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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting Women to Speak at Geo Conferences

The topic of the small number of women presenters at geo conferences popped up on Twitter last  week in the context of the Location Intelligence Conference (put on by the company for which I work, Directions Media). I found just a few women speaking at the event. My guess is the proportion is not all that different from any other geo conferences, save perhaps, those focused on education. And, I'll go further and suggest that the percentage of women speaking at geo events has not changed much in my 20 years in the field.

Instead of asking why, I want to focus on how to encourage women to share their knowledge at conferences. Here are some ideas I've come up, with along with some I've heard from others in the industry.

Invite Women to Speak

There is no better feeling than having an event organizer make you feel special by inviting you personally to participate. The invitation may involve financial aid or other incentive to attend, but that's not required.

Encourage Women to Speak within Your Organization

Do you have a "brown bag" lunch where staffers share their work or what they learned at a conference? Are women represented? If not, again, invite their participation. Such a presentation might even be part of and individuals professional development plan.

Support Educational Opportunities that Require Communication

I know communication is a key focus in the Penn State GIS Certificate and MGIS programs. As a member of the advisory board, I agreed that students should not only write in the program,  but create videos, and speak formally and informally to one another. The MGIS capstone project requires a presentation in person, at a conference.

Look for Great Women Speakers

When organizers put together conferences, perhaps they probably don't think much about the balance of speakers. Why? Finding good speakers is NOT easy. Finding good women speakers is even harder simply because this field is male dominated. That means all of us need to keep our eyes open for great speakers of both genders. Please help me with that; I get e-mails all the time asking me to suggest great geo speakers. None, to date, have asked specifically for women, I must add. It would be an interesting challenge for a conference agenda group to make it a goal to have at least one women as a keynote speaker. How about it? (I point this to my own colleagues, as well!)

I'd love to hear any other ideas to get women out on the conference circuit! The benefits to one's career and one's organization are significant.