March 8, 2021 marks International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is ‘Choosing to Challenge.’ It is specifically about choosing to challenge ourselves — and others — to call out inequality — when we see it. This month on the Women of Email blog, we’ll be highlighting stories from our members of times they’ve challenged themselves and others to create a more inclusive world, whether in their own workplace or beyond.
Confronting an industry challenge. I want to use this opportunity to reflect on the time I challenged something in our industry, and it led to the formation of Women of Email. Nearly five years ago, I attended and spoke at an email conference. I noticed that the list of speakers was incredibly imbalanced and featured mostly men. The organizer of the conference had later asked me to write an article for his newsletter/blog about the event, and I decided to write about gender imbalance on stage at this event and others. If women made up half of the email space (which we didn’t even know was true at the time, but now can confirm it is), why weren’t we represented that way on stage?
My article caused a bit of a stir, you might say: it sparked a very heated discussion in an email community, with some people giving great advice and offering to mentor up-and-coming women speakers, and some people offering…well, very frustrating and misguided advice. But out of that frustration came something special: women on that email listserv started messaging each other separately, thanking each other for saying things they were too afraid to say in the large group, and offering solidarity and advice. The next day, Jen Capstraw emailed me, April Mullen, and Laura Atkins with the idea of starting our own email community, and Women of Email was born.
So where are we now? I am so proud of the strides we’ve made in the email space with achieving gender equity on stage, but there is more to do. Because of all of the work WoE has done over the last five years through our speakers bureau, gender balance should be a given (and great news — it is in most spaces!). But we need diversity of all kinds onstage: gender, race, age, sexual orientation, experience levels, companies, and so much more. For people who are in a place of privilege (and I include myself in that category as a white, cis, straight, married, employed woman who has had countless opportunities for my voice to be heard), that means sometimes stepping aside and letting someone else speak, and using your privilege to help lift up others.
Want to share a story about how you’ve challenged something in your career to be featured on this blog? Submit yours!
Here’s the original article I wrote back in 2016.
Can We Talk About Gender Diversity at Email Conferences?
[June 1, 2016] Last month, I attended two email conferences. In my nine years in the email industry, I’ve attended… a lot of events and conferences. Everywhere I’ve worked, my email teams have been a healthy mix of men and women. The industry seems pretty evenly balanced in terms of gender. And yet – conference and event speaker lists don’t seem so balanced.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Email Innovations Summit in Las Vegas. It was a great conference, full of awesome content and excellent people. However, there was one panel, the “Email Vendor Shootout” that gave me pause: of the TEN speakers on the stage, only one of them, Justine Jordan, was a woman. Justine’s fantastic and I always love seeing her speak, but it made me wonder, where are all of the other women?
From my understanding, the companies were asked to participate and to select who they wanted to represent them. It’s possible that women at these companies were asked to participate and declined. It just seemed odd to me that an industry that seems to be very balanced in terms of gender isn’t represented that way at conferences.
This imbalance made me look at the rest of the schedule with a critical eye. And sure enough, all of the solo women speakers (myself included) were scheduled up against hot topic panels, with multiple industry “big names” that would be difficult to compete with for audience members, so our sessions were poorly attended in comparison. Most of the male solo speakers were “keynotes” and not scheduled up against other sessions at all. Of the 49 speakers scheduled for the conference, 33 were men and 16 were women.
There was one all woman panel. Samantha Iodice, Karen Talavera, Jeanne Jennings, and Kath Pay led a great discussion about starting their own consultancies. It was fresh, useful content I had never seen at a conference, and all of the women speaking were extremely candid and very generous with advice. It was my favorite session of the entire conference. But that panel was scheduled up against another rock-star panel about email design, and wasn’t nearly as well attended as it should have been given the topic and speakers. The same thing happened for a lot of other women speakers.
As I’m writing this – they just sent out the scores for the top speakers at this conference. In all three categories (Top 5 Speakers, Best Content, and Best Combined), three of the top five are women, and in two categories, all three of the top three are women. So, it’s certainly not a quality issue. Women are good at this.
Since it’s not a matter of ability, and there’s no shortage of smart, talented women in the industry, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause of this. Like many other conferences, there was an open call for speaker submissions, and we ended up with a group of men and women who tend to speak at other conferences fairly regularly. I don’t know what the speaker submission pool looked like, so it’s entirely possible gender was fairly represented based on the submissions. But if that’s the case, then it begs the question – why aren’t more women submitting presentations? And how can we all fix this?
I have a few ideas.
Women: If you want to speak at a conference (especially if you haven’t before): Propose something! Speaking at conferences is fun, and a huge adrenaline rush. You usually get to go to the conference for free, and it’s a great resume addition. If you’ve never spoken at a conference before and want help with a proposal, email me.
Men: If you’re asked to speak on a panel that’s all men, recommend a woman (or two) to speak on the panel as well. Or even better – go to www.speakerdiversity.com and join the movement of men pledging to ONLY speak on panels that have diversity.
Companies: Encourage your women employees to speak at conferences! If your immediate reaction to that is “We don’t have a lot of women working here,” please think about what that really means for your business.
Conference organizers: Take a step back and look at the overall diversity of your speaker pool. Is there a good mix of men and women? What about age? (Contrary to popular belief, a lot of millennials use email, and even send email for a living. Millennials have things to say too). What about ethnic and cultural diversity? A range of different points of view makes for better, fresher, more interesting content. And that’s what we all need.
One of the best things about the email industry is the community around it. We have weird, difficult jobs that not a lot of people outside of our field understand. Let’s try to have our future events represent our awesome community, in every way possible.