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Are Female Speakers Under-represented At SEO Conferences?

February 27, 2013

I've seen a number of articles in the SEO space popping up about the apparent lack of female speakers at tech conferences, specifically at search marketing gatherings. With that in mind, my question for this week is:

++Do you believe that female speakers are under-represented at SEO conferences? And if so, why do you think that is?++

High Rankings Question of the WeekHere's how they responded:


Marie Haynes: Every time topics like this come up something bugs me about it. I don't think the lack of SEOs as conference speakers has anything to do with sexism. I think there are two factors:

1. There are likely a lower number of female SEOs than males.

2. There are not as many A-Type females as there are males.

I'm not saying that everyone who speaks at a conference has to be an A-Type personality, but I think that there are a large number of amazing women in SEO who don't have a desire to speak at a conference.

Ann Donnelly: Yes. Is it that we have less confidence or more humility than our male counterparts to put ourselves forward for these roles or to even establish a profile as an expert & leader in the field? Many of us are not in a position to build the connections to lead to these engagements, and less free to travel due to family to commitments.


Laura Thieme: I don't think we are under-represented.  But to some posts about this topic, the issue becomes harder to get to search marketing conferences for those of us having children.  I've done over 40 search conferences.  I was averaging 6 a year before having my daughter.  I tried to act almost like nothing happened, and in 2009, I tried to do three.  It just about killed me (seriously). I hung it up for a year in 2010, and then returned to SMX in 2011.  I now do only two conferences a year, and in fact am skipping SMX West for all of the reasons stated below.  I think that is an issue for many women, but really don't think we're under represented and wonder if they also have the same issues as I do.

Marcus Miller: I guess there are more guys in the industry overall, so it may be something to do with ratios. That said, the ladies I am aware of in the field are all super sharp so I would say that yeah, when we look at the top 10% of folks in the industry and the speakers at most conferences females are most definitely under represented?

Harriete Estel Berman: I think that women are unrepresented as speakers at all conferences. This is true even when the audience is more than 50% women. It is also very hard to get women to speak...they are much more likely to say "no," unwilling or uncomfortable to stand up on stage.

Heather Lloyd-Martin: Unfortunately, if you're an "untested" speaker (male or female,) it's hard to get big speaking gigs. One of the first question people will ask about an unknown speaker is "Have you heard them speak before?" If the answer is no, the untested speaker's pitch is often put on the back burner. It doesn't mean they won't be able to speak - it just means that  people have to think about them more.

I don't know if the issue is that women don't always pitch for conferences, or if their pitches aren't chosen. If it's more of a "women don't always pitch" situation, perhaps a mentoring situation could help. That is, experienced female speakers could lead them through the process, tell them what to expect (and yes, even share what the after parties can be like.)

[See More of Laura's and Heather's responses here.]

Jill Whalen: There are definitely some panels that seem to be male dominated. I think that perhaps it's a function of the way the pitch process goes. If few (if any) women are pitching for certain panels they obviously won't be represented. A better way might be for session organizers or moderators to invite a few additional speakers for specific panels, regardless of whether they pitched.

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 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks, Marty!
 Barbara Nelles said:
Thank you for raising this topic, Jill.

I think men are far more comfortable in the role of oracle than women. Men have much stronger egos--in the Eckhart Tolle definition of ego--than women.

Our society continues to view men as the most credible in positions of authority--even most/many women prefer seeing men in that role. And as far as speakers at conferences being entertainment--we already know that people prefer watching male entertainers. For instance, popular movies are mostly male. If the cast is mostly women--they call it a woman's movie, with the implication that most men won't want to watch. Same with authors. Tough for a female author to break out of the women's writer classification. Although Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad, did a great job.

The subtle and not so subtle preference for men in all roles of power and authority continues.