While I was traveling the last few days, a minor controversy seemed to flame up about a lack of women in some of the Gov 2.0 events being planned by Tim O’Reilly and associated crew. They’re welcome to comment below, but I see no reason to call out individual people and their various comments. Here, I want to personally comment on an event I’ve been involved with planning for Tim during the last few months, and how women have intersected with it in interesting ways.
I’m a scientist and I tend to deal with quantifying data as a mechanism for seeing patterns, and that’s what I intend to do in this brief post. As many of you know I’m the program committee co-chair for the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase that is happening the day before the Gov 2.0 Summit (everyone, men and women, are able to register, incidentally). Anyone could submit any proposal for a five minute talk for the Showcase, and on Monday, July 20, we chose 25 fantastic proposals to become talks (as I write, notices are being sent out by O’Reilly Media). I believe this data, previously not publicly known, bears on some of the issues being discussed.
We received 189 valid proposals for talks at Expo Showcase. A few people, men and women, submitted two proposals, but the vast majority submitted just one. Of these 189, only 41 (or 22% of the total) were from women, with 147 proposals submitted by men. I have no reason in particular to offer for this. Perhaps women would like to comment on this blog about why a two month open call for proposals for anyone with a good idea for a five minute talk about Government 2.0 was dominated by 78% men. Whatever the explanation, I don’t think it had very much to do with the organizers of the event, who did quite a lot of outreach to tell people about what was happening.
Nevertheless, despite a minority of women submitting talk ideas, those relatively few ideas generally fared well as the program committee voted and discussed the agenda for Expo Showcase. Of the 25 talks chosen, 8 of them, or 32% of the total, were submitted by women, and the remaining 17 were from men. Note that, perhaps counter-intuitively to those protesting the lack of women presenters at events like this, the percent of women being accepted for talks is higher than the percent of women who submitted. I think that few women would have a problem with this outcome.
Further, this means that the “rate of success” for a female proposal to Expo Showcase was approximately twice as high as a male proposal (20% chance of being chosen if female vs. 11% if male). Now, I should point out that at no time am I aware of gender being explicitly discussed, in particular on the final conference call where we decided the 25 talks. We talked about the merits of the projects, the proposals, and the speakers. So, we didn’t choose women at twice the rate because they were women, but rather on average twice as many female proposals (vs. male) tended to rate extremely well by our criteria. Bravo.
Singling out Tim O’Reilly for critique is a bit narrow, and approaches what I’d call a low blow. I should point out that the Expo Showcase program committee is 38% women, and while Tim certainly knows what we’re up to, he didn’t directly play a role in deciding which proposals became talks. It is also worth noting that my co-chair for the Showcase is Laurel Ruma, a woman. It is additionally noteworthy that the event chiefs for O’Reilly Media and TechWeb that head up planning for the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase and Summit are Gina Blaber and Jen Pahlka, both women. There are lots of women involved at all points in the decisionmaking process with these events, so if shotgun-style critics want to “blame” people for perceived problems, they may as well accuse the entire crew of people, men and women. Not that I necessarily think anyone should be “blamed.”
I only speak for myself and don’t want to discuss Gov 2.0 Summit and Web 2.0 Summit too deeply as I’ve been involved less with those events, but I think the notion that Tim O’Reilly and anyone else involved in planning these events is trying to do anything but find the best possible people and have influential events is silly. Summits are high level events as Tim points out in his post here, and attendees want to see high level, influential people; many of them happen to be male.
Everyone can always strive to be better. Intelligent suggestions are always welcome. But the way in which some people approached lobbying for more women to be involved in these Gov 2.0 events was not only tasteless and somewhat misinformed, it may have been counterproductive. No one likes being publicly blindsided with baseless accusations.