The ongoing ‘problem’ of a lack women at tech conferences #nethui

Knitting behind the computer
Image used under creative commons licence

I attended nethui, a community-based conference for users of the internet run by internetnz, last year and thoroughly enjoyed the event. One thing I quickly noticed was the gender balance, or rather, imbalance – there were far, far more men than women. This imbalance was even more noticeable in the speaker and facilitator line up.

This year the organizers tacitly acknowledged the need for increased gender diversity in the programme. There was a Women and the Net breakfast which I thoroughly enjoyed and there seemed to be far more women speaking and facilitating sessions than last year. Nevertheless while three out of seven of the keynote speakers were women, I counted up six women facilitators out of thirty with only one female facilitator in the education stream.

To be fair on the organizers of Nethui the education sector itself isn’t much better on the gender diversity on the leadership front. The NZEI (primary school teachers union), PPTA (secondary teachers union), NZPF (New Zealand Principals Federation), New Zealand Association of Middle Schools Association are all headed men. Despite teaching being a women-dominated workforce there are slightly more male principals than female ones, more men holding senior teacher positions and your local school’s Boards of Trustees is more likely to be headed up by a man than a woman.

In short men are the ones making the educational policy arguments and pronouncements, hosting the communities and commenting in the media. Women are carrying out the policy orders, making the National Standard judgements, feeding kids who come to school hungry so that they can achieve learn. Surely I can not be the only one out there who is not ok with this?

To be clear this problem is not limited to nethui nor limited to education. But the reason I’m writing this rant is that I hate that the lack of women conference speakers is forever my problem to sort out, my issue to raise. Because here’s the thing; if you are the one worrying about equality, then you aren’t the one with the power in relationship. Having to constantly monitor, agitate and aggravate just to get a seat at the table “counts” as having to do “extra” work just to get your voice heard.

And this stuff gets tiring.

If you are sick of hearing women complaining about the lack of women speakers/facilitator at your conference imagine how sick women are having to monitor this problem. I wish I wasn’t the one having to email, to blog, to even think about this problem. I hate the risk of being insulted, ridiculed or having to constantly play nice in order to not offend someone just to ensure a modicum of female representation. Which is why sometimes it’s easier just to shut your mouth than have to deal with the nasty backlash and condescension that comes from pointing out *this* particular problem.

To quote REM, withdrawal in disgust is not the same thing is apathy.

So here’s a plea. If you are organizing a conference and working on your speaker line-up, think about going outside the usual male suspects and considering some female speakers too – on merit, naturally. You go and ask for a whole bunch of women because just like male speakers stuff sometimes comes up and your first pick for women speakers might not be available so get some back ups! If you don’t know people then ask woman in your network for recommendations. Start thinking it’s not that hard. If you’ve found that your proposed speaker list has ended up with no women, go and ask for more recommendations.

Yes women need to be more aggressive in promoting themselves and submitting ideas but conference organizers need to do their part too and share the responsibility.

Because not thinking about this problem is actually part of the problem.

To this end here are some social media links to awesome women educators who I think could make an awesome addition to any conference line up. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is sick of hearing the same excuses; that it’s hard to find women speakers or that the lone women a conference organiser had lined up wasn’t available.

For anyone else out there who wants to ‘be the change’ on this issue I have a challenge for you. Recommend an awesome women teacher who you think would rock a room when talking 21st century learning in the comments section.

3 thoughts on “The ongoing ‘problem’ of a lack women at tech conferences #nethui

Add yours

  1. I know I will have missed many but from the top of my head… Jo Fothergill, Florence Lyons, Puti Puti Gardiner, Margaret May, Naketa Ikihele, Fiona Grant, Claire Amos, Claire Bee, Anne Kennelly, Judy McKenzie, Amanda Signal, Tania Coutts, Dorothy Burt, Helen King, Allanah King … and so many more! There is no shortage… at all.


  2. Hi Stephanie,

    Thank you for your comments.

    As the organisers of NetHui, our paramount driver is to get the best people for keynotes, panel members, and facilitators. We do have an interest in diversity, but that isn’t limited to gender diversity alone.

    At NetHui 2012, excluding me, all the others right at the start were women. The panel that day had 3 men and 3 women. The panel next day had 2 men, 5 women. Other panels had more men than women.

    Yes, we can do better and thank you for pushing us to do so. But, to be fair, I hope you recognise that NetHui is one conference where the organisers do make a special effort on diversity, including gender diversity. And, the breakfast for women only was just another way where we are trying hard in this regard.

    Vikram Kumar
    Chief Executive, InternetNZ


  3. Hey Steph…long time no post! Thought provoking as always and I do agree with Vikram that finding that balance of gender presenters must be tricky – if there less females in the ‘IT’ field this will impact who to invite!

    The director of our unit is Marcia Johnson ( and she is not new in this area of expertise! She broke ‘internet/computer’ ground way back when the internet was probably still owned by the US military 🙂

    I have attached a link to show you her presence in only one of the many areas she is passionate about and making a difference in teaching and learning. Notice her colleagues in this particular group too!

    Keep at Steph ❤


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