Alan Rice bio photo

Alan Rice

Human being. I'm a PhD student studying molecular evolution at a university in Ireland. Likes: sugar, data & science. Dislikes: peas & cats. I don't know how I made it this far either. (he/him)

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Posts starting with a dictionary definition are always a mixed bag. Sometimes it’s the start of an impassioned plea about a long neglected corner of society and other times the definition (*cough* marriage *cough*) is used to argue for continued discrimination. Here the definition isn’t sourced from the Oxford English Dictionary or Merriam Webster’s, it’s from the ever wonderful Urban Dictionary:

sausage fest
a party of only guys (or at least 80% guys), where there is a substantial abundance of weiner.

And that’s exactly what Web Summit is: a substantial abundance of weiner, no wait, at least 80% male speakers. That’s it. Of the announced speakers this year only 15% are female. That’s abysmal. I’m sure they tried really hard, having previously traveled to women in tech conferences to try source female speakers and speaking about struggling “to find qualified women to shift the balance”, but there has been no increase over last year. Maybe one here or another there but nothing meaningful. Nothing that says they are actively pushing to close the gender gap.

Before I go any further can I address the “struggled to find qualified women to shift the balance” quote? That just reads like a blame-shifting mechanism. They create the conditions of their conference. If you build it they will come, thanks to @cindygallop (who’s previously written on needing more women at WS) for the link to demonstrate that that’s exactly what happens. Create the right conditions and you can attract whoever you want. Without these conditions, gender balanced wouldn’t be achieved by even inviting 50% men and 50% women, which I’d imagine was far from reality at Web Summit (UPDATE: only 29% of invitees were women). Women tend to have more time commitments and even when available are less confident and more likely to defer to a male colleague. These same gender gap issues exist in science and it’s great to see conferences like SMBE offering flexible and accessible monetary support for childcare for conference goers, not just for speakers! This fostering of community doesn’t cost the Earth and benefits everyone who attends.

Web Summit is growing each year and as part of that growth they attempted to lose the ‘Web’ and are having Food, Music, Film and Sport sections as part of this November’s Summit. I’d much rather have seen them master the ‘Web’ part first and focus on their community. Why not have shuffled their priorities and aimed for a very modest 20% of 2014 speakers being female? With 200 speakers, having 40 female speakers at one tech conference would make Web Summit one of the principal conferences to attend to hear women in tech in 2014. Instead so far there are 26 women and 151 men.

For all that sausage, there’s very few balls at Web Summit. It’s time they grew a pair and took responsibility for their role in fostering the tech community they want to be a part of.

UPDATE: Eamon Leonard of Web Summit has written about diversity at the event.

UPDATE 2: As of 8th Oct – 30 women, 175 men. 14.6%. Though there are free tickets for women on offer.

UPDATE 3 (13th Oct): More speakers added: 77 women out of 459. 16.8%.