I meet a lot of my fellow Android developers at conferences, but I don't see too many women at these events, especially on stage. Organizers claim that they try to get more female speakers, but it is too difficult. So I thought, hey, let's get all the female Android devs I know to submit to a single conference, and see what happens.
I got this idea in March, and started a Google Doc to co-ordinate the efforts. We picked Droidcon NYC as the conference for everyone to submit, because it is a good location for people from North America and Europe, and we will have a lot of time to rally people. At that point the conference date was not even announced yet! I invited everyone I know, and ask them to add more people. Corey also did a LinkedIn search to expand the list to folks outside of our social circles.
When I asked people to submit a talk, there are a few common concerns:
- I have nothing to talk about
- No one wants to listen to me
- I have no money to travel to the conference
Fortunately I have answers to all of them.
To help people come up with talk ideas, we met on Google Hangout to brainstorm. The funny thing is, most people has come up with an idea or two before showing up at the Hangout, so there wasn't much brainstorming going on. The Hangout is mostly a commitment device for people to set aside some time to think about what they can talk about.
Feedback on the proposals
To convince people that they have something important to say, everyone post their talk ideas on the shared Google doc.
We offer feedback on how to make the abstract better, and also comments on talks that we want to hear. For some reason most people believe that no one wants to hear from them, so it is very reassuring to know that others actually want to learn more.
There are ways to get funding
Money is always a concern. A lot of people just assume that they cannot afford to speak at an out-of-town conference, but us speakers know it is not true.
While a lot of conferences don't have the budget to cover the travel expense for all speakers, many do have a little bit of leeway to help those in need. Ask for help if you need it. There are ways to make it work.
In the case of Droidcon, Intel has set up a female developer sponsorship program. Having a source of funding helped tremendously - people don't immediately dismiss the conference as unreachable.
Q&A with the organizers
To address any other concerns, I arranged a Hangout with the Droidcon organizers:
It is much more convincing when the conference organizer tells you that, yes, we want you to speak!
A huge part of this process is sending reminders: email blast to remind everyone of the submission deadline, but also nagging people individually until they submit. I think this is the part where most conferences fall short.
Announcing call for proposals to mailing lists is only the first step. Most people assume that they are not the target, and you have to repeatedly tell them that you indeed want them to speak, help them along the way, and remind them to take action.
People are busy, and if you want results, you have to insist.
We have 14 out of 64 female speaker froms at Droidcon NYC, making 21.875%. While I was hoping for 50%, this is a respectable result, especially since I was leading a grassroot effort, not an official one.
Also, one of the keynotes will be by Corey Latislaw, who proposed the keynote as a part of this effort!
- Start early. It takes a lot of time to rally and nurture potential speakers.
- Provide mentorship. Be ready to answer questions about everything from topic ideas to how to fund the travels. Mentorship can be from experienced speakers, but peer support is very powerful too.
- Offer to help. I was not an organizer, yet just by telling people about the Intel sponsorship I was able to ease the minds of many people who thought they will not have the money to travel to the conference. For organizers, even if you cannot cover everyone, stating that travel assistance is available on a case-by-case basis can go a long way.
- Keep at it. Most importantly, follow through! Asking once is not enough. Monitor the whole process to make sure no one drops off. Send reminders. Nag!
Follow-up post for conference organizers: Up the ante.