW, a full history of EuroSTAR Conference programmes is available here if anyone is interested in looking back.


    I find Anne-Marie’s post really interesting about actually approaching a committee and asking to keynote and then getting a response!

    Why don’t we just go and ask?

    I definitely was more aware of a few key women in the industry when I first started out as a tester and feel like I know of an equal amount of male vs female voices that I watch recordings of talks of and follow blogs of. (Although I am aware that overall there isn’t a balance.)
    But is this because I actively seek out female voices in the testing industry?

    Do the committees need to make more of an effort to find the female voices or do we have to make more of an effort to be heard?

    I would definitely like to see more women as programme chairs and on committees! I would think that this would work in 2 ways:
    1. Role models are then available to aspire to and get in touch with
    2 the programme chairs and the committee may be more aware of other women in the industry with valid voices as we tend to network with people who are similar to ourselves


    I never experienced a bad tutorial/keynote in Dublin last year from a woman and in fact if I look back one of the stands outs for me was by a woman. It was the most thought provoking, innovative and inspiring. She demonstrated a practical understanding of testing and more and I am envious of anyone who have the privilege of working in her team and I would jump at having a chance of working with/for such an inspiring test manager. I don’t feel like I need to say more except it will be our loss if this year’s sessions don’t live up to such high standards.


    I think one of the root causes of the problem being discussed is the fact that people categorise each other under gender, race, religion. skin colour, size, age, what ever label you want. For me a tester is a tester; no matter of sex, race, creed etc. I would be more interested in the spectrum of topics and experience presented, and perspectives: Novice, Experience, small company or team, large company or team, knowledge of agile v waterfall and many many more topics that are always covered. I’d even say how many none-testers are invited to test conferences. Last year at Test Bash there was a talk by a developer that was very illuminating.

    Why does sex, colour, mobility etc have to be a deciding factor in proportional representation at a Testing Conference? I don’t care if I’m learning from a Female or a ‘middle class’ white English man, as long as it’s engaging and I learn something new. [Applogies if anyone takes offence at anything in the last sentance, it was meant to be an extreme illustration, not an aggressive statement]

    If anyone feels there is not equal oppurtunities in Testing then that is a valuable discussion point for a conference; and has been over 2014.
    But please let’s focus on good content and not who is offering that content.
    Girl Power, Boy Power and power to the people.

    Mod Note: Edited

    Ronan Healy

    @stephen that is the other side of the debate and one that a few others have argued on social media including Katrina Clokie.

    @kim @anne-marie In terms of female speakers, Katrina Clokie has come up with a list of female testers who often keynote as a response to this debate. What do ye think?

    Could anyone suggest anymore speakers that could/should be added to this list?

    Ronan Healy

    For anyone that is interested. @Fiona and @Anne-Maire will be hosting a webinar next Thursday to discuss Diversity in Testing. More information is available here.

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